SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — So much happened during the bipolar first day of the 42nd Ryder Cup it seems prudent to take stock of it all. Herewith is the definitive (albeit premature) ranking of every protagonist in this topsy-turvy Cup.
1. Tommy Fleetwood (2-0). He has the hair for it and he certainly played like a rock star in his Ryder Cup debut. Fleetwood helped Europe salvage its only point in the morning with some spectacular putting but, just as important, his gleeful emoting fired up his teammates and the crowd. Fleetwood carried the momentum into the anchor match of the afternoon, quickly emerging as one of Europe’s key players.
2. Francesco Molinari (2-0). The Open champion was rock-solid all day long playing alongside Fleetwood, punctuating the morning win with a walk-off birdie.
3. Sergio Garcia (1-0). The most second-guessable of all the captain’s picks came off the bench to help put up four birdies in the span of five holes on the front nine of a tone-setting foursomes win. Garcia’s ballstriking was vintage while he putted with a confidence that has been missing throughout this otherwise challenging season. If he has rediscovered his youthful *duende*, the Americans are in trouble.
4. Brooks Koepka (1-0). He caught fire on the back nine to carry a shaky partner in Finau, punctuating the hard-fought victory with a stout par on 18. Koepka’s Ryder Cup record is now 4-1, making his afternoon benching all the more mystifying.
5. Ian Poulter (1-0). He shook off a water-ball on the opening hole to help bring home a key win in foursomes. As important as Poulter’s steady play and clutch putting was the way he inspired his playing partner Rory McIlroy, who looked woebegone in his morning match. Poulter’s bug-eyed fist-pumping is back, and the Ryder Cup is better for it.
6. Alex Noren (1-0). The ballstriking machine looked nothing like a rookie during the foursomes blowout that helped set the tone for the European comeback.
7. Henrik Stenson (1-0). After an injury-filled summer he came in as one of this Cup’s biggest question marks, but the 42-year-old warrior played with his trademark precision in the leadoff foursomes match, along the way rekindling his longtime partnership with Justin Rose. European captain Thomas Bjorn would be crazy to split them up going forward.
8. Tony Finau (1-0). Yeah, he had some nervy moments, but the Ryder rookie’s chip-in for eagle on the 6th hole helped keep his team in the fight until Koepka brought it home.
9. Justin Rose (1-1). He carried Jon Rahm for much of the fourballs and was a little unlucky when his approach at 18 ran through the green into the water. But the recent world number one redeemed himself with stout play in the afternoon.
10. Rory McIlroy (1-1). By far the most important development for Europe was McIlroy digging deep and playing with more pride and passion. Rory’s putting remains problematic but Bjorn can now hope that his most-decorated player is over the emotional hangover of his East Lake beatdown and that he’ll get better as this Cup progresses.
11. Jordan Spieth (1-1). He sparked the Americans’ fast start with a rush of five birdies in the span of seven holes on the front nine in foursomes, walking in a series of putts. It seemed as if Spieth had found some magic after a winless season but he regressed badly in fourballs, missing putts and hitting loose shots, though it didn’t help that Justin Thomas offered little help as his wingman.
12. Rickie Fowler (1-1). His excellent play in foursomes gave way to an uninspired effort in the afternoon.
13. Dustin Johnson (1-1). His excellent play in foursomes gave way to an uninspired effort in the afternoon. What has to alarm the U.S. side is how many short putts DJ missed with his newly reconstituted putting stroke.
14. Justin Thomas (1-1). Spieth carried this Ryder rookie to a victory in fourballs but by the afternoon he was simply too heavy of a burden.
15. Paul Casey (0-1). He showed a lot of fight in foursomes, leading his team back from 3 down against Spieth-Thomas, but in the end Casey couldn’t quite get it done.
16. Tyrrell Hatton (0-1). He had his moments paired with Casey but also made a couple of impactful mistakes.
17. Webb Simpson (0-1). There’s nothing easy about being paired in alternate shot with a persnickety personality like Bubba. Simpson tried hard but ultimately couldn’t save the day.
18. Thorbjorn Olesen (0-1). This Ryder rookie did a few good things in his fourball loss but was inexorably dragged down by the anvil around his ankle (McIlroy).
19. Jon Rahm (0-1). Expected to be a beast at this Ryder Cup, Rahm came up small at a couple of crucial moments in his fourball match alongside Rose, leading to an afternoon benching.
20. Bryson DeChambeau (0-1). Yeah, he played terribly, but at least he has an excuse in that he’s a rookie whose Hall of Fame partner (Mickelson) couldn’t play dead.
21. Tiger Woods (0-1). It was predictable that he would be emotionally exhausted and physically run-down after the emotion of East Lake and the months of non-stop golf that preceded it, and Tiger did indeed look tired on the back nine of his fourball loss. On the other hand, he’s Tiger F’ing Woods and he needs to play more like it.
22. Bubba Watson (0-1). Yeah, his finicky nature is not well-suited to Ryder Cup partner play, but Watson is a three-time winner this year, a two-time Masters champ and a probable Hall of Famer. He’s gotta show up in these things.
23. Phil Mickelson (0-1). Critics of this captain’s choice pointed out that plenty of other Americans played better during the summer and that Mickelson was little more than a ceremonial pick. Phil did little to dispel that notion, with no control of his ball and strangely muted emotions.
24. Patrick Reed (0-1). Capt. America got what he has long lobbied for, a pairing alongside his boyhood idol. But with Woods needing a lift Reed shrunk from the moment.
…AND THE CAPTAINS!
1. Thomas Bjorn. His captain’s picks went 3-1 and his pairings were masterly: He found a new powerhouse team in Fleetwood-Molinari and gave McIlroy the boost he needed with the Poulter pairing. Bjorn also sagely saved his most precise ballstrikers for foursomes, leading to the afternoon wipeout.
2. Jim Furyk. It turns out the only thing that can stop this U.S. team is their captain. It starts with the little things: How does Furyk let a jittery rookie in Finau hit the very first shot of the Cup? Big Tony predictably uncorked a quick hook to within a foot of the water, requiring a punch-out as the Euros won the 1st hole. Furyk’s captain’s picks went 0-4. He broke up his superstar team of Reed-Spieth, and they responded by going 1-2 with new partners; he doubled-down by sending out Spieth twice with Thomas, a rookie who played poorly in the morning. In foursomes, Furyk sat perhaps his two best ballstrikers, Tiger and Brooks, and in their place trotted out Phil and Bubba, whom the whole world knew would lose. All these months of planning and *this* is the best he could come up with? The mind reels.