DARREN CLARKE: This afternoon the roles may be reversed and the Europeans will go out and make some putts and get some momentum.
Captain Clarke called it. After a stunning Friday morning beatdown by the Americans, Team Europe picked itself up off the mat, knocked out some American heavyweights, and got itself right back in the 41st Ryder Cup trailing 5-3 heading to Saturday. Great teams lean on their leaders and Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia came through for Europe during the afternoon four-ball session.
British Open champ Stenson brought back memories of Royal Troon, putting on a ball-striking clinic at Hazeltine, making five birdies in 14 holes. His Olympic champ partner Justin Rose rode a hot putter to four birdies of his own as Europe’s big dogs squashed the Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed dream team 5&4. In the morning foursomes it was Spieth and Reed who handed Rose and Stenson their first Ryder Cup defeat after the European pair went 3-0 at Gleneagles two years ago.
Sergio Garcia reminded every American fan at Hazeltine why he is their all-time Ryder Cup villain — and he didn’t even need his brother to help. It’s happened too many times to be surprising but Garcia’s putter caught fire and he made five birdies in 16 holes. Garcia was paired with fellow Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello and they beat Americans J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore 3&2.
Rory McIlroy ended Day 1 in style with an eagle and then a bow at the par-5 16th to close out Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar 3&2. McIlroy and rookie Thomas Pieters never trailed in the match and Johnson and Kuchar — who looked so good in the morning — couldn’t keep up with the Europeans who birdied holes three through seven to race out in front.
“It’s incredible. I mean, I think for me, I’ve played one Ryder Cup in the US and this is the second one, and this is definitely a little more hostile than the one at Medinah,” McIlroy said. “I just want to — reactions like that on the last, I just want to let people know how much it means to us.”
The only American pair to get a point in the afternoon was Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker and they both played true to form. There were no rookie jitters for Koepka who bombed drives down the middle all day before capping off the performance with a 270-yard second shot at the par-5 11th that finished 20 feet from the hole. That was the exclamation point on a 5&4 victory over Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett. Kaymer badly missed several putts in the morning and it didn’t get any better in the afternoon. It was a wonder he was sent back out.
It was a dream day for golf fans and surely one of the best opening days a Ryder Cup has ever seen. Arnold Palmer’s golf bag from 1975 resting on the first tee was a good omen as the Americans swept the opening session for the first time since The King was their captain back in, you guessed it, 1975. At lunch time on Friday the U.S. task force was genius, the players-first formula was modern leadership, and the American Ryder Cup drought was about to end. At dinner time, the Ryder Cup is back up for grabs, modern leadership could prove actually to be the inmates running the asylum, and the task force might still be a punchline.
Team USA has the lead, Team Europe has the momentum. Bring on the weekend.