Rónán MacNamara in Rome
Europe 6½ -1½ USA
Like Rome’s iconic landmarks, Team Europe left Team USA in ruins after a record-equalling opening day at the 44th Ryder Cup in Marco Simone.
Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose all came up trumps for Europe late on in the afternoon fourballs as they scrambled a winning session to amazingly stretch their lead to five points – their largest since 2004 – with USA going winless for the first time on day one.
Leading 4-0 after a first opening session whitewash in Ryder Cup history, Europe looked as if they were going to see their lead trimmed to 5-3 as the Americans came fighting back in the afternoon but some late heroics from Rahm, Hovland and Rose as well as a dominant performance from Matthew Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy saw Luke Donald’s charges remarkably win the session and lead 6½ -1½.
Two eagles in three holes to finish from Rahm and a monstrous birdie effort from Hovland on 18 slammed the door shut on an American rally. A closing birdie from Rose to snatch a third half point of the afternoon against Max Homa and Wyndham Clark leaves the visitors with a mountain to climb heading into the final two days.
Zach Johnson left out Brooks Koepka and unbeaten four ball pair Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on Friday morning as his side suffered a chastening session defeat and their inclusion kicked life into a wounded USA side for a few hours but they ultimately came up short.
The first tee shot of this year’s contest was struck at 07.35 local time with the USA failing to go ahead in any foursomes match. Not until 2pm in the fourballs, courtesy of Thomas did the away side go ahead in a match.
Europe’s first point was all but confirmed early on after Fitzpatrick carded four birdies and an eagle in his opening six holes as he and McIlroy roared 6UP through seven holes against Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.
“Yeah, absolutely amazing. You know, for the first nine holes I was trying to hang on to this man’s coattails. I said to him walking up 10. At least I contributed twice,” joked McIlroy who claimed two points from two on Friday for the first time in his career.
“And then the boys made a few birdies, you know, on the back nine there and we had to just sort of hang in and hit some good, solid shots down the stretch.
“But yeah, I mean, just a great day in front of some amazing home fans, and I said to Fitzy there, you know, for his first point for Europe, I’m happy that I was the one o get it with him. Proud of how him and I played, and we just have to go out and regroup for tomorrow.”
However, at one stage it seemed like the USA were going to claim wins from the remaining three matches but Spieth and Thomas were forced to settle for a half point despite being 2UP with five to play against Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton.
Scottie Scheffler and Koepka were 1UP on 15 and 17 but were unable to close out a full point for Johnson’s side.
Having been 2UP with five to play, Spieth failed to finish his last four holes and despite the best efforts of Thomas he was unable to hold off the Europeans. JT looked like he would win USA their first full point of this year’s Ryder Cup but his cast iron birdie on 18 ended up for a half point after Hovland sent the spectators – and Shane Lowry – into a frenzy with a sensational birdie putt after Thomas had found the par-5 in two shots.
Spieth and Thomas remain unbeaten as a four ball pair but this is a result that got away.
“It was about time the ball went in. I felt like we played some really good golf today, and the Americans played some great golf as well and they kept pushing us and to make a putt like that on the last hole that was huge for the team,” said Hovland.
Moments later, Rahm, fresh off an eagle chip in on the par-4 16th, rolled in a second eagle in three holes on the 18th to again snatch a half point from Scheffler and Koepka, much to the Spaniard’s disbelief!
The world number three had no birdies on his card in the afternoon, but he stood up when he needed to as the fiery Nicolai Hojgaard began to wilt.
“You know, it’s the intention of the moment, right, and then the fact that something happens is truly unique,” explained Rahm. “I’ve got to give Nicolai props because over here on 18, he gave me the freedom to basically go at it, and he told me to hit a putt, try to make it. And he said, “What would Seve do,” right, “do it for Seve.” I don’t know if he would have quite made it like that, but I’m sure glad that it went in.”
Meanwhile Rose and Robert MacIntyre battled valiantly against Max Homa and Wyndham Clark as three of the four matches went the distance after none did in the morning.
After the drama that unfolded before them, they were not about to miss out on their slice of glory and Rose, who has had his fair share of iconic Ryder Cup moments was delighted to have another special moment.
Homa and Clark capitulated having been 2UP with three to play in a match the Americans simply had to win but Rose added salt into their wounds with a clutch closing birdie to snatch a share of the spoils but it will feel like a win.