But when play began on Friday, Strange and Kite, both of whom embody the steady and usually unspectacular American Tour game, came out and parred Torrance and Clark silly to take their morning foursomes match, 4 and 2. Pohl and Hal Sutton followed by beating Langer and Ken Brown, 2 and 1. Mize and Lanny Wadkins, the biggest career point-getter on the U.S. team, were 4 up after nine against Woosnam and Lyle. It looked like an ambush at Muirfield. But then Woosnam and Lyle won the 10th and 12th, and on the short, par-4 14th, Wadkins snap-hooked an awful three-iron into a creek. When Wadkins and Mize bogeyed the last two holes, they had lost, 2 down.
In the group behind, Payne Stewart and Larry Nelson squandered a golden opportunity against Ballesteros and his countryman, 21-year-old putting wizard Jos�-Maria Olazabal. They were one down to the Spaniards on the par-4 17th when Ballesteros fluffed the team's third shot short of the green. Olazabal then wedged to 12 feet. The Americans needed only two putts from 25 feet to win the hole, but Stewart left his putt four feet short. Ballesteros then holed, and Nelson missed, and the Spaniards remained one up. On 18, Ballesteros hit a superb six-iron 180 yards from a fairway bunker to 30 feet and made a five-footer for par to win the match one up. Instead of leading 4-0, America was tied 2-2.
In the afternoon four-ball matches, Europe again gladly accepted an American gift. Andy Bean and Mark Calcavecchia bogeyed the last two holes to lose one down to Lyle and Langer. The Europeans won the next two matches, and in the last match of the day, Ballesteros chipped in for birdie on the first hole as he and Olazabal went on to steamroller Kite and Strange, finishing eight under par and winning 2 and 1. The Americans went to bed trailing 6-2, their biggest first-day deficit ever.
A couple of things were clear. The top Europeans, like Ballesteros, Lyle and Woosnam, had an extra gear of power in reserve to attack the long holes, while the Americans seemed to lack the explosiveness for birdie runs. The most intriguing of the big hitters was Woosnam, nicknamed Little Woosie by European captain Tony Jacklin; Woosnam, 29, was a kid pugilist 20 years ago in the Welsh resort of Pwllheli.
Ballesteros seemed to revel in his patriarchal role with Olazabal, and the duty to his team seemed to lift him above the dark worries that have haunted him since the Masters. It showed in his play, as he repeatedly made key shots, including two holed chips and a bunker shot. "When you play for so many, it makes you strong," he said.
Nicklaus, searching for answers, wondered if the decadent American system had affected even our best players' ability to compete.
"The problem is really with the American golf system," said Nicklaus. "Because it's so difficult to win, our guys rarely get in position to contend down the stretch. Instead of being aggressive, they develop a percentage type of style. On the European tour, there is less competition, which puts players in contention more often and makes them better, more aggressive finishers."
The U.S. came out bolder on Saturday morning, with Strange and Kite beating Gordon Brand Jr. and Jos� Rivero, 3 and 1. Still, Europe emerged from the morning foursomes with its lead increased by 2� points.
The afternoon provided the best golf of the Cup. First Bean and Stewart shot 29 on the front nine and held on to blow out Darcy and Brand, 3 and 2. But Woosnam and Faldo countered, throwing their own 29 at Kite and Strange to win 5 and 4. Mize and Sutton finally beat Ballesteros and Olazabal, 2 and 1. With the score 9�-5�, the stage was set for the last match of the day, Lyle and Langer against Wadkins and Nelson, a team unbeaten in two Ryder Cups.
The U.S. was 2 down through 12 holes when Wadkins, suddenly back on his game, hit a short iron to three feet on the 14th. But Lyle made a clutch 18-footer to match Wadkins's birdie at 14. Then, on the par-5 15th, Lyle crushed a drive and a three-iron to 15 feet and made the eagle to go 3 up and dormie.