Team Europe’s Ryder Cup empire? It appears as strong as ever.
Following the Europeans’ 4-0 morning blowout in foursomes, their first ever to start a Ryder Cup, they fended off a U.S. Team late Friday evening at Marco Simone to take a commanding 6½-1½ lead as stalwarts Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Viktor Hovland led the way with a combined 5½ points.
“It was a historic day,” Europe Captain Luke Donald said, “but we want it to be a historic week, so the job is certainly not done.”
Europe’s first two matches Friday morning quickly answered any questions about how their home-winning streak since 1993 would stand up to the U.S. Team following the Americans’ commanding 19-9 victory in 2021 at Whistling Straits. The morning romp started with two 4-and-3 victories for Team Europe, by Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton, and Hovland and Ludvig Åberg, who all together only lost three holes combined in the opening session.
Team Europe did not trail in any foursomes match, putting history squarely on its side. On top of the European Ryder Cup Team not losing on home soil since 1993, dating back to 1979, there have been five swept sessions at the Ryder Cup. No team has ever recovered from a 4-0 session loss to win.
“It was the perfect start for us,” Donald said. “I’m so happy with the way the guys came out of the gate, they got out to leads early on which is paramount in match play. It’s an amazing start, but we know the U.S. will be hungry to come back for more so we need to keep that foot firmly on the pedal.”
That statement proved prescient by Team Europe’s Captain as the first three U.S. pairs in four-ball pushed back on the lead, with three American flags on the board late in the afternoon session with the first group on the 16th hole.
However, history would be made again by the U.S., which didn’t earn a full point on the day for the first time ever as Team Europe’s veterans flipped all three matches to ties.
“Well, they are superstars,” Donald said. “They are studs. They are three of the top four players in the world. 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.”
While the fourth match was over nearly as soon as it began, as Matt Fitzpatrick’s electric five-birdie-or-better-in-a-row surge from the second through sixth holes to start his Ryder Cup four-ball career placed the match quickly in Team Europe’s control, Team Europe’s late afternoon surge started with Hovland and Tyrell Hatton, 2 down with five to play after Jordan Speith and Justin Thomas won the 12th and 13th holes.
Hatton’s birdies on Nos. 14 and 16 tied the match back up, and a potential half-point fell to two birdie looks outside 20 feet for Team Europe with Thomas nestled close to the hole. From 26 feet away, Hovland went first, with his putt dying just over the lip of the cup to post a needed birdie to notch a half-point.
“The Americans played some great golf as well, and they kept pushing us,” Hovland said. “To make a putt like that on the last hole that was huge for the team.”
Rahm began his heroics with three holes to play, having not won a hole all afternoon and standing in the greenside rough on the driveable par-4 16th facing a 1-down deficit. With teammate and rookie Nicolai Højgaard reaching the green and with an eagle putt, Koepka and Scheffler put themselves near kick-in birdie range. Instead, Rahm knocked his chip in and roared a battle cry that echoed throughout Marco Simone.
After the World No. 1 Scheffler answered with a birdie on the par-3 17th to reclaim an American 1-up lead with one hole to play, Rahm continued his heroics. The Spaniard reached the par-5 18th in two as Koepka stared down a short birdie look to secure the U.S. Team’s first win of the day. The Masters champion ripped that chance away, punching home his 33-foot putt from the front of the green as the ball popped up before nestling into the bottom of the cup to card his second eagle in three holes and secure another half-point for Team Europe.
In the final match on the course, it felt like it had to go the U.S. Team’s way for momentum going into Saturday. Max Homa and Wyndham Clark held a 2-up lead with two holes to play. Yet Justin Rose, in his sixth Ryder Cup, escaped the 17th with a par that extended the match. As Team Europe had done in its two previous appearances on the 18th, Rose delivered a birdie into the cup’s heart to win the hole, earning its third tie of the session to ignite the home crowd and silence the visitors.
In a day that went nearly all of Europe’s way, the U.S. star triumvirate of Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, and Patrick Cantlay delivered only combined half-point. The U.S. now requires a massive turnaround from its roster’s best to topple the Europeans, with the tall task of winning on the road for the first time in 30 years even more challenging with a five-point deficit to overcome.
And it’s up to U.S. Captain Zach Johnson to find some magic in the team room, which he revealed is already trying to stave off an illness, to begin that comeback on Saturday.
“Today’s done, and there’s more opportunity out there,” Johnson said. “28 percent-ish of a tournament is done, so we’ve got 72 percent left. That is a lot of opportunity, which makes for, I would say, just an ability to go out and show off and show the true character of this team, which I’ve been very proud of since the very beginning.”
Donald is certainly proud of his team, especially his trio of superstars.
Source : Ryder Cup