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Europe power into three-point lead

Montgomerie and Harrington teamed up to beat Woods and Mickelson

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Michigan -- Inspired by a brilliant putting display, holders Europe secured the first three points in the opening fourballs against the United States at the 35th Ryder Cup on Friday.

Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez drew first blood, beating Davis Love III and Chad Campbell 5 & 4, before Colin Montgomerie and Irishman Padraig Harrington outplayed Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson 2 & 1.

Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Briton Lee Westwood, a successful combination for Europe at The Belfry in 2002, then grabbed their team's third point with an easy victory over former major winners David Toms and Jim Furyk.

Woods and U.S. Masters champion Mickelson had never before played together at the Ryder Cup and U.S. captain Hal Sutton's high-risk strategy backfired as the heavyweight duo failed to spark on an overcast and breezy day at Oakland Hills.

Montgomerie and Harrington birdied six of the first eight holes and, although Mickelson upped his game after the turn to give the Americans a whiff of a chance, the Europeans never relinquished control.

"It was important for us to get off to a great start and to birdie the first four, as we did, was not just necessary but was required," said Montgomerie. "We feel, as a team, it was worth a little bit more than a point."

Cigar-puffing Clarke and Jimenez, who never trailed in the second match out, wrapped up their win with a par-four at the 473-yard 14th hole.

Europe were all square with the U.S. in the last match out on the course, Irishman Paul McGinley and another Briton, Luke Donald, level with Chris Riley and Stewart Cink with one hole to play.

Europe have dominated the first two days of team play in recent Cup matches and they stayed on track to maintain that trend with a barrage of birdie putts from between 10 and 25 feet.

"It's been a fantastic start by my guys," said European captain Bernhard Langer. "They've made some putts and I couldn't ask for anything more."

U.S. captain Hal Sutton said: "They've made enough putts that we could pave the road from Detroit to Chicago. They want to beat us bad and this happens in the Ryder Cup."

Montgomerie set the tone by holing a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-four first to give Europe the early initiative.

Harrington, Europe's highest-ranked player, followed suit at the par-three third, striking his tee shot to eight feet to put the Europeans two up.

Although the Americans pulled one hole back at the par-four fifth, Europe hit back at the sixth, Montgomerie holing out for birdie from 20 feet.

Mickelson clawed one back for the U.S. after hitting a superb approach to just two feet at the par-four seventh, but Europe went three ahead after Harrington drained a 25-footer for birdie at the par-four eighth and also birdied 14.

Left-hander Mickelson kept the match alive with a 25-foot birdie putt at the 16th, but seven-times European number one Montgomerie sealed the win with a par three at the 17th.

In the second match, pony-tailed Spaniard Jimenez birdied the par-five second, where the two Americans could only manage pars, and Clarke doubled their lead with a birdie at the par-four fourth, holing out from 10 feet.

Briton Clarke then rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt at the fifth and a par by Jimenez at the 220-yard ninth was good enough for Europe to go four up.

When Jimenez holed a 12-footer for birdie at the par-four 11th, the European pair were on the brink of their team's first win at five up and they duly obliged.

The home side clawed back some pride in the final pairing with Stewart Cink and Chris Riley finished all squad with Luke Donald and Paul McGinley, leaving Europe with a 3 1/2- 1/2 lead after the morning session.

After the fourballs, in which each player hits his own ball and the lowest score counts, there will be four afternoon foursomes in which the pairings share a ball and hit alternate shots.

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