The pairing dubbed “Fleetwood Mac” sealed a start of dreams for Europe at the Ryder Cup, completing a landslide rout in the Friday morning foursomes sessions.
Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy saw off Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay to power the hosts into a commanding 4-0 lead at a raucous Marco Simone Golf Club, stunning Team USA with just the fourth ever– and Europe’s first– opening session sweep in the tournament’s 44-edition history.
Wounds of a crushing defeat at Whistling Strait two years ago still raw, European captain Luke Donald had urged his side to make a fast start, breaking from convention to start with foursomes despite Europe opening with a fourballs session in every home event since 1997.
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To say the plan worked would be an understatement. Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton made short work of World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, coasting to a 4&3(four up with three holes to play) triumph before young duo Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg cruised to victory by the same scoreline over Max Homa and Brian Harman.
Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka secured a 2&1 triumph over Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa, before McIlroy and Fleetwood survived a late scare to clinch a 2&1 win of their own and ensure a fairytale start for the hosts.
“It’s been an unbelievable session,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.
“We switched the format this year to go foursomes first because statistically that’s our better session and all week, we’ve been talking about getting off to a fast start.
“We were ready to go from the first tee shot as obviously you can see in how everyone played.”
It leaves an upbeat US captain Zach Johnson yearning for an emphatic response in the afternoon fourball session, as his team got off to the worst possible start in their bid to end a 30-year winless run on European soil.
“Hats off to the European team. They’re playing quality golf… but there’s still a lot of opportunity,” Johnson said.
“I’ve got a lot of hungry guys that accept and want adversity. I’ve got the utmost confidence in them.
“It’s about doing what they do, staying committed and I feel we’ve got the right guys to do it.”
Incredibly, there was never even a flicker of red on the scoreboard as the US failed to take the lead at any point in the four matchups.
A mouthwatering opening bout featuring the top two ranked players in the world looked destined to be close, but Spain’s Rahm dovetailed superbly with English partner Hatton to swat aside Scheffler and Burns.
A magnificent chip in from off the green at the 10th hole highlighted a nerveless opening from Masters champion Rahm, who toasted securing Europe’s first point with a passionate fist pump.
In Norwegian world No. 4 Hovland, Europe boast one of the game’s most in-form players, but Swedish rookie partner Aberg– just 23 years old and less than 100 days into his professional golf career– looked like a potential Achilles heel against the experienced pairing of Homa and Open Championship winner Harman.
Yet the Scandinavian pair dismantled their older counterparts, much to the delight of the partisan home support.
“The crowd is unbelievable and we can really feel the support,” Aberg said.
“That’s what we need to keep winning points here in Rome. It was a lot of fun today.”
Ireland’s Lowry and Austria’s Straka were run closer by Fowler and Morikawa, but held their nerve to give McIlroy and Fleetwood the opportunity to complete the sweep.
Once again, there was a flicker of a comeback for Team USA after the turn, yet England’s Fleetwood snuffed hope out with a nerveless putt at the 15th to restore a two-shot cushion.
His Northern Irish partner then left him with the simplest of conversions after a superb tee shot at the par-three 17th, Fleetwood tapping home to defeat a pair who had never lost in five previous foursomes matches together and trigger celebrations among the European team on the green.
Team USA will be hoping for an inverse of the Solheim Cup last week, where Europe suffered an unprecedented opening sweep before clawing their way back dramatically to retain the trophy.