A historic opening day at the 44th Ryder Cup ended with Team Europe holding a 6½-1½ lead after Friday’s two sessions of foursomes and fourballs at Marco Simone G&CC in Italy.
The tone for the morning foursomes was set by Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton. They were two up on Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns by the turn. A birdie at the 11th and eagle on the 12th handed Europe a margin for error they never looked likely to need. Rahm and Hatton closed out a 4&3 win to place the first point on the board.
Viktor Hovland and rookie Ludvig Åberg triumphed over Max Homa and Brian Harman in a match that was only slightly more competitive. Europe won four of the first six holes – and lost the other two – to be two up. Hovland set the tone by chipping in at the first. The 4th was to prove the last hole the Americans would win, with the match only going as far as the 15th
Captain’s pick Shane Lowry and the debutant Sepp Straka were 2&1 winners over Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa. “The crowd got on our side fairly quickly,” Lowry said. “You could hear the roars just echoing around the course and it was a very special morning of golf.”
The pairing of Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy – dubbed ‘Fleetwood Mac’ before a ball was struck – completed the whitewash after seeing off Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay 2&1. McIlroy’s laser-like iron to tap-in range on the par-3 17th tee completed the job.
Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm and Rose all crucially holed putts on the 18th to pick up half points for Europe on a day when it took it until 2pm for any red to appear on the scoreboard, and that only lasted for 15 minutes.
“The fact that the Americans didn’t win a full point was incredible and just shows the heart, grit and determination that the European team has,” said McIlroy. “We have a ton of momentum and we’ll try to ride the crowd’s energy to win both sessions on Saturday.”
The US team seemed on course to register a first full point when Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth were at 2up with five to play against Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton, but then sloppy mistakes and poor putting, which have blighted both their games in recent times, crept in. That opened the door for Hatton and his birdies at 14 and 16 to level the match were vociferously welcomed by the majority of the 55,000-plus fans who packed into see the drama unfold.
Hovland then holed from 25ft for a birdie at the last, with the final role of he ball seeing it drop into the cut. It proved crucial because Thomas was only 4ft away and he duly registered the first US half-point.
The next match was an equally tight affair, with Rahm and Nicolai Hojgaard‘s 2up lead after eight reduced to all square by Scottie Scheffler with wins on holes 10 and 11. Brooks Koepka edged the Americans in front with a birdie on 15, but Rahm holed his second chip-in of the day to win the par-four 16th with an eagle.
The Spaniard’s wild celebrations were matched by an unusually pumped up Scheffler after he won the 17th to put the US pairing 1up with one to play and guarantee at least another half point. But that was all they came away with after Rahm conjured up another magical eagle to win the 18th, slamming a 30-footer into the hole with such pace that it jumped into the air off the back of the cup before settling into the cup, much to the Spaniard’s relief.
“There was definitely a bit of Seve magic on that one,” said Rahm afterwards. “He definitely pulled that one towards the hole.”
That left one match out on the course, with Justin Rose – partnered by Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre, refusing to allow Max Homa and Wyndham Clark to get away from them.Three times Rose won a hole on the back nine to reduce the deficit to one. The final time was with a par on the 17th to send the match down the 18th and then the Englishman nailed an eight-foot birdie putt to win the hole, and then hammered his chest in a style made famous by his former Ryder Cup teammate Ian Poulter, as he gave Europe a five-point lead after day one.
“It was a historic day, but we want it to be a historic week,” said European Captain Luke Donald. “It was sensational, a dream start for us. This morning was an amazing performance by the guys and this afternoon was tough. The US came back, we knew they would. They had a stretch there in the middle where the momentum was turning their way but man, did we turn it back.”
Looking to Saturday’s matches, Donald has kept with the same foursomes pairings for the morning foursomes. McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood will be first out and face Spieth and Thomas at 6.35am, while Hovland and rookie Ludvig Aberg will play Scheffler and Koepka. Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka are in match three against Homa and Brian Harman, with Rahm and Hatton facing Patrick Cantlay and Schauffele in the final game.
OVERAL SCORE – EUROPE 6.5- USA 1.5
Session 1 – Foursomes | Europe 4, USA 0
|1||Scheffler & Burns||4&3||Rahm & Hatton|
|2||Homa & Harman||4&3||Hovland & Aberg|
|3||Fowler & Morikawa||2&1||Straka & Lowry|
|4||Cantlay & Schauffele||2&1||McIlroy & Fleetwood|
Session 2 – Four-ball | Europe 2.5, USA 1.5
|5||Thomas & Spieth||TIED||Hatton & Hovland|
|6||Koepka & Scheffler||TIED||Rahm & Hojgaard|
|7||Homa & Clark||TIED||Rose & MacIntyre|
|8||Schauffele & Morikawa||5&3||McIlroy & Fitzpatrick|