(Guidonia Montecelio, Italy) Backed by its star golfers, several crucial shots and cheering fans, Team Europe tied a record for the largest lead at the end of the first day of the Ryder Cup, Friday.
The domination of the Europeans was such that the United States did not win a single one of the eight duels contested on the Marco-Simone course.
The Europeans gave the Americans a brutal reception and reminded them with aplomb why it had been 30 years since they last won the Ryder Cup outside the United States. And if Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland maintain their pace, the drought will certainly continue.
For the first time in its history, Team Europe swept the inaugural session, winning each of the four matches played in the alternate shot format without having to step up to the 18th tee.
In the afternoon, three of the four matches played in the two-ball, best-ball format which required 18 holes all went in favor of Team Europe.
From the tall grass, Rahm holed an approach shot for an eagle on the par-4 16th hole, before sinking a 35-foot putt for another eagle on the 597-yard par-5 18th hole .
These exploits by Rahm allowed the tandem he formed with rookie Nicolai Hojgaard to cancel his match against Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
Undefeated in three previous outings in the two-ball format, best ball at the Ryder Cup, Americans Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth led by a hole and seemed destined to provide a first victory for their team. That was before Hovland holed a 25-foot putt for birdie on the 18th green, the ball making one final spin around the cup before dropping into it.
When thousands of European fans headed to the exits, their favorites held a lead of 6.5 points to 1.5, equaling the largest lead in tournament history.
We have to go back to 2004 in Oakland Hills, a suburb of Detroit – where Europe won easily – to trace the last time that one of the two teams held a priority of five points after only eight duels.
“A great day in front of amazing home fans,” said McIlroy, the only golfer to win both matches on Friday.
The coup de grace of this inaugural day came from Justin Rose who, at 43, was the eldest player in these matches.
Rose made an eight-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole to give his tandem, complemented by Robert MacIntyre, another draw, this one against Max Homa and Wyndham Clark.
“I didn’t want us to become the only duo to allow the United States to score a victory,” explained Rose, illustrating how ruthless the Europeans felt with the crowd behind them.
McIlroy said Luke Donald, the captain of Team Europe, asked his teammates to play three-hole matches in practice to develop a sense of urgency.
Whatever the plan, it worked almost to perfection.
“All week we’ve just been talking about fast starts… that’s something Luke instilled in us,” McIlroy said after the opening session.
“We were ready to go from the first tee shot, as you could see by the way everyone played. »
In that first set of duals, Rahm holed a 30-foot putt from outside the second green and hit a tee shot that hit the bottom of the flagstick on the par-3 seventh hole.
Hovland set the tone for the day for Team Europe by hitting an approach shot from the frieze of the first green that went over a ridge and into the hole.
McIlroy delivered the final stab of the morning, with a tee shot that stopped two feet short of the goal on the par-3 17th hole.
In doing so, the Northern Irishman and his partner Tommy Fleetwood – who adopted the nickname “Fleetwood Mac” for this edition of the Ryder Cup – inflicted their first defeat on Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in alternating shots.
Without a doubt, the Americans were crushed.
They had to wait six hours 25 minutes after the first tee shot to get a lead in a game. That was the result of Thomas putting in from eight feet for birdie in the second set of duels. The lead lasted until Hovland birdied the next hole.
Even then, Team USA appeared to be on course to finish the hostilities down 5-3, which would have saved the day and perhaps given them some momentum. However, Team Europe produced at the right times to turn the tide in three games towards the very end.
The other two-ball, best-ball duel quickly turned in favor of the Europeans thanks to Matt Fitzpatrick, who had lost each of his four matches in two previous appearances at the Ryder Cup.
On Friday, he won five holes in a row – four birdies and an eagle on a par-4 accessible from the tee box – on the front nine. He and McIlroy held a six-hole lead after the first seven, and they ultimately held on to earn a 5-and-3 victory over Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.
“It’s not the start we wanted, but fortunately there’s still a lot of golf left to play,” Thomas remarked.
“But tomorrow (Saturday) will be important. We have put ourselves in a position where every session is extremely important. »