Europe rallied from a 3-1 deficit after the Friday morning fourballs to sweep the afternoon foursomes and take a 5-3 lead after the first day of the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris.
Team Europe had its collective back against the wall after dropping the first three matches of the day and with the anchor team of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari two down after 10 holes against the vaunted American twosome of Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed.
Molinari turned the momentum by winning the next two holes, Fleetwood got hot with the putter in winning the 15th and 16th holes and the Europeans closed out the match 3&1.
It proved to be far more than a glimmer of hope.
The Europeans then turned their attention to the afternoon foursomes, which they won 7-1 four years ago at Gleneagles and held a distinct advantage on entering Friday. The players on the course for European captain Thomas Bjorn entered with a collective 24-14-6 Ryder Cup record in the alternate shot format, while U.S. captain Jim Furyk’s squad was just 7-13-8.
That historical precedent held up, with Europe rolling in birdies - often only needing pars - while the wheels quickly came off for most of the U.S. teams in one of the most lopsided sessions in Ryder Cup history. It was the first 4-0 losing session for the Americans since 1989.
“I think a big thing this week for us is resilience, but also persistence,” Rory McIlroy told the Golf Channel. “You have to persist, persist, persist, until it turns around for you.
“This morning wasn’t ideal, but it was still a better start than the one we got off to at Hazeltine (two years ago). So we just needed to put our heads together and just go out there and hit good golf shots. Foursomes on a day like this, with the conditions, is a very tough format to play.”
Europe held multiple-hole leads at the turn in all four matches, with the U.S. teams struggling mightily as the winds picked up at Le Golf National. The Americans won only three combined holes on the front nine among the four pairings.
Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, who rallied to win their morning fourball match, found no rhythm against Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. Fowler struggled with his ball striking, while Johnson missed numerous makeable putts with his new cross-handed grip he debuted at last week’s Tour Championship.
The pair didn’t win a hole until No. 12, and even picking up another win on No. 13 wasn’t nearly enough in a 3&2 loss.
“I think (it’s) a lot about trust,” Stenson told the Golf Channel about his 5-2 Ryder Cup record playing with Rose. “When you’re out there playing with a good friend and someone you’ve played a lot of golf with and you trust him and his golf game ... you don’t feel any regrets when you hit a poor shot.
“We team up well together.”
It proved a quick rebound for Rose, who lost his morning fourball match with Jon Rahm 1-up to Tony Finaue and Brooks Koepka despite being 2-up through eight holes.
“Obviously pairing up with Henrik this afternoon is exactly what I needed just to curb it,” Rose told the Golf Channel. “Had a quick chat with Rory, and he gave us a task of putting a point on the board for him to follow.”
Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson were out next and things started out well with wins on two of the first three holes. But their play also tapered off as McIlroy and Ian Poulter reeled off four consecutive holes to close out the front nine.
The Americans closed the gap with a win on No. 11, but the Europeans responded with a pair of wins, including a birdie putt by Poulter after he narrowly missed driving it into the water on No. 13. A win on No. 16 closed out the match 4&2 as Europe pulled even on the day for the first time at 3-3.
Poulter is now 5-1 in foursomes in his Ryder Cup career.
“I love it, I embrace it,” Poulter said when asked why he excels in the format. “And when you’ve got great partners to go out and play golf with... it’s inspiring.
“For me, I just want to get on a golf course, I want to see the fans, I want to hole putts and I want to help this team.”
One of Furyk’s more curious pairings turned out to be the biggest disappointment. Phil Mickelson did not play well in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and entered the day with a career 5-7-4 Ryder Cup record in fourball matches. But he has struck up a good friendship with Bryson DeChambeau, and Furyk decided to roll them out in the afternoon while Woods sat out a session on the opening day for the first time in his Ryder Cup career.
It was never a contest against Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, who won two of the first three holes and were 7-up at the turn and cruised to a 5&4 victory that gave Europe a 4-3 lead. It was equal opportunity misery for DeChambeau and Mickelson, appearing in his record 12th Ryder Cup, who lost most holes by failing to give themselves even good looks at par attempts.
They were in danger of equaling the biggest loss in Ryder Cup history - 7&6 done three previous times - until winning three holes on the back nine before running out of time.
Fleetwood and Molinari again did their jobs as the anchor team for Europe in the afternoon. Paired against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, the Europeans quickly took a 3-up lead as the 25-year-old American buddies failed to card a single birdie on the front nine.
Spieth particularly struggled with his ball-striking, and a win by the Americans on No. 11 was quickly erased by wins by the Europeans on No. 13 and 14. Fleetwood and Molinari closed out the match 5&4 to complete their 2-0 day as partners.
“I’m very, very lucky that I had Francesco next to me all day,” said Fleetwood, who was making his Ryder Cup debut on the same day his son celebrated his first birthday. “It’s not been easy, your emotions are so up and down. But it’s been a very, very special day.”
“We didn’t come here to win the foursomes, we came here to win something else,” said Molinari. “It’s great, the atmosphere here this afternoon was amazing. It’s time to reset, get ready for tomorrow. They’re going to be upset about this afternoon, and we need to be ready for the reaction.”
—Field Level Media