PARIS (Reuters) - United States Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk defended his decision to play Phil Mickelson in the foursomes on the opening day of the Ryder Cup on Friday and also dismissed concerns that Tiger Woods might be hindered by back issues.
After taking a 3-1 lead in the morning fourballs, the Americans were swept in the four alternate shot matches at Le Golf National.
All four matches were lopsided, but none more than the 5&4 hammering Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren inflicted on Mickelson and rookie Bryson DeChambeau.
Mickelson, for all his strengths, has never been an accurate driver, which left some observers wondering why he would be used in an unforgiving format on a course with punishing rough.
Furyk was having none of it, even after Mickelson, who came into the event out of form, had flopped.
“He’s got a lot of experience, most experienced Ryder Cupper of all-time,” Furyk said of five-times major champion Mickelson who is playing in a record 12th Ryder Cup.
“I’ve heard some of the rumblings ... (but) it’s Phil Mickelson, major champion.
“He’s a very good iron player so I felt comfortable.
“I put that confidence in him and I’ll be honest I’d do it again. I have a lot of confidence in all 12.”
As much as he publicly backed Mickelson, speculation was rife that Furyk would bench the player in Saturday’s foursomes.
A subdued Furyk also downplayed the health of Woods’ back, amid on-course reports that the 14-times major champion was moving gingerly.
Woods was also rested in the afternoon after teaming up with Patrick Reed for a morning loss, though it was not clear if that had been the plan all along.
It was only the second time Woods has sat out a Ryder Cup session.
“I have not heard that he’s had a back problem,” Furyk said.
“You’d have to ask Tiger, but no, I saw him out on the golf course. He said he was all good.
“He was actually out practising tonight after the matches. Tiger draws so much attention — any time Tiger doesn’t play, or maybe he stretches a little bit, everyone gets a little hypersensitive that he might have a back issue.”
Furyk praised the Europeans for the way they fought back.
“Don’t take anything away from the Europeans. They played a great session of golf from top to bottom in all four sessions today and had some great ball-strikers out there,” he said.
“Hat’s off to them. Every one of their matches was even par to under par on a pretty difficult setup in difficult conditions where the wind was blowing.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Pritha Sarkar