GUIDONIA MONTECELIO – Europe swept the opening session of the Ryder Cup for the first time in its history, a beating so thorough that none of the foursomes matches reached the 18th hole.
And then somehow it got even worse for the Americans.
Right when they were on the verge of escaping Friday with a manageable deficit, Europe delivered one punch after another on the 18th hole at Marco Simone. It left the Americans without a single win on opening day for the first time in Ryder Cup history, and it gave Europe a record-tying lead in its bid to regain the cup.
Three fourballs matches came to the 597-yard closing hole, all of them looking like a red American point on the board.
And then Viktor Hovland made a 25-foot birdie putt. Jon Rahm made a 35-foot eagle putt that slammed into the back of the cup. Justin Rose finished it with an 8-foot birdie putt, all those matches ending in a tie.
For a moment, it looked like the day would end with Europe holding a 5-3 lead.
Instead, it was 6 1/2-1 1/2. The five-point lead matched the biggest margin after one day, last done by Europe at Oakland Hills in 2004 when it handed the Americans their worst loss.
“Historic day,” European captain Luke Donald said “But we want it to be an historic week. So the job is certainly not done. We will all celebrate an amazing day, but we'll be back tomorrow morning with the goal of trying to win tomorrow morning's session.”
U.S. captain Zach Johnson could only offer hope that the tide would turn. He offered no excuses other than a mysterious mention of a bug going through the U.S. team.
“It did not go in our favor today. Doesn't mean it can't tomorrow or Sunday,” Johnson said. “Tip my cap to the European team for playing great golf. Our time's coming.”
Europe now needs only to win eight points from the remaining 20 matches to extend its winning streak at home that dates to 1993. Donald pushed all the right buttons by starting with foursomes, which he considered a European strength that would give him a hot start.
And then he let his stars do the work. Rory McIlroy was the only player to win both his matches, even if he rode the amazing play of Matt Fitzpatrick in fourballs. Fitzpatrick won five straight holes on the front nine in the only fourballs match that ended early.
Rahm twice holed big shots off the green in foursomes with Tyrrell Hatton and hit the pin with his tee shot on a par 3. In the afternoon, he made two eagles over the last three holes.
Hovland got this shot-making clinic started in the morning when he chipped in from 45 feet, off a tight lie on the fringe and over a ridge. He ended his day with that big birdie, a putt that paused ever so briefly before taking one final turn into the cup.
“They are studs. They are three of the top four players in the world,” Donald said. “You need your superstars firing. You need them playing well. Without that, it’s really an uphill battle. They stepped up and did what they needed to do, and I’m so proud of them.”
Europe had the stars, all the pivotal shots and a delirious home crowd pushing them along the way. It was a rude welcome and a harsh reminder to the Americans why it has been 30 years since they last won the Ryder Cup away from home.
The American stars fell flat. Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay lost their foursomes match to “Fleetwood Mac” — McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood. The American tandem had been 5-0 in foursomes at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth were undefeated in fourballs in three previous Ryder Cup matches. They had to settle for a a halve when Hovland made his big putt.
The lead was even bigger than the U.S. had over Europe at Whistling Straits two years ago, when Europe had hardly any fans because of travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A great day in front of some amazing home fans,” McIlroy said.
There were plenty of American fans at Marco Simone. They just didn't make much noise because there was so little reason to cheer.
The final blow came from Rose, at 43 the oldest player at Marco Simone. He guided around Ryder Cup rookie Robert MacIntyre and delivered in the end, winning three of the last four holes to scratch out a halve in the final match on the course.
“I didn't want us to be the only one to let red on the board,” Rose said, illustrating how ruthless Europe felt with a home crowd on its side.
“The 18th hole was incredibly kind to us, and the boys holed some unbelievable putts,” Rose said. "Those three ties mean a lot, just for moral victory as much as obviously keeping the score as spread as possible.'
Europe has started the Ryder Cup at home with fourballs every time since 1993, which also was the last time Europe lost at home. Donald felt his side statistically was stronger in foursomes and he wanted a fast start. McIlroy said Donald had Europe play three-hole matches in practice to develop a sense of urgency.
Whatever the plan, it worked to near perfection.
“All week, all we’ve been talking about is getting off to fast starts ... something Luke has drilled into us,” McIlroy said. “We were ready to go from the first tee shot, obviously, as you can see in how everyone played.”
Johnson also had a plan for the five sessions, only this beating was so bad it brought to mind what heavyweight Mike Tyson once said of Evander Holyfield: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The Americans were bloodied, all right.
It took six hours and 25 minutes after the Ryder Cup began for the Americans to lead in any match.
Even so, the Americans were poised to keep the deficit at 5-3, which would salvage the day and perhaps swing momentum in their favor. And then Europe delivered in the clutch by flipping three matches late.
“It's not the start we wanted, but fortunately for us we've got a lot of golf left,” Thomas said. “But tomorrow is important. We've put ourselves in a spot where every session is extremely important.”
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