SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – It was cool, breezy and tense, but the U.S. won three of four morning matches – including two that came down to the 18th hole – to grab a 3-1 edge after one session at this 42nd Ryder Cup. In a mild surprise, Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed were the only American duo to lose their match. What did you miss? Here’s the rundown.
MATCH ONE: Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau (USA) defeat Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, 1 up
This one was entertaining from start to finish. Rose stuffed his approach on 1 to ignite the home crowd and give Europe to a quick lead. Three holes later, he released his driver on his follow-through on the drivable par-4 6th… and his ball still found the left side of the green (when your bad swings are that good, you’re feeling it). But Finau chipped in for an eagle 2 on that same hole to square it. On 7 Finau snapped his tee shot out of bounds and Koepka went into a temporary fog after striking a fan with his own wayward tee shot. Rahm then drained a birdie on 8 for a 2-up lead, punctuated by a fist pump.
But this match was just warming up. Koepka birdied 11 to cut the European lead to one. Rose pitched in on 12 from below the green. Koepka answered with a 30-footer on 13. Back and forth, back and forth.
On 16, Finau got the break of the morning when his tee shot on the par 3 caromed off the railroad tie surrounding the pond (a target no more than a few inches wide) and settled inside 4 feet. He drilled the putt to square the match.
On 18, Rahm missed the fairway and laid up. Rose’s approach from the center of the fairway landed deep on the green and trickled into the water behind. Koepka then two-putted for a safe par, Rahm missed from 15 feet for a halve, and Europe, after leading the match from holes 1-15, lost a full point.
MATCH TWO: Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (USA) defeat Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen, 4 and 2
There were some jittery moments early from both pairings – Olesen was the only player in the session to hit his opening tee shot in the water, and DJ and McIlroy missed short putts. But Olesen warmed up with birdies on 3 and 6, and he won the 8th with a par to give Europe its first lead.
On 9, Europe lost momentum for good. Olesen found water again from the tee while McIlroy hit it in the deep rough. Fowler birdied it, then added another on 10. DJ added birdies on 12 and 13 to put Europe on the ropes. Olesen was lining up a short birdie putt on 14 when Fowler dropped a bomb for a birdie of his own to halve the hole and snuff out any hope of a comeback for the home team.
This figured to be a pairing where McIlroy would need carry his rookie partner, but Rors laid an egg – he played hatless (a cool look) but was the only player Friday morning to go birdie-less (not cool). McIlroy has never sat out a session in his Ryder Cup career, but you have to wonder if he’ll take a seat Saturday if he doesn’t play better in Friday’s afternoon foursomes.
MATCH THREE: Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (USA) defeat Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, 1 up
Welcome back, Jordan Spieth. After a lost summer, Spieth found a spark while paired with Thomas, his childhood buddy. Spieth was the Man of the Morning. On 1 he lipped out his approach shot from the fairway for eagle. He dropped a 15-foot par-saver on 4. Then drilled a 20-footer birdie on 5.
He wasn’t done. He made another birdie on 6, then chipped in for another one on 7. He was five under through those first seven holes while sprinting to a 3-up lead. On 9, Thomas made a birdie to register his first score for the team, and he added another on 10.
But though it all, Casey and Hatton never cracked. They were four under (and 3 down) through 10 holes, but Casey went on a four-birdie run from 9-12, and Hatton dropped one on 13 to square the match. Hatton and Spieth halved with birdies on 14, and Thomas put the U.S. back in front on 15.
They carried that lead to 18, where Thomas rinsed his approach but Spieth delivered with a two-putt par – the last a ticklish, downhill three-footer, to win it.
MATCH FOUR: Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood (EUR) defeat Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods, 3 and 1
Reed paired up with his childhood hero, but looked tight early while knocking his approach on No. 1 into the pond. Woods started his Ryder Cup with a sweet club twirl, then stuffed he tee shot on the par-3 2nd for a gimme birdie.
Woods sprayed a few tee shots but scratched out four birdies on the front nine. (He didn’t putt a two-footer on 6 once Reed jarred a putt before him, but let’s give that one to Woods.) Tiger’s birdie on 9 put the U.S. 1 up, and Reed chipped in on 10 to extend the lead. But Molinari made birdies on 11 and 12 to square it, and Fleetwood dropped one on 15 to give Europe the lead.
Woods struggled through the back nine – and looked a little stiff while rinsing his tee shot on 16. That’s where Fleetwood dropped a bomb to fire up the home crowd, which needed something to cheer about. Fleetwood uncorked a celebration that looked a little like … vintage Patrick Reed? You decide.
Molinari finished it off on 17 – he and Fleetwood combined for eight birdies in the round – and Europe grabbed a much-needed point. Woods dropped to 5-9 in his career in Ryder Cup fourballs and both he and Reed will sit out the afternoon session.
Here’s the lineup for Friday’s foursomes (alternate shot):
Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose vs. Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler
Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter vs. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson
Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren vs. Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood vs. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth