CHASKA, Minn. -- Europe has the momentum, but the United States has more points, 5 to 3, after the first day of the 41st Ryder Cup. It might need every one of them.
If the Americans are going to end the Europeans’ dominance in the biennial competition -- six wins in the last seven matches -- Friday morning’s sweep in foursomes will likely go down as the difference.
“I like being ahead,” U.S. captain Davis Love III said after Day 1 at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Europe rallied, yes, winning three of the four matches in the afternoon four-ball sessions, but building a big lead and trying to hang on isn’t a bad way to go, either. No team that has led by more than three points after the opening session has ever lost the Ryder Cup.
The Americans should also gain some confidence from how it performed in alternate shot, a format it has notoriously struggled with as Europe has racking a combined 11-4-5 record in those sessions over the last 10 Ryder Cups. Also, no player on this year’s U.S. team had a winning record in that format, while no European player had a losing record in it.
But this year the mantra was that things were different. Friday the Americans played like it, especially early, led by its supergroup of Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth.
First off at just after 7:30 a.m. local time, under a fog-grey sky and in the raw, wet chill of autumn, Reed and Spieth made their way to the first tee, and the crowd cranked up the noise. Reed was so jacked by the atmosphere he didn’t even bother with long sleeves, instead looking more like a lineman from a Packers-Vikings game. Then they went to work.
Spieth birdied the second hole to give the Americans the early advantage, and they never looked back. They led the rest of the match, tallying five birdies along the way including a 15-footer by Reed on the par-5 16th to close out a 3-and-2 victory over Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. It helped, too, that neither European made much in the way of significance with the putter.
Matt Kuchar, playing alongside Dustin Johnson, was the next to secure a point for the U.S., before it was Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson’s turn. Trailing by one for most of their match against stalwarts Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, they birdied three of the final four holes to turn the deficit into a 4-and-2 win.
The real swing, however, came in the second match of the day.
Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler fell two behind after the first six holes before ripping off three straight birdies, which included a chip-in by Fowler on No. 9 to give the Americans a brief 1-up lead. Still, they fell behind by two again and rallied again, winning three of the final four holes for an improbable 1-up victory in the only match all day that went to the 18th hole.
“It was a lot of heart,” Mickelson said. “It was a match where I didn't drive the ball well. It was a match where I never felt more pressure in any Ryder Cup than I felt heading into this one because of the last two years and the build up. I played a little bit tight and my man here got me to hit some shots in the end and hit some iron shots and got me to, he got the best out of me.”
It was just the ninth time in Ryder Cup history that one of the team blanked the other in a session and the first time since 1975 that it happened in the opening session -- the same year that Arnold Palmer captained the U.S. to victory at Laurel Valley, where he told his team the night before the competition began, “I don’t want them to score a point.”
Palmer passed away earlier this week. His bag from that 1975 Ryder Cup greeted players on the first tee on Friday.
Eventually Europe did score a point -- a big one -- with Rose and Stenson handing Spieth and Reed the first loss of their Ryder Cup careers as a team in afternoon four-ball. The Europeans combined for nine birdies in the match and won easily, 5 and 4.
None of the other afternoon matches were close either, with Europe adding a pair of 3-and-2 victories, including one by Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters in the last match of the day, and the U.S. getting just one point from a 5-and-4 whitewashing of Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett by Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka.
“As I'm sitting in my seat right now, in the position we were in at lunchtime, I would definitely say it's better to have a small deficit with some momentum,” European captain Darren Clarke said. “That's match play. Certainly we managed to wrestle some of that back to the European side this afternoon.”
Now the only question is will it be enough.