Rome turned blue as Europe stunned the United States in a Ryder Cup opening battle for the ages at Marco Simone Golf Club on Friday.
Having swept the visitors in the morning foursomes, a flurry of remarkable late shots in the closing fourballs saw the hosts stop Team USA from winning a single match in a day for the first time in the tournament’s 44-edition history and soar into the weekend with a 6.5- 1.5 lead.
Jon Rahm finished with his second eagle across the final three holes to clinch a tie in an epic bout alongside Nicolai Højgaard against world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka, moments after Viktor Hovland had holed a stunning 26 foot putt to help halve his matchup with Tyrrell Hatton against Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.
Despite Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy winning six straight holes to easily dispatch Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele 5&3(five up with three holes to play), Team USA looked on course to end Friday with a first win when Max Homa and Wyndham Clark approached the 17th tee with a two hole cushion over Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre.
Yet there was one final sting in the tail for US captain Zach Johnson and his team, as Rose took full advantage of his opposition’s mistakes to steal yet another unlikely half point and send teammates and fans alike into delirium on the 18th green.
The five-point advantage for captain Luke Donald’s side marks the joint-highest lead following the opening round in Ryder Cup history, equalling the records set by Europe and the US in 2004 and 1975 respectively.
It leaves them needing just eight points from the final 20 available to secure the cup, and a further four and a half to match the historic 19-9 margin of defeat they suffered at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Team USA, without a victory on European soil in 30 years, will need a roaring response if they are to bring an end to the streak come Sunday. As defending champions, they need 14.5 total points to retain the cup.
Saturday sees a repeat of Friday’s format, with the morning foursomes session teeing off at 1:35 a.m. ET(6:35 a.m. BST).
It was six and a half hours before the Americans finally took the lead in a match Friday– and even that lasted for less than 15 minutes.
Ryder Cup:‘Fleetwood Mac’ helps Europe soar to start of dreams, rocking US with opening sweep
Thomas’ birdie at the fourth at last cast some red on the scoreboard after a horror start in the morning foursomes that saw Europe record their first ever opening session sweep at a Ryder Cup.
Even when the Americans looked to finally be finding their feet, the hosts simply raised their level. Scheffler responded to Rahm’s stunning eagle chip-in at the 16th with a brilliant birdie at the 17th hole to restore a one hole lead, only for the Spaniard to somehow fire back with another eagle at the death.
As bedlam ensued around him, Rahm’s reaction said it all. The Masters champion simply stood motionless, his face a mixture of utter bewilderment and giddy delight. Interviewed shortly after, he still struggled to find words.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Rahm said.
“It’s the intention of the moment and then the fact that something happens is truly unique. I’ve got to give Nicolai props because over here on 18, he gave me the freedom to basically go at it, and he told me to hit a putt, try to make it.”
Thunderclaps, first tee charging and fancy dress: Fans bring noise and color to the Ryder Cup
Crowds at the 18th green had barely had time to catch their breath from Hovland’s dagger moments earlier, the Norwegian’s ball struck with just enough power to trickle into the cup.
“It was about time the ball went in!”, Hovland said, laughing.
Thomas, a controversial captain’s pick given his struggles for form on the PGA Tour this season, held his nerve brilliantly to subsequently hole out and stop his team from falling even further behind.
“It’s a bummer. Not the start we wanted but fortunately for us we’ve got a lot of golf left,” Thomas said.
“We’ll just go get some sleep, regroup and go try to win as many points as possible tomorrow.”