STRAFFAN, Ireland – Brett Wtterich and Vaughn Taylor can debate whether it was better to have played and lost than never to have played at all. J.J. Henry and Zach Johnson, meanwhile, both got their chance and learned what it's like to squeeze out a victory at the Ryder Cup.
The four American rookies produced four different stories in Friday's opening rounds.
Henry's tale was best. He made long birdie putts on the back nine to start a rally from 3 down and earn a tie and a half point against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson in the morning better-ball match.
"I was determined to go out this morning and play well and prove to everybody that I belonged on this team," said Henry, giving mention to the many who felt the 31-year-old, with one U.S. PGA Tour win, was in over his head.
He played well enough alongside Stewart Cink that by the end of the day, with the Americans trailing Europe 5-3, some were wondering why Henry wasn't in the lineup for foursomes, too.
Instead, it was Johnson who made his debut in the afternoon, teaming with Chad Campbell. Like Henry, Johnson overcame a rough start to help his team pull out another half point. He and Campbell were 2 down to Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley after 15 holes.
"I just said, `You know what, we could possibly lose this,"' Johnson said. "The way things were going ... it was kind of looking that way."
Johnson looked every bit the nervous rookie when he blew a 3-foot putt that would have won the hole on 13, then again when he took the wrong line and the wrong speed on a putt on 15 that gave Europe the 2-up lead.
But on the par-5 16th, he hit what might have been the shot of the day — a pinpoint 3-wood across the River Liffey that landed safely on the green. That resulted in an easy two-putt for birdie to trim the deficit to one. On 18, he coolly read and sank a 3-footer — the same kind he had missed earlier — to halve the match.
"The last three holes, he played like a champion," U.S. captain Tom Lehman said. "He came off that 18th green a better player."
Johnson and Henry combined to produce one point for America — not exactly Jack Nicklaus numbers, but not bad, either.
Wetterich was the only rookie who played and didn't earn anything. He and David Toms were involved in the day's only lopsided match, a 3-and-2 loss in better-ball to Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, who was incredibly good all day.
"I'm eager to get back out there," said Wetterich, who acknowledged he was nervous at the beginning. "I think it's important to get me back out there, to let me know that he still has confidence in me to go out there and play well."
But Lehman did not put Wetterich in the lineup for Saturday morning's better-ball matches. He also left Taylor on the bench, meaning the 30-year-old rookie will be the lone golfer on either team to not play in any of the first three rounds.
Johnson will team with Scott Verplank on Saturday morning, and Henry will go back out with Cink.
"Just a great, great day," Henry called his Ryder Cup debut. "I'm really proud of the way I played, Stewart and I, especially after digging a hole for ourselves at 3 down at the turn.
"To turn it around on the back was great, and hopefully it will give us some momentum for tomorrow and Sunday."