A stubborn Faldo

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

It may be part of the job description for European Ryder Cup captains that they must impose their most striking personality trait upon their team.

With Ian Woosnam, it was exuberance and fun. With Seve Ballesteros, it was Latin passion.

With Nick Faldo, it is stubbornness.

On day one of the 37th edition of golf's grandest team event Faldo was in no mood to budge from his convictions, unpopular and controversial as they were back across the Atlantic.

Indeed, at the end of a week of buildup which saw Faldo's personal idiosyncrasies analyzed more than ever, he stuck to his guns in a way which neither surprised nor pacified his critics.

Ian Poulter, the more heatedly debated of his captain's picks when he and Paul Casey were chosen ahead of Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, was sent straight into the fray alongside his close friend Justin Rose.

Then, despite a back nine collapse that turned a likely Rose/Poulter victory against Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell into a 1-up defeat, the same duo was selected again for the afternoon foursomes – with precious little time for rest or nourishment.

A captain lives or dies by his personal selections and the anti-Faldo sentiment looked set to amplify after the United States took an early 3-1 lead.

The bloodhounds started circling Faldo early in the week, when he responded to pressure with a kind of oddball humor that is not understood by all.

His news conferences at Valhalla have grown increasingly strange, especially since he came under fire for being filmed apparently revealing his fourballs lineup on a scrap of paper – then claiming it was a list of sandwich orders.

The fairest thing is to judge the man on his finished product but Europe will wake up Saturday morning to a growing sense of doubt and discontent. It trails the underdog Americans, who haven't won the Cup since the 20th century, 6-2.

If Europe comes back to lift the trophy yet again Sunday evening then Faldo will be acclaimed as an eccentric genius. If not, he will be castigated as the primary scapegoat. Such are the foibles of Ryder Cup life.

However, one of the advantages of stubbornness is an inherent streak of self-belief. And, in the end, Friday afternoon could have been a lot worse for the visitors if not for Poulter, who accompanied Rose to Europe's first victory with some delightful chips and clutch putting.

Poulter brought the kind of emotion and defiance of a character who feels slighted, as he clearly was by the strength of the pro-Clarke movement. He fist-pumped his way around the back nine, ruthlessly grinding down Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis with Rose.

Elsewhere, though, the scoreboard was covered in red.

There was no panic from Faldo, not yet anyways. He didn't charge around the course trying to be everywhere at once like Ballesteros at Valderrama in 1997.

Instead, he picked his spots, sticking to the methodical route around the course that was carefully devised over the previous few days.

In general, he left his on-course captains, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia, to their own devices, preferring to lend moral support to the Rose/Poulter pairing, plus Casey and Henrik Stenson in the morning.

When he stopped for a few minutes for a flash interview, he looked reasonably composed, though obviously lacking the more relaxed demeanor he shows in the broadcast booth.

Michael Jordan obviously thought he spotted some tension, jokingly offering Faldo an impromptu back rub by the 17th green as dusk closed in.

And why wouldn't there be some stress? With three straight European wins and Tiger Woods missing, he has a lot to lose if the Americans pull off the upset.

But despite the recent success he knows this is different Ryder Cup and requires a different approach. It is a hungrier opponent and rival captain in Paul Azinger with an intensity of motivation not seen in recent U.S. teams.

Faldo felt Europe's stars of yesteryear would eventually run of out steam and preferred to try to usher in a new generation.

Committed to youth, he believes the fitness levels of Poulter, Rose and Casey means they will be as fresh Sunday evening as on Friday morning.

Faldo will never be one of the boys like the jovial pint-swilling Welshman Woosnam, whose love of a beer and a funny story is legendary.

Faldo's approach is more serious, and maybe it needs to be.

These are serious times for Europe, against an opponent that has finally gotten serious about winning again.