Ryder Cup 2016: Five Things We Learned Friday Morning at Hazeltine

September 30, 2016

CHASKA, Minn. — The United States is off to a perfect start.

Putts dropped, crowds roared and the four U.S. groupings rang up 18 birdies, compared to just eight for Europe, while storming to a 4-0 lead over Europe in the morning foursomes of the Ryder Cup. The Americans have already surpassed their performance in this format at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, where they won just one point in eight matches. How important is this U.S. advantage? It’s never lost a Ryder Cup on home soil after taking an opening-session lead. Here’s everything we learned Friday morning at Hazeltine:

Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth are America’s dream team. The opening matchup was exactly what fans from both sides wanted: Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, unbeaten as a team in Gleneagles, facing Spieth and Reed, 2-0-1 together in ‘14. The American duo birdied holes 2 and 3 and never trailed, eventually winning 3 and 2. Reed, playing in short sleeves on a chilly morning, finished it in style with this birdie putt on 16:

Rose and Stenson never clicked, making just one birdie, one bogey and 14 pars. The match took more than three hours to play 12 holes, and both sides were placed on the clock. For future reference, if any individual exceeds 60 seconds, the pairing receives a bad time. After three violations, it would result in the loss of a hole – but that’s never happened in Ryder Cup history.

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The Phil Mickelson Ryder Cup Thrill Ride is dizzying. The morning’s second match, featuring Mickelson and Rickie Fowler against Rory McIlroy and rookie Andy Sullivan, had everything you could want. Mickelson drove it wildly all day, including a hooked tee shot O.B. on the par-5 6th.

But after that snap-hook, Mickelson and Fowler snapped out of their funk, reeling off three straight birdies, punctuated by Fowler’s chip-in on 9 to make the turn 1 up.

Europe wasn’t done. It won the 11th with a par and McIlroy drilled birdie putts on 13 and 14 to go 2 up.

But the U.S. won the 15th with a par, and Sullivan rinsed his tee shot on the par-3 17th to hand Mickelson and Fowler a 1-up lead. Mickelson missed the 18th fairway by at least 20 yards, but he and Fowler scratched out a par to close a 1-up victory.

Jimmy Walker still has some Baltusrol magic. The reigning PGA Champion hit a couple of loose shots early, but he and Zach Johnson won five straight holes on the back nine to flip their match with Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer and grab 4 and 2 win. Here is Walker’s putt on 13 that gave the U.S. their first lead in the match:

Confirmed: Dustin Johnson is the U.S. team’s biggest weapon. Paired with Matt Kuchar, DJ ripped his opening tee shot to set up a first-hole win, and buried a 20-footer for birdie on 5 to put his team 3 up. Kuchar made his share of putts and had a blast playing DJ’s drives, (Who wouldn’t?) as they rolled to a 5 and 4 win over Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters. One of Europe’s six rookies, Pieters seemed dazed for the first several holes, while Westwood yakked a short par putt on 2 and a four-footer on 13. Johnson has now won his last 5 Ryder Cup matches, dating back to 2010. If he continues to make putts, as he did here on 8, he’ll be tough to beat all weekend.

The first tee on Ryder Cup Friday morning remains the most electric experience in all of golf. The stands were packed an hour before Justin Rose struck the event’s first shot. In between an impromptu singing of “God Bless America” and cheers of “U-S-A,” the crowd mixed in chants for Arnold Palmer, and one of The King’s old golf bags was perched on the tee box. It was the first goose-bump moment in an event that promises many more.