Europe suffer 4-0 whitewash in nightmare Ryder Cup start
Europe's bid for an unprecedented fourth Ryder Cup win in a row got off to a disastrous start as they suffered a 4-0 whitewash in the morning foursomes in the event's 41st staging at Hazeltine.
It was the first time the opening session had produced a clean sweep, the last time having been in 1965, when Arnold Palmer, who passed away at the start of this week ar the age of 87, was the Team USA captain at Laurel Valley.
With his bag from that event standing on the first tee as a fitting tribute to ‘The King’, an inspired American team held the upper hand for most of the session before turning two of the matches around in the closing stages to leave Darren Clarke’s team licking their wounds.
Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth led the way for the Team USA as they claimed a notable scalp by beating Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose 3&2 before Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar blew away Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters 5&4.
The misery increased for Europe as Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer fell apart on the back nine in losing 4&2 to Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker before Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson fought back from being one down with four to play to beat Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan on the last.
“It’s been an emotional trip for this team,” said home captain Davis Love of the “task force” that was set up following a disappointing performance at Gleneagles.
“We then had the shock of Arnold Palmer passing away and it’s just been little things that have bonded this team together really well.
“It’s a great start, but there is still a long way to go with a lot more points to be won.”
Clarke held up his hand, admitting: “The European guys were not quite on top form this morning. The Americans played better and deserve their 4-0 lead.
“Hopefully this afternoon the roles will be reserved and we’ll hole the putts to get some momentum.”
On a foggy morning in Chaska, Spieth and Reed delivered the fast start the Americans were looking for against Rose and Stenson in a clash between two unbeaten pairings from Gleneagles in 2014.
Spieth wasted no time displaying his sublime putting touch by rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt for a win at the par-4 second before doubling Team USA’s advantage by converting a three-footer for another birdie at the 633-yard third.
Rose and Stenson had won three matches out of three for Paul McGinley in Perthshire, but they found themselves with a real fight on their hands here as a brilliant approach from Spieth at the seventh - a cracking shortish par-4 that flanks Lake Hazeltine - gave Reed an opportunity from four feet that he duly converted.
In contrast to their opponents, Rose and Stenson were struggling to find a spark, though they did pull a hole back at the ninth as the Americans made their first bogey of the day.
Eyebrows were raised there as the Stenson was made to holea putt from inside two feet, with Spieth admitting afterwards that “we should probably have given it”.
As a run of holes were then halved - Stenson followed Spieth in for a birdie-4 at the 11th - the Americans were put on the clock but had come off it by the time they put the first red point on the board.
Fittingly, they clinched victory in style when Reed rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt in front of a gigantic crowd surrounding the 16th green for an impressive and well-deserved 3&2 victory.
“I wouldn’t say it was simple as it’s never simple against Rose and Stenson, but we hit a lot of greens to give ourselves opportunities and that’s what you’ve got to do in the alternate shot format,” said Reed.
From the moment he hit a peach of a drive at the first, Sullivan looked very comfortable alongside McIlroy as they fought out a topsy-turvy encounter with Fowler and Mickelson.
The Europeans quickly edged in front when a par-3 proved good enough at the fourth before Mickelson pulled his tee shot out of bounds at the sixth - the longest hole in Ryder Cup history at 642 yards.
Fowler almost did the same thing, leaving Mickelson having to try and play their fourth shot right-handed from close to a fence, eventually running up a double-bogey 7 to go two down.
McIlroy’s approach at the seventh caught a tree before ending up in a hazard, leaving Fowler with two putts for the hole though he only needed one and that success really lifted the home duo.
They also won the next two holes with birdies - Fowler raised the loudest roar of the morning when he chipped in at the ninth - to go from two down to one up before the pendulum swung back Europe’s way.
Between them, McIlroy and Sullivan rolled in a string of putts, either for birdies or pars, to regain the upper hand with four holes to play but there was one final twist to come in that thrilling tussle.
An untimely three-putt cost the Europeans the 15th, Team USA then won the next with a birdie-4 despite another wayward drive from Mickelson before Sullivan found water with his tee shot at the 17th.
Admittely, Fowler had put the pressure on with a great shot and the 2015 Scottish Open champion duly picked up his first full Ryder Cup point when McIlroy was unable to convert a 20-foot putt at the last.
“I have never felt more pressure than any other match because of the build up to this one,” admitted Mickelson, who’d publically criticised Tom Watson after a five-point defeat at Gleneagles, afterwards.
“I played a little tight today but my man (Fowler) got the best out of me as I hit some good shots at the end and this is a really special moment.”
Fowler added: “To win my first Ryder Cup point with someone I looked up to as a kid is pretty special.”
After getting in front at the second, Garcia and Kaymer retained the upper hand all the way through to the 12th only to then lose four holes in a row to Walker and Zach Johnson.
“It was a day when we just kept building,” admitted Walker, the US PGA champion. “I was really nervous at the start, but we both found our rhythm and started pulling them in.”
Former Masters champion Johnson added: “Jimmy’s par putt at the ninth (to stop the Americans going two down) was the catapult.”
Westwood’s 10th successive appearance in the event and rookie Pieters’ debut was a nightmare almost from the start against US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Kuchar.
With Westwood off form - his confidence couldn’t have been helped by missing a short putt early on - and Pieters looking nervous, they lost the opening two holes, went five down after seven and were simply blown away by their opponents.
“Anyone who partners DJ is going to have some great success and getting to his drives was great fun for me,” admitted Kuchar of his big-hitting partner