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Europe and America... the perfect match

... but, after too much pomp and ceremony, it's a relief that golf is now centre stage

By Kevin Garside

We got a match, said Tom Watson. The next three days will show whether the veteran American captain is right about that.

We can now luxuriate in the action as some of the finest players in golf do it for their countries and for their pride.

They say there is no bigger moment in golf than standing on the first tee at a Ryder Cup.

Do badly as an individual and you only have yourself to blame; do badly at this level and... well, the level of expectation is enormous.

So too is the event although, somewhere in the schmaltz and faux sincerity of the Ryder Cup opening ceremony, authenticity has been lost.

The marvellous contest has acquired an overbearing attachment to display.

Scotland's favourite Scotsman, Dougie Donnelly, was invited by the organising committee to fill the gaps in a scripted hour of sentimental eulogies and soaring speeches.

Pipers piped, singers sang and dear old Dougie talked us through it with an avuncular flourish.

Only the violins were missing as the suited leaders of the golfing community approached the stage.

Scotland's outgoing First Minister Alex Salmond set the bar high with an address full of fawning ambition. The players were playing, he said, "for the love of country, continent and respect for the game of golf".

Blimey. That's what makes the Ryder Cup the best golf tournament in the world, don't you know.

There is, it must be said, something in the American voice that lends itself to public speaking and which somehow ameliorates the cringe factor.

And so it was just about possible to listen to captain Watson without recourse to the sick bag.

He spoke of "honour and respect for our game passing through generations", and men "coming together to play not for themselves, but as one".

We believe you, Tom.

Both captains claimed that all 12 players will appear today. That means a debut for Frenchman Victor Dubuisson in the afternoon foresomes alongside Graeme McDowell.

So the forecast was right; as predicted in the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week, European captain Paul McGinley decided to break up the Northern Ireland partnership of McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

The straight-talking McGinley had reminded observers that rose-tinted nostalgia about the two Ulstermen in Ryder Cups had not been backed up by facts; out of a possible six points, the pair had contributed two and a half.

And G-Mac had already confirmed the inevitable a couple of days earlier, when he admitted that compatriot McIlroy was now too big a figure in world golf to play the smaller brother role to the Portrush man.

Everyone stressed that it had nothing to do with the ongoing court case – or "Liti-gate" as it has come to be known following Phil Mickelson's little barb on Wednesday afternoon.

It added a little spice to the build-up but there was no evidence that it annoyed Rory or G-Mac.

McGinley was, however, almost apologetic at having to leave McDowell out of the opening exchanges, a reflection not only of the depth of talent at his disposal but of the shifting chemistry in the team.

"Graeme is a big player, playing very well with a big heart," he said.

"I would love him to be out tomorrow morning. He loves the big atmosphere.

"But there's a lot of big atmospheres between now and Sunday night, and there will be a time and a place for Graeme to play that big role," McGinley said.

Inevitably McGinley's strategy is built around the world's dominant force, McIlroy.

Only if Europe are flying will McIlroy be handed a rest later in the day.

Though Europe boast four of the five highest ranked players in the contest, the superior average ranking belongs to America.

Since the past five Ryder Cups have been won by the team in that mathematical position, do not be surprised to see America prick the favourites bubble enveloping Europe.

Against that home advantage is reckoned to be worth at least a point if not one and a half and Europe do not have to win to retain the trophy. Fourteen points will do.

Accumulating them is easier said than done, of course.

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