Surprising slump from Harrington

If Europe fell short last night in what was a thrilling defence of the competition, they will look back at their big guns failing to fire when it mattered most.

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If Europe fell short last night in what was a thrilling defence of the competition, they will look back at their big guns failing to fire when it mattered most. Padraig Harrington travelled to Kentucky as the world's most in-form player, bearing in mind that Tiger Woods has been off the circuit since June recovering from knee surgery. But the genial Irishman struggled to assert himself against inspired American opponents in the opening two days of foursomes and fourballs.

Harrington, who needed physiotherapy on his neck on the first morning, was expected to feature in all five rubbers he was available for but Nick Faldo, the Europe captain, opted to remove the dual British Open champion and recent US PGA championship winner from his intended pairings for the Saturday afternoon fourballs after a meagre return of only half a point. Similarly, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who have an enviable record together in this form of transatlantic combat found themselves rested for their specialist discipline of foursomes on the second day.

The explanations were plausible, with Garcia complaining of fatigue and Westwood suggesting that he is not up to 36 holes every day any more. But had they been in all- conquering form on the first day they would surely have been pressed into active service for the whole of the second day. Instead, Faldo kept them back for the fourballs, with Garcia partnering Paul Casey and Westwood going out for a second time with the rookie from Denmark, Soren Hansen.

Garcia was obliged to settle for his second unsatisfactory ration of half a point after his putting yet again let him down in a gripping confrontation with Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker. Chances came and went, especially at the 17th when the match was all square and Garcia and Casey both missed makeable birdie putts. That profligacy meant Casey had to hole a tricky putt on the last to match Stricker's incredible birdie four resulting from a brilliant 30-foot putt after a superb escape from deep rough to the right of the green.

"The putts just didn't want to drop," said Garcia. "We would have liked a full point but a half is still good. It was a fantastic match." Westwood had also been involved in a tense affair which might have produced a better outcome for the Europeans had he and Hansen taken their opportunities. Their match should certainly have gone the distance as both missed outstanding birdie opportunities on the way to a 2 & 1 defeat by Boo Weekley and JB Holmes.

The narrow loss ended Westwood's hopes of improving the record he shares with Arnold Palmer of 12 successive rubbers undefeated in this event. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae