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Opening day drama proves the Ryder Cup really is worth the hype

By Karl MacGinty

Heart pounding like a jackhammer in the chest as the second hand ticks down to the moment of truth. Ryder Cup Friday, first tee, nothing in sport can be as nerve-wracking as this.

The famously melodic voice of Ivor Robson brings to silence the 3,000 people jammed into the grandstand towering over three sides of the little green launch pad.

"On the tee for the United States, Bubba Watson!"

Webb Simpson, standing there with hybrid in hand ready to hit, shrugs, smiles and looks around at Bubba, standing behind him as the crowd gasped in astonishment.

Astoundingly, the infamous Ryder Cup first tee heebeegeebees even got to Ivor.

This is the guy who, famously, will not budge from his post on the first tee at The Open from 6.30am until mid-afternoon, not even for a bathroom break, while each evening he'll have just a sandwich and a glass of mineral water at 7pm, ensuring "total and utter concentration" on his job cannot be undermined by indulgence.

Robson hurriedly corrected his error: "Er, on the tee, Webb Simpson."

Honour served, up steps the American, who propels his ball into the stratosphere with the same trajectory as the Space Shuttle. It comes down barely 200 yards away in the long grass.

Bubba stepped in, Ivor got the name right, and suddenly we were ferried from the blustery cold of a Scottish autumn morning back to Medinah 2012 as Watson urged Europe to roar when he hit the shot. Louder, he gestured again and again, before slicing his drive into the left rough.

Strangely, given the enormous number of people, the atmosphere was not as raucous, thick or feverish at Gleneagles yesterday morning as it had been in sunny Chicago or in the rain at Celtic Manor or, indeed, at The K Club in 2006.

Tom Watson was accorded a standing ovation and fellow captain Paul McGinley a louder roar when they appeared, while vice-captains Padraig Harrington, Jose Maria Olazabal and, of course, their own Sam Torrance were feted.

Yet it was muted, almost stilted, as if the spectators were freeze-dried by the driving, biting west wind.

Home hero Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter, as one might expect, got the best of it but few ears were ringing.

"To walk to that first tee with Stevie was a special moment," said Poulter after they'd been crushed 5 & 4 by rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. "He's going to remember it for a long time and I'll remember it too.

"It was an amazing atmosphere but, obviously, we couldn't do our bit to get them really loud and, for us, that was disappointing."

In fairness, the tone at the first was raised at a third successive Ryder Cup by the 'Guardians of the Cup', a group of eight mates from 'all over England and Scotland' and who assured their positions in the front row of the stand by turning up at 4am.

Bedecked in blue and yellow, they regaled each of the European players with a personal theme song, composed through e-mail and rehearsed on Facetime.

Rose, in that first fourball, was serenaded with a version of Spandau Ballet's 'Gold' that went 'Rose, You're Incredible'.

If 'Kaymer Chameleon' and 'Bjorn beat the USA' were predictable, the rendition of Que Sera Sera for Rory McIlroy in the last game had potential.

"Will I play football, will I play golf, here's what he said to me: 'Take my driver son and go and be No 1!" Brilliant.

To get to the first tee, the players walk through a tunnel under a public road, and then walk up a cart path before coming into view of excited fans in the arena, a true gladiatoral entrance.

Given the fiery barbs which have flown between them this week, 'Eye of the Tiger' would have been more appropriate when McIlroy (and Sergio Garcia) hove into view, followed a few seconds later by Phil Mickelson (and Keegan Bradley).

"You're facing the wrong way," shouted one wag as left-hander Mickelson took a practice swing, but the prize for quip of the morning went to the strident lone voice which sounded out as Rickie Fowler made his practice swings ... "On the tee, Bubba Watson."

Even poor old Ivor cracked a grin.

The ribaldry was all too much for the doe which came flying up the first fairway and, in a blind panic, careened through the crowd, left of the tee, leapt the four foot wire fence on the near side of the road but slammed into the one on the opposite side before hop-skipping out of sight.

At least the poor animal managed to find solitude.

It was stunning to see more than 50 celebrities, wags and some hangers-on, vaguely disguised as marhsals, striding up the middle of the fairway after the final group, while 100-plus reporters, photographers and even some bogus media at least stayed close to the fairway ropes.

Considering how Michael Jordan was able to prod Poulter in the chest at one stage late on Saturday afternoon at Medinah, as the Englishman was in the process of pulling Europe out of the fire, this situation is getting out of hand at the Ryder Cup.

Augusta National is dead right not allowing anyone but the players and their caddies inside the ropes at the Masters. Viewing is so good from the large banking around Gleneagles, it wouldn't have caused much hardship to apply the same policy here.

Let's hope this ludicrous Ryder Cup menagerie is eliminated, if not by the PGA of America at Hazeltine in 2016, at least for the next European hosting in Paris two years later, especially given Le France National's richly-deserved reputation as a first-rate stadium course.

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