Ryder Cup Day 1 Wrap Up
Post by Sports Write Derek Clements
HENRIK STENSON and Justin Rose led a brilliant fightback in the fourballs as Europe, having lost all four morning foursomes matches, finished the first day of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine trailing the USA by 5-3. And it was all capped off by Rory McIlroy, who closed out his match in partnership with Thomas Pieters with a brilliant eagle three on the fearsome 16th hole.
Darren Clarke’s side were shell-shocked after losing all four foursomes matches in front of a raucous home crowd, with Rose and Stenson surrendering their unbeaten record to Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. However, Open champion Stenson and Olympic gold medallist Rose played wondrous golf in the afternoon fourballs against the same opposition, storming to a 5&4 win to get the first European point on the board.
The all-Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and rookie Rafa Cabrera Bello then beat Ryan Moore and JB Holmes 3&2, before an off-form Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett lost 5&4 to Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka.
But Rory McIlroy and an inspired Thomas Pieters ended a rollercoaster day on a high note by beating US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar 3&2.
McIlroy said: “I lost myself a little in the middle and thankfully redeemed myself at the end but all the credit has to go to this guy (Pieters). He has been incredible all day. He is a stud.”
Clarke added: “I’m massively proud of them to do what we did. We were bitterly disappointed at lunchtime, we just did not play the way we know they can and America did.And then the guys come out this afternoon to put in a performance like that, the performance was scintillating.”
Clarke left Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick on the sidelines and gave debuts to Cabrera Bello and Willett, whose form appeared to have been affected by the furore over the anti-American sentiments his brother Pete had expressed in a magazine article. Heckled by some sections of the crowd throughout, Willett holed long birdie putts on the first and ninth but got little help from partner Kaymer as the pair suffered a heavy defeat.
But Cabrera Bello enjoyed a dream debut with birdies on the first and sixth and a crucial par save on the seventh after he and Garcia both found water off the tee.
Garcia then chipped in for a birdie on the ninth and when Holmes and Moore registered their first birdies of the day on the 10th and 11th, Garcia followed them in for a half before another birdie on the 16th.
Pieters was also inspired, most crucially making a birdie on the 13th to move four up after McIlroy had found the water. And after losing the 14th to a par and the 15th to a birdie, McIlroy ended the match in stunning fashion with a brilliant eagle on the par-five 16th before bowing to the crowd.
The tone had crucially been set by Rose and Stenson, who lost the first hole to a Reed birdie but then carded nine of their own in the next 13, Stenson firing three in a row from the sixth and coming agonisingly close to a hole-in-one on the eighth. Rose matched Spieth’s birdie on the 11th and when the Americans made a mess of the next, the stage was set for Rose to seal the win with another birdie on the 14th.
The foursomes result was as bad as bad it could get - and, let's be honest about it, this had nothing to do with great American play.
Lee Westwood and Pieters were thrashed 5&4 by Johnson and Kuchar because Westwood played like an 18-handicapper, driving poorly and missing several tiny putts. The 43-year-old Englishman is a close friend of European captain and was one of his wild-card picks. This is his 10th Ryder Cup and he was hoping to pass the points record of Nick Faldo but his form was so wretched that he took full responsibility for their defeat. Experience is all well and good, but it is meaningless without form.
Stenson and Rose, a successful and unbeaten pairing from Gleneagles in 2014, fell behind early and could never get back into their match, losing 3&2 to Spieth and Reed. As ever, Spieth's putter was red hot and he was helped by some inspired golf from Reed, a passionate and patriotic American who just loves representing his country.
Garcia and Kaymer started brightly enough and led Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson after 11 holes but missed a series of birdie putts and were made to pay when the American pair won five holes in a row to win 4&2.
McIlroy was tasked with seeing Andy Sullivan through his first Ryder Cup match and it was the rookie who played the better golf. For much of their match, the Europeans were on top and looked to be on course to deliver Europe's only point of the morning. They were two up after birdies on the 13th and 14th, but lost the 15th to par and the 16th to a birdie. Sullivan then put his tee shot to the par-three 17th in the water, handing the lead to Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. They halved the 18th, meaning the Americans had won the match one up - it was also Fowler's first win in his third Ryder Cup.
The last time the United States won an opening session 4-0 was when the late Arnold Palmer was captain in 1975, albeit against Great Britain and Ireland, and Palmer’s bag from that contest was displayed on the first tee in tribute to the seven-time major winner after his death on Sunday.
The United States have never lost a Ryder Cup on home soil after winning the opening session, leaving Darren Clarke with a massive task to rally his side for the afternoon fourballs. The last thing you ever want to do in any sporting contest against the USA on their own turf is to give them an advantage and give their loud and enthusiastic fans something to cheer about. And boy, were they cheering all morning long.
Clarke shuffled his hand in the afternoon, although he sent Rose and Stenson out first again, and they once again faced Spieth and Reed. Garcia was partnered with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello against JB Holmes and Ryan Moore, Rory McIlroy went out with Thomas Pieters against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer partnered Danny Willett against Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker.
Willett should have played in the foursomes but wasn't in the right frame of mind to do so after his brother Peter's comments about American fans, whom he described as a "braying mob of imbeciles". The crowd gave Willett a warm welcome on the tee and he calmed any nerves by holing a long birdie putt on the first green. The fightback had begun.
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