Ryder Cup 2021: Europe off to worst start against US since 1975
Europe, the holders, trail by their biggest opening-day deficit in 46 years after the strongest US side in the event’s history lived up to its billing in the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits
Admittedly on a day when, apart from Jon Rahm, the Europeans just didn’t hole enough putts, it was an impressive start from Steve Stricker’s side as they swept into a 6-2 lead.
Not since the 1975 match at Laurel Valley have the Americans led by that margin while they are in the best position at this stage since leading 5.5-2.5 under Paul Azinger’s captaincy at Valhalla in 2008.
This was the first time the US had won the first two sessions since 2010 and it’s the first time since 1977 that they’ve led by four or more points after day one.
Padraig Harrington’s team have left themselves with a mountain to climb over the remaining two days, but they’ll be aiming to take some momentum from Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton snatching a half point at the death in their afternoon match after making two birdies in the last three holes.
“No doubt it was a tough day. Clearly not what you wanted, 6-2,” said Harrington. “It isn't a good start, but there's still a lot to play for.
My team played well today. You know, just a few times, the momentum, the odd putt didn't go in, and you need a bit of momentum. Things didn't go against us.
“BuI just think the last couple of matches there, when it was really, really tight, the boys came through, and it certainly felt like those two halves at the very end were crucial for us.
“As much as we would have liked to have gotten wins on the board, we couldn't afford to have lost those matches.
“Maybe a little bit of momentum swing there, and we feel good about that. And coming out tomorrow, obviously we need a big day.”
Despite the late twist, it didn’t really take the gloss off an impressive day’s work from the Americans as numerous players rose to the occasion for Sticker in his home state of Wisconsin.
Dustin Johnson, the oldest player in the US team at 37, produced arguably his best day’s work in the event as he won with Collin Morikawa in the morning then clicked again with another rookie, Xander Schauffele, as well in the afternoon.
Up against Paul Casey and Bernd Wiesberger in the second session, the Americans enjoyed a three-hole winning burst early on before being pegged back a bit but Johnson and Schauffele then delivered crucial birdies at the 11th and 12th to go on and win 2&1.
“I still don’t feel old,” said a smiling Johnson afterwards while Schauffele declared of their effort: “It feels nice and even better when you have DJ as your partner and he is playing nice.”
After a morning win alongside Garcia, Rahm was sent out in the afternoon with Tyrrell Hatton and they had a ding-dong battle with Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler.
Helped by an eagle-3 set up by a monstrous 417-yard drive from DeChambeau at the fifth, the home duo had their noses in front after eight holes and were still ahead until Hatton kept his cool to hole a five-footer for birdie to win the last.
“That was obviously huge for the team and hopefully it can turn the momentum our way,” said two-time Dunhill Links champion Hatton while Rahm added: “It feels good to get that half point.”
It was a day to forget for Rory McIlroy as he suffered two heavy defeats, the first one in the company of Ian Poulter after they lost the opening five holes to Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
The four-time major winner then got off to a better start alongside Shane Lowry in the fourballs before they lost five out of eight holes to Tony Finau and Harris English in going down 5&3.
It was the first time in his Ryder Cup career that McIlroy, who is making his sixth appearance in the contest, had tasted defeat twice on the same day.
“I was able to roll the rock (his ball) nicely today,” said Finau while Harris admitted his partner had played “unbelievable golf”.
Making history as the first Norwegian to play in the event - as Wiesberger was doing for Austria - Hovland had tasted defeat alongside Casey in the morning but fared better with Tommy Fleetwood as a fourball partner.
They lost the first to Cantlay and Justin Thomas before hitting back to take the third, fourth, sixth and eighth. They then let their opponents off the hook a couple of times before it turned a bit nervy, especially when Thomas eagled the par-5 16th to square things, and ended up having to settle for a half point.
"A win would have been nice, but we did great and it was a pleasure to be out there with Viktor,” said Fleetwood.
According to Harrington, the “whole world will be watching” as the delayed contest got underway with a mouth-watering opening match earlier in the day and that certainly lived up to its billing.
In their first outing together, Rahm and Garcia produced a brilliant performance to put the first point on the board for the Europeans with a 3&1 win over US dream team Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
After Garcia had almost chipped in from the back fringe, Thomas was unable to convert a great birdie chance at the first before instantly making amends from a similar range for a hole-winning birdie at the long second.
That lead didn’t last long, though, as world No 1 Rahm quickly found his putting touch, knocking in a 15-footer for a 2 then a raking 40-footer from just off the edge of the green at the fourth.
Rahm then found water with Europe’s second shot at the fifth, losing that to a par 5, but the Spaniards were soon smiling again as they evoked memories of that iconic Ryder Cup partnership of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Thomas hit the US tee shot to around 10 feet at the par-3 but, after Garcia replied with an equally impressive blow, Rahm judged a 12-footer with some break in it to perfection for the European duo’s second hole-wining birdie-2 of the morning.
The US Open champion then knocked in one from eight feet, this one breaking the other way, at the par-4 eighth and celebrated that with a fist pump as they went two up for the first time.
Garcia’s lovely chip to around two feet at the 10th set up another hole-winning birdie before the Americans clawed one back after a lovely approach from Spieth at the 13th.
The Texan repeated the feat at the 15th only for Garcia to pop in a 25-footer for a brilliant birdie-3 at the 15th and Thomas to miss on this occasion, leading to the door being closed two holes later despite Spieth producing an incredible shot from a bank below the 17th and did well to stop himself from ending up in Lake Michigan.
“It felt great,” said Garcia of the Spaniards producing six birdies in recording a win that equalled Bernhard Langer’s record in foursomes and took his overall tally to 26.5 points, having claimed that all-time individual record in 2018.
Referring to Rahm, he said: “The best thing is I knew who I had on my side and he was amazing. He holed every putt he had to make.”
Johnson, who is making his fifth appearance in the match, produced a touch of class with his first shot of the day as he somehow managed to get it to 12 feet from an ugly lie just off the fairway and was duly rewarded as Morikawa converted the birdie putt.
Hovland, the sole rookie sent out by Harrington in the opening session, hit a nervy-looking tee shot at the second, it was just what the doctor ordered when he almost holed Europe’s third from 78 yards as that was halved.
A classy iron from Casey to five feet at the third squared matters before a poor tee shot from Johnson led to Europe getting their nose in front but not for long.
The world No 2 was back in his partner’s good books when he converted a 15-footer for a birdie at the sixth before a par proved good enough to win the next as well as Casey had tugged his tee shot on this occasion.
Back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th moved the home pair to three up before Europe won the 13th against the head after a wayward drive from Casey, but a seventh birdie of the morning at the 16th rounded off an impressive display from Johnson and Morikawa.
On his record-equalling 11th appearance, Lee Westwood missed from six feet for a win at the first after a longer Daniel Berger effort had lipped out, with the Americans quickly taking advantage of that let off.
A monster drive from Brooks Koepka set up a birdie at the second before the four-time major winner then rolled in a 20-footer at the next hole, where Matt Fitzpatrick was unable to match his 2 from half the distance.
It was more like it when Fitzpatrick gave himself something to smile about when he holed a 15-footer to win the sixth before a par then proved good enough for the Europeans at the ninth but they weren’t on level terms for long.
Koepka converted for birdie from close range at the tenth and Berger did likewise at the 11th before Fitzpatrick, having hit a wayward approach into the hazard, redeemed himself with a great par save at the 13th to avoid the Europeans falling further behind in that one but it was a losing battle.
A tried and tested pairing from the 2019 Presidents Cup, Cantlay and Schauffele hit the ground running from the off, though slackness from their opponents definitely helped as they quickly built up a head of steam.
Having already hit a poor approach at the first, McIlroy then bladed a bunker shot at the next and, before they knew it, the European big guns quickly found themselves five down after five against their rookie opponents.
Back-to-back wins at the 10th and 11th briefly raised hopes of McIlroy and Poulter salvaging the situation, but the damage had been done as Cantlay and Schauffele went on to claim a huge scalp on one of the rare days when ‘Postman’ Poulter was unable to deliver on this stage.
He’ll need to come out fighting on day two and so will the rest of his European team-mates if they want to keep hold of the trophy on Sunday night.
"We can come back from 6-2,” insisted McIlroy, who will sit out a session for the first time in his Ryder Cup career after being omitted from the Saturday foursomes.
First-day results (US names first)
Foursomes (UK times)
Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth lost to Jon Rahm/Sergio Garcia 3&1
Dustin Johnson/Collin Morikawa bt Paul Casey/Viktor Hovland 3&2
Brooks Koepka/Daniel Berger bt Lee Westwood/Matt Fitzpatrick 2&1
Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele bt Rory McIlroy/Ian Poulter 5&3
Dustin Johnson/Xander Schauffele bt Paul Casey/Bernd Wiesberger 2&1
Bryson DeChambeau/Scottie Scheffler halved with Jon Rahm/Tyrrell Hatton
Tony Finau/Harris English bt Rory McIlroy/Shane Lowry 5&3
Justin Thomas/Patrick Cantlay halved with Tommy Fleetwood/Viktor Hovland
Saturday Foursomes1.05pm Brooks Koepka/Daniel Berger v Sergio Garcia/Jon Rahm
1.21pm Dustin Johnson/Collin Morikawa v Paul Casey/Tyrrell Hatton1.37pm Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas v Viktor Hovland/Bernd Wiesberger1.53pm Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele v Lee Westwood/Matthew Fitzpatrick
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