Ryder Cup: Europe has a mountain to climb as USA dominates on Day 1 | Ryder cup

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What a bloody opening day this has become for Pádraig Harrington and Europe. The captain would have been forgiven for wanting to smell the salt as the United States inflicted blow after blow on its beleaguered Ryder Cup holders. As Harrington pondered how he could recover from this situation, he knew only too well that history was not on his side. Harry Houdini died just across the Whistling Strait in Michigan; its form of act of escape is necessary for Europe here.

Since the Ryder Cup was changed to include Europe rather than Great Britain and Ireland from 1979, the United States had never led 6-2 after Matchday 1. Until now. Overwhelming favorites played like overwhelming favorites, especially with putters in hand, which for Steve Stricker was close to the perfect day. The United States is already eight and a half points away from victory.

As Stricker reminds his American team that they only need more of the same – or even something close to it – Harrington doesn’t have his problems looking for. A fundamental problem is the form of Rory McIlroy, who was terribly in a bad mood when he teamed up with Shane Lowry for the afternoon’s loss, by 4 & 3, to Harris English and Tony Finau.

Lowry put his arm around McIlroy for comfort as the pair exited the 9th green; the level of sympathy, even from a Ryder Cup newbie, was completely understandable. McIlroy made a downcast figure as Finau sealed a point for the United States. The Finau putting was exceptional all afternoon. Later there was McIlroy’s challenge. “We can come back from 6-2,” he said. “If it’s 6-2, we can come back. Social media duly exploded and disagreed.

Dustin Johnson, recalling how formidable he is a match player, teamed up with Xander Sc Chaudele for a 2 & 1 four-ball win over Paul Casey and Bernd Wiesberger. “It’s always nice to have a fluid DJ and to play golf,” said ScHotele. “I’m fortunate enough to call him my partner now, watching him play smooth golf.”

Xander Sc Chaudele, who won his two games on Friday, comes out of a bunker the second. Photograph: Tannen Maury / EPA

Tyrrell Hatton produced a formidable three in the 18th for a half point, alongside Jon Rahm, against Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler. DeChambeau started his day by hitting a spectator in the leg with a capricious tee shot. He still produced a birdie three in the 1st. In the 5th, DeChambeau’s drive extended to 417 yards. Still, this tense match was about skill as opposed to brute strength. Scheffler nudged the United States in the 15th before nervously making sure the advantage remained a hole later. The final act was that of Hatton, to bring the late European joy. “It was huge for the team at the end,” said the Englishman. “Obviously it’s a good feeling to ride this one.”

Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland had previously emerged as four-ball light loopholes for Harrington. They led three after eight against Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay before losing the 9th and 12th. As Europe desperately tried to hang on, Thomas played a wonderful approach to the 16th par-five as Fleetwood clung to Lake Michigan. Thomas’ Eagle equalized the match. It was to end like this after the exchange of four in the 18th, which meant the United States remained undefeated after the first game of the day. Partisan galleries, of course, have lapped it all.

The United States had led 3-1 from foursomes to fourballs, to reflect the situation in Paris three years ago. The main difference here, of course, was the home advantage the Striker team enjoyed.

Johnson and Collin Morikawa beat Casey and Hovland, 3 & 2. Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger pushed Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick aside by 2 & 1. Cantlay and ScHotele led five after five against McIlroy and Ian Poulter, the American duo later sealing a 5 & 3 success.

“We had a plan, we stuck to the plan,” Harrington said as the dust settled on the quartets. “I think the players played well this morning. This is match play. We definitely stuck with the plan. Was “the plan” rigid enough to be applied regardless of the score?

Tyrrell Hatton's putt on the 18th earned Europe their only half point in the afternoon's four-ball games.
Tyrrell Hatton’s putt on the 18th earned Europe their only half point in the afternoon’s four-ball games. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The best European performance came in the first game. Rahm and Sergio García had five under for the 17 holes needed to secure a 3 & 1 victory over Thomas and Jordan Spieth. One criticism that is already likely to point to Harrington is that he not only split the Spanish duo for all four balls, but ruled García out completely. With visitors rocking, García’s experience could have been invaluable. Instead, his afternoon contribution was to try and prepare struggling teammates. This Fleetwood missed the first session also raised eyebrows after its prominence in 2018.

Spieth delivered one of the most remarkable moments of day one on the last hole of his loss. The Texan made a remarkable shot from thick, rough wooden ties on a steep bank up to 5 feet from the cut. Momentum quickly brought Spieth back down the hill and a stone’s throw from the lake. García stood up and applauded his opponent’s efforts before admitting he feared Spieth might get injured.

“I don’t think I overstated this fall,” said Spieth. “Once I started moving I was like, ‘I have to keep moving until I find a flat spot. It’s kind of one of those shots that you practice as a kid for fun and ultimately don’t want to have. Chances of it going, you could roll a thousand balls on the green, and it won’t stay where it was.

“I hit a 52 degree wedge because a 60 could have passed through the back of my head. I just tried to slide it just below and hit it as hard as I can, as high as possible. It ended in a crown where it was a tough putt, we just had a really tough break there. “

The United States has not encountered many. Europe is running out of steam and something, anything for inspiration. Otherwise? They will need a wake by the lake.


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