Ryder Cup: United States race clear as Europe suffer dire Straits on opening day

By Sports Desk September 24, 2021

The United States snatched their biggest opening-day lead at a Ryder Cup since 1975 as they powered 6-2 ahead of Europe at Whistling Straits.

All of Europe's worst fears were realised on Friday as the cup holders left themselves with everything to do over the weekend.

Rory McIlroy, rather than proving a talisman, suffered two heavy defeats, with world number one Jon Rahm's excellence not enough to prevent a landslide as Steve Stricker's American team dominated.

Rahm and Sergio Garcia put the first point of the day on the board, beating Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, but the home side bossed the rest of the morning foursomes to seize a 3-1 lead. Two more wins in the afternoon, and two halved matches, meant another 3-1 session for the USA, who will now look to assure themselves of a big lead heading into Sunday's singles.

There were shots that caught the eye, including an astonishing chip up a steep bank from Spieth in the morning and a 417-yard bomb from Bryson DeChambeau in the afternoon fourballs.

But it was consistent quality from the US team that put them in such a commanding position, with Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele both winning twice, including as a pair in the fourballs.

Johnson said: "Today was a great day for both me and Xander, and we both won our matches in the morning and this afternoon. Couldn't have been any better."

Patrick Cantlay, the PGA Tour Player of the Year, played with Schauffele in the morning as they trounced McIlroy and Ian Poulter 5 and 3, and he was then part of the last match of the afternoon, as he and Thomas came from three behind to halve against Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood.

"For sure I was feeding off JT a little bit, he was carrying me around all day today, he played great," Cantlay said. "Three and one in both sessions, that's a great start. Hopefully we can keep the pedal down and keep doing more of the same."

Europe's fortunes were summed up when Fleetwood hooked his tee shot at 16 into Lake Michigan, with Thomas holing a silky eagle putt to win that hole.

There was a huge boost for Europe, however, when Tyrrell Hatton holed a clutch putt at 18, winning the hole as he and Rahm snatched a half point against Scottie Scheffler and DeChambeau.

Rahm said: "I'm not going to lie: when I hit my bunker shot at 16 and we both had over 15 feet for birdie and they were both within 10 feet, things did look dark, to say the least. Luckily I was able to roll mine in and I told him [Hatton] that we can finish strong and still get this done.

"Not many people are as clutch as he is under pressure and he showed it right here so hopefully this gives him a lot of confidence for tomorrow and we get the ball rolling."


Shot of the day

Spieth conjured up an incredible shot on the 17th after playing partner Thomas had seemingly left him in an impossible position.

Spieth somehow chipped to around four feet away from the pin from the bottom of a steep bank in thick grass beyond railway sleepers. Spieth hurtled down to the edge of the water following his great escape, but his exploits were not enough to prevent Spanish pair Rahm and Garcia claiming the first point of the competition.

The three-time major champion said: "it's kind of one of those shots that you practice as a kid for fun, and you don't ultimately want to have it. And the chances of it going there, you could roll a thousand balls off the green, and it's not going it stay where it was.

"I hit like a 52-degree because a 60 might have gone over the back of my head and just tried to flick it right underneath and hit it as hard as I could, as high as I could."

Player of the day

At his fifth Ryder Cup, Johnson played like he is sick of that losing feeling, having known it three times already. He and Schauffele were a strong pairing in the afternoon, while Johnson guided Collin Morikawa through the morning foursomes. As McIlroy floundered for Europe elsewhere on the course, the US team had a seasoned member of their team step up and lead.

Chipping in

McIlroy: "Xander, Patrick, played wonderful, and Tony – I haven't seen Tony putt as good as that in a long time. When you have got a couple of pairs like that on form, on a difficult golf course where it's sort of hard to make birdies and they go on runs, if you're not quite 100 per cent on top of your game, it's tough. We can come back from 6-2."

Johnson: "Obviously we have a lot of support on our side, and MJ [Michael Jordan] is out there, he's a huge supporter of the Ryder Cup and huge supporter of golf, but it's nice to see him come out and support us."

Tony Finau: "You've just got to enjoy it. All these people out here cheering us on, that's the biggest thing. You have to enjoy it. I learned that in Paris, and the more you can just have fun with it, it seems to keep you loose, and I was able to roll the rock nicely today."

A little birdie told me...

Garcia is Europe's top points-scorer in Ryder Cup history and the Spaniard matched Nick Faldo's record tally of 23 match wins when he and compatriot Rahm drew first blood in the morning session.

Powerhouse  DeChambeau hit an astonishing 417-yard drive on the 581-yard par-five fifth hole, setting up an eagle to put himself and Scheffler one up in their four-ball contest with Rahm and Hatton.

Friday's foursomes results

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (Eur) beat Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) 3 and 1
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) beat Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland (Eur) 3 and 2
Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) beat Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (Eur) 2 and 1
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) beat Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter (Eur) 5 and 3

Friday's four-ball results

Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele (USA) beat Bernd Wiesberger and Paul Casey (Eur) 2 and 1
Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau (USA) halved with Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton (Eur)
Harris English and Tony Finau (USA) beat Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry 4 and 3
Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay (USA) halved with Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood (Eur)

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