GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - It was almost the calm before the storm on Wednesday as the European and U.S. Ryder Cup teams joked and wise-cracked their way through a light-hearted practice session.
With two days to go before golf's biggest grudge match gets underway with Friday morning's opening fourball matches, a sizeable crowd was treated to dazzling sunshine at a picturesque PGA Centenary Course layout and some extraordinary trick shots.
As the occasional blast of traditional Scottish bagpipes could be heard in the distance, American Rickie Fowler wowed the fans who gathered at the practice range to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
The 25-year-old, who caused a stir at the start of the week by sporting a new haircut featuring the letters 'USA' shaved into the side of his head, dribbled the ball no more than two yards after deliberately striking it with the bottom of his driver.
Fowler then swapped hands on the same club, cack-handedly sending it soaring 250 yards into the distance before breaking into a wide grin and waving to the cheering spectators.
Martin Kaymer, the man who holed the putt that ensured Europe retained the trophy in Medinah two years ago, also played up to the galleries.
The U.S. Open champion raised a few giggles as he hung his head in mock shame after missing a series of small practice putts on the 15th green.
Ireland's Des Smyth, one of the five deputies being used this week by Europe captain Paul McGinley, said the smiles of the players were likely to turn into serious frowns by Friday.
"It's only practice today so you don't look too deep into it but watching their body language and the way they are playing, they are enjoying themselves," Smyth told Reuters as he strolled the hills, banks and fairways of Gleneagles.
"It won't be like that on Friday morning but it's the way we want the team to be in practice.
"This is a long week with a lot of things to do like preparation, media commitments, the gala dinner, the opening ceremony. There is lots going on so you want to keep them happy on a day like today," said Smyth.
"When the gun goes off that's when the real action is going to begin."
Smyth accompanied Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Victor Dubuisson and the long-hitting Rory McIlroy who drove the ball like a machine, consistently belting booming efforts that showed precisely why he is the world's number-one ranked golfer.
McIlroy was also in relaxed mood, breaking off for a chat with Jamie Redknapp as the former England and Liverpool soccer player looked on from the other side of the ropes at the 17th.
After putting out on the green, Dubuisson took time out to pose for a photo with a posse of 15 to 20 marshals and shared a brief conversation with a fan.
Asked if he was enjoying Scotland, the French rookie replied: "Yes I am. I used to live in St Andrews, you know?."
U.S. Masters champion Bubba Watson also flexed his muscles, like McIlroy.
While playing partners Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson took rescue clubs off the tee at the 350-yard, par-four 11th, left-hander Watson fell just short as he attempted to lash his driver straight on to the green.
"It looks as though they've made this par-three longer," he told the crowd with a wide grin.
Editing by Ed Osmond