25 September 2021: Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia provided the lone bright spark on a miserable day for Europe at the Whistling Straits. Steve Stricker’s boys played with vigour to own the first day of the 43rd Ryder Cup, gaining their biggest first day lead since 1975. At 6-2, they are quickly in the driver’s seat, leaving Padraig Harrington and his boys to lick their wounds as they spend their dark evening staring at a heavy defeat.
Rory McIlroy lost both his matches, for the first time in his career. With Ian Poulter in the morning foursomes and in the company of fellow Northern Irishman Shane Lowry in the fourball, McIlroy endured tough losses. His captain put him on the bench for Saturday morning, allowing McIlroy some time to regroup and reflect on a miserable day. The hapless McIlroy did not reach the 16th tee in either of his matches.
Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele experienced far more pleasant outcomes, winning each of their matches, accounting for four of the xi points.
“It’s a great start. We are happy with the start,” Stricker said. “But my message to the guys is tomorrow is a new day. Pretend today never happened, and let’s keep our foot down and continue to play the golf that we know we can play.”
Jon Rahm was the brightest star on the European firmament. He won the foursomes point with Garcia. In the afternoon, he did his part in an intense duel which was halved at the last hole, thanks to a clutch birdie putt from Tyrrell Hatton.
The four point deficit is the largest Europe has faced, ever since the competition was expanded to cover all of continental Europe in 1979.
“No doubt, it was a tough day,” admitted Harrington. “There’s obviously still 20 points to play for.”
But the Americans will not let the Europeans sneak up on them in a silent reversal. Everyone from Bryson DeChambeau to Patrick Cantlay were egging the partisan crowd to raise the decibel levels, making the setting deeply discomforting for the visitors.
“They fought hard every single shot out there, from what I saw,” said DeChambeau, who played with Scottie Scheffler for half a point in the fourballs. “This is a great start, but the job’s not over. We have two more days. A lot more golf. And we cannot lose our mindset to win.”
Justin Thomas and Cantlay delivered one of the most riveting efforts of the first day. The duo worked their way back from three down to secure a vital half with an eagle putt late in their contest.
Amidst the despair, the Europeans sought to remain focused and hopeful. “We can come back from 6-2,” said a defiant, even if defeated McIlroy.
DeChambeau continues to wait for his first full point in the Ryder Cup, but he delivered moments that suggest he is taking to the format with all his heart. He orchestrated a U-S-A chant for his teammates at the first tee and as expected, produced a monster drive that forced many to pick their jaws from the floor.
The American pulversied the par-5 fifth hole, clearing an imposing complex of bunkers with a 417 yard beast. All he needed from there was a simple wedge for an eagle in the bank.
“There are two towers behind the green — I can’t even describe to you — they are like 250 or 200 yards right of where I’m trying to hit my drive,” Scheffler said. “And it’s crazy for him to be able to commit to that shot.
“It was great. That was a good spark for us and good momentum for the rest of the day.”
In the end it took some resilient wizardry from Hatton, whose 5-iron on the 18th left him less than ten feet to halve the point with DeChambeau and Scheffler.
“I don’t know if anyone could have beat Xander and Patrick today,” McIlroy said, after he saw them race away to a 5Up lead through the first five holes. McIlroy and Ian Poulter were staring at defeat all the way through an eventual 5&3 result.
Ryder Cup always produces some magic. Jordan Spieth delivered that moment on Friday. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to win them any points, but it was a shot for the ages and should play on our screens for many years to come.
Spieth was dealing with a ball nestled in the thick grassy wall by the 17th green. Somehow finding the space to rest his two uneven feet, the Texan produced an impossible chip with a 52-degree wedge. The momentum took him nearly to the edge of the lake, while the ball climbed high before landing softly for a handy six-footer for par. Ironically, Justin Thomas would miss that putt to end their match against Rahm and Garcia.
“It’s kind of one of those shots that you practise 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,” explained Spieth.
“I hit like a 52-degree because a 60 might have gone over the back of my head, and you know, just tried to flick it right underneath and hit it as hard as I could, as high as I could. You know, it ended up right on a crown where it was a tough putt, and I think it’s maybe a situation, first one in wins, and we just kind of got a really tough break there.”