Players ready for Ryder Cup battle as Jenkins sets the tone

By Martyn Herman

After almost two years of expectation, Europe captain Colin Montgomerie and his American counterpart Corey Pavin named their pairings for Saturday's fourballs which will begin at 2:45 a.m. EDT when heavy rain is expected in the picturesque Usk Valley.

Thankfully, the clouds lifted and there were shafts of blue sky as Jenkins, dressed in a stunning red outfit, enchanted both sets of players, their wives and the thousands of fans perched on the precipitous grass banks surrounding the stage.

Welsh male choir Only Men Aloud sang a spine-tingling rendition of the Welsh national anthem, perfectly catching the mood for what eight-times Ryder Cup player Montgomerie said was "by far the proudest moment of his golfing career."

Members of the Welsh Guards, complete with distinctive bear skins, raised the Stars and Stripes and the various European flags as the national anthems rang out.

Pavin, watched by wife Lisa who appeared semi-naked on the front cover of a golf magazine this month, carded the first bogey of the eagerly-awaited 38th edition of a team event that captivates sports fans around the globe.

When introducing his 12 players, Pavin forgot all about 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink -- only realizing his mistake when the huge video monitors panned in on the overlooked American.

Apart from the rousing reception reserved for Montgomerie, Tiger Woods received the largest ovation from the thousands watching the hour-long ceremony.

Despite the world number one's sordid fall from grace and his ailing game, the 14-times major winner is still clearly the player golf fans flock to see, whichever team they support.

Woods, who unlike the rest of the players was unaccompanied by a partner following his recent divorce, had looked pensive but beamed when applause rang out and he laughed heartily along with his team mates at Pavin's gaffe.

Earlier in the day, before changing into their smart suits, both sets of players went through their final routines on the pristine course just across the Severn Estuary into Wales.

Huge galleries followed the European groups who over the next three days will attempt to wrestle back the trophy the Americans won two years ago in Kentucky.

At the 17th green as the group containing Ian Poulter approached, the flamboyant Englishman, resplendent in black and pink shoes, whipped up the crowds in the jam-packed grandstand, who duly roared their approval.

Colin Montgomerie oversaw the putts pinging across the green and as one fan shouted "give us a smile Monty," the Scot shot back: "I hope I'll be smiling on Sunday!"

At the 18th, Poulter, who appears to have taken on the role of Europe's cheerleader, conducted as the rehearsals for the opening ceremony rang out across the course.

"I cannot wait, the crowd's going to be electric. The roar on the first tee will be sensational," Poulter, who will partner rookie Ross Fisher against Woods and Steve Stricker on Saturday, told reporters. "I can't wait to get pumped."

"I've not got too amped up yet, but it's a steady build to the climax tomorrow," he said.

As dark clouds rolled in and the brooding Welsh hills closed in on Celtic manor, the stage was set for three days of nerve-jangling drama.

(Editing by Mitch Phillips, To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)