Ryder Cup is bigger than ever – just ask 7,000 fans on the first tee and the bloke in a T-Rex costume

WHEN Tiger Woods marched out to tee off yesterday, he was roared on by 7,000 people — including one bloke in a T- Rex costume.

This was, of course, only a practice round. When it gets under way for real this morning, the Ryder Cup will be even more monstrous still.

 One man donned a T-Rex costume during the practice round of the Ryder Cup

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One man donned a T-Rex costume during the practice round of the Ryder Cup
 Team Europe captain Thomas Bjorn poses with jubilant fans ahead of the start of the tournament

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Team Europe captain Thomas Bjorn poses with jubilant fans ahead of the start of the tournament

As he reflected on the ever- increasing bigness of this event, 42-year-old Henrik Stenson — the grand old man of the European team — predicted: “It might be at least another 20 years before we’ve got floating stands in the sky.”

It might take 20 years. But if Steven Spielberg is asked to fly both teams into Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, on a Close Encounters of the Third Kind spaceship in 2020, you would not be entirely surprised.

When Samuel Ryder, a cut-price seed salesman and former Mayor of St Albans, invented this contest 91 years ago, he could scarcely have imagined what that particular seed would grow into.

The Godzilla-sized grandstand with 6,500 seats towering over the first tee of Le Golf National. The £500 branded jackets and 80 quid keyrings in the merchandise stalls.

 Supporters cheer on four-time major champion Rory McIlroy at Le Golf National

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Supporters cheer on four-time major champion Rory McIlroy at Le Golf National
 Team USA have lost the last five Ryder Cups held on European soil

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Team USA have lost the last five Ryder Cups held on European soil

The French version of the Red Arrows terrifying the birdies with their fly pasts.

And, so they claim, the third-highest global TV audience for a sporting event after the World Cup and Olympics.

This particular edition is guaranteed to be momentous either way. The Americans have not won on European soil for a quarter of a century.

And yet, with nine Major champions among them, this is the most potent platoon they have sent across the Atlantic since wartime GIs were trying to get off with your Nana.

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If it is close going into Sunday’s singles, then this promises to be epic. When the momentum starts swinging and the tides of European blue and American red start ebbing and flowing, there is nothing quite like it in sport.

Players adore the Ryder Cup because of the rare opportunity to experience team spirit in what is such an intensely lonely game.

When Stenson was told it was unclear whether he had, in fact, sunk the putt that made Europe’s triumph mathematically certain on his debut in 2006, the 2016 Open champ offered his questioner outside to ‘iron things out’.

And then there’s the unique partisan nature of the crowds — with the tanked-up ‘Make America Great Again’ boys having singled out Rory McIlroy for dog’s abuse when Europe were thrashed at Hazeltine two years ago.

Bogeyman Patrick Reed was roundly booed during the opening ceremony yesterday, with the self-styled Captain America cupping his ears to the jeers.

This time there will be record daily crowds of 51,000, with 40 per cent of tickets sold to the French, who are not always passionate golf-lovers and do not have a single man in Thomas Bjorn’s team.

You can chuck the Tiger factor into the mix — with the electrifying presence of Woods, resurgent after his physical and personal meltdown and playing his first Ryder Cup for six years.

 Paul Casey - making his fourth appearance at a World Cup - rejoices with the crowd

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Paul Casey – making his fourth appearance at a World Cup – rejoices with the crowd

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Then there’s the oddity of Britain rallying around the yellow-and-blue EU flag, which 52 per cent of the people who bothered to vote chose to get away from.

And the fact Le Golf National, with its plentiful water hazards, adds extra jeopardy to the drama.

As America’s three-time Major champion Jordan Spieth predicted: “You will never see as many fist pumps to celebrate pars as you will this week.”

Paul Casey, restored to the European team after a ten-year absence, is a good witness to the event’s growth in that last decade.

He said: “It was really noisy on the first tee on Wednesday, then we looked back about a 100 yards and realised it was only about five per cent full.

“The only previous European Ryder Cup I played was the K Club in 2006 and the first tee wasn’t like this one.

“It’s just a bigger scale. The passion is as intense but it’s grander. It’s just been amped up.”

 Spectators wearing the colours of the European Union cheer on their side during the practice session

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Spectators wearing the colours of the European Union cheer on their side during the practice session
 Over 7,000 fans were present on the first tee of the practice round

Reuters
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Over 7,000 fans were present on the first tee of the practice round

And Casey claims the action will be spectacular at this venue, west of Paris, which is as picturesque for punters as it is perilous for players.

He said: “Thank goodness we’re playing matchplay.

“You’d see defensive golf if it were stroke play this week.

“But in matchplay the repercussions are only the loss of one hole. You’ll see spectacular stuff.

“The golf course and the situation demands it.”

Casey was controversially denied a wildcard by Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and then spent six years away from the European Tour, making him ineligible.

But when he was asked whether he had watched the past four contests, Casey smiled and revealed: “Oh yeah! It’s the greatest thing on TV. Now to be back, well, I’ve felt like a little kid ever since the wildcard announcement.”

He might feel even littler still, when he sees that grandstand jam-packed today.

Patrick Reed turns villain as he tells European fans to shh after being booed at Ryder Cup

WHEN Tiger Woods marched out to tee off yesterday, he was roared on by 7,000 people — including one bloke in a T- Rex costume.