Early on Friday morning at Le Golf National, the Ryder Cup was playing out somewhat predictably. The immensely talented U.S. squad was on track for a 4-0 sweep in fourballs, a deficit not impossible for the European team to overcome, but one that made the task of pulling off the upset that much more of a challenge.
Then, the European duo of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood made a late charge. Trailing Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed 2 down through 10 holes, with their team in trouble in all three matches ahead of them, Molinari poured in back-to-back birdies to square the match. Fleetwood followed suit, holing a birdie from just off the green at the 15th and then another from long range at the par-3 16th, which produced an epic celebration that sent the French crowd into a frenzy. Molinari, who won the Open Championship with superb iron play and clutch putting, finished off the match at the 17th with a lengthy birdie putt when two putts would have won it. Their point was the only one the Euros took from fourballs, and they trailed 3-1 heading into the afternoon.
The Fleetwood-Molinari momentum proved to be essential, as the European team trounced the U.S. 4-0 in afternoon foursomes, sweeping the session for the first time in European Ryder Cup team history. Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson set the tone, grabbing an early 3 up lead through seven on Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, who won their morning match 4 and 2 over Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen. Fowler and Johnson attempted to make a late push after going 5 down through 11, but Rose and Stenson closed them out at the 16th, 3 and 2.
Rose had been in control of his morning match alongside Jon Rahm, with the duo leading the match 2 up through 12 holes. But Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau came on strong down the stretch, and with the help of a huge break at the 16th and Rose hitting his approach at the 18th in the water, they claimed a 1 up win. Rose knew he had to make up for Rahm and him losing a key point.
"Yeah. I had a little chat with Rory in the team room," said Rose. "I had that quick 30-minute turnaround. It was a tough loss this morning, maybe a game we could have won. So to turn it around was important."
"Henrik and I have had great vibes in this event. So to rekindle that was the perfect thing for me this afternoon. And Rory gave us -- he said to me, come on, put some blue on the board, give me something to chase or give me and (Ian) Poulter something to chase."
That's just what McIlroy and Poulter did, overcoming a slow start that included Poulter finding the water on his opening tee shot to dispose of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, 4 and 2. It was just what McIlroy needed after an ugly morning match.
"I think a big thing for us this week is as Ian said resilience, but also persistence," McIlroy said. "You have to persist. Persist, persist, persist, until it turns around for you, and this morning wasn't ideal, but it was still a better start than the one we got off to at Hazeltine."
It helped that Poulter was up to his usual tricks, pumping his chest after every big putt and igniting the crowd.
"I love it and embrace it," said Poulter. "And when you have great partners to go out and play golf with, kind of it's inspiring. So for me, I just want to get on the golf course. I just want to see the fans. I just want to hole putts. And I want to help this team."
With all that going on ahead, it felt almost inevitable what would happen behind. Alex Noren and Sergio Garcia, whose presence on the team was slightly controversial despite his Ryder Cup resume, embarrassed Bryson DeChambeau and the erratic Phil Mickelson, 5 and 4. In the final match, Molinari and Fleetwood made light work of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, also winning 5 and 4. Even with a 5-3 European lead, Molinari does not want to let up.
"We need to put the hat back on for tomorrow and reset quickly," he said. "They are going to come out strongly tomorrow, so there's no time to celebrate when there's still a job to be done.
"We prepared, like Thomas (Bjorn) said, to get it done, and we will."