GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — No matter how hard the Americans might have tried Friday, the European team simply wasn’t going to let them win a match on the opening day of the 44th Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club.
When it looked as if the United States was finally going to capture its first full point in Friday’s afternoon four-ball (best-ball) matches, Norway’s Viktor Hovland made a 26-foot birdie putt to tie things up with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
Then Spain’s Jon Rahm carded eagles on two of the last three holes, including a 33-footer on the 18th, to secure another half-point from world No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler and PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
Finally, when it seemed the Americans would get a victory from their last pairing on the course, U.S. Open winner Wyndham Clark and Max Homa, England’s Justin Rose made a 9-foot birdie on the 18th hole to take another half-point.
After the Europeans went 4-0 in the Friday morning session for the first time in Ryder Cup history, they won one four-ball match and tied three others in the afternoon. Europe has a 6½-1½ lead, which matches its largest advantage after the first day since 2004. The Europeans won the Ryder Cup 18½-9½ at Oakland Hills Golf Club in Michigan that year.
It is only the second time the U.S. failed to win a match in a single day at the Ryder Cup; it gained just a half-point on a rain-interrupted Sunday in 2010. It is also only the second time a team has failed to win a match on opening day; Great Britain and Ireland went 0-4-0 on the first day in 1947.
Rahm was one of the European team’s heroes on the first day. Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton defeated Scheffler and Sam Burns 4 and 3 in foursomes, then he made two big shots in the end against Scheffler and Koepka.
“We hung in there on the front nine, played some good golf,” said Nicolai Hojgaard, Rahm’s four-ball partner. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool to share the stage with Rahmbo. He’s a great player, great person, and yeah, it’s a special week so far.”
Rahm, the No. 3 player in the world, said Hojgaard told him to “do it for Seve” before his putt on the 18th hole, referring to late Ryder Cup star Seve Ballesteros of Spain, who was Rahm’s hero growing up. Rahm hit the eagle putt so hard that his ball nearly bounced out of the hole.
“I don’t know if he would have quite made it like that, but I’m sure glad that it went in,” Rahm said.
Hovland, McIlroy and Rahm went a combined 4-0-2 for the European team Friday.
“Well, they are superstars,” European team captain Luke Donald said. “They are studs. They are three of the top four players in the world. You need your superstars firing. You need them playing well. Without that, it’s really an uphill battle. They stepped up and did what they needed to do, and I’m so proud of them.”
If there was any silver lining for the U.S. team after Friday’s opening session, it’s that most golf fans back home probably slept through its miserable beatdown from the European team.
“We definitely need a better day than today,” Clark said. “We need to kind of flip it and put it in our favor. If we could try to dominate in the morning and in the afternoon. At least we got some points, but we have a tall task in front of us.”
It was a day of complete domination by the Europeans. The U.S. team didn’t lead in any of the morning matches and didn’t take its first lead until Spieth and Thomas went 1 up on the sixth hole around 8 a.m. ET. Their lead came more than 7½ hours into the match and after 79 holes had been played.
It is only the fourth time the European team went unbeaten in a session overall. It’s the first time since 2006 that the European team had a lead after the first session. It won the Ryder Cup 18½-9½ at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland.
“We are off to a great start this morning,” Ireland’s Shane Lowry said. “We need to keep the foot down. Look, we are very happy with our start today, and obviously there’s a lot of golf to be played from here. We talked about getting off to a fast start, and we have done that.”
The American team, which is hoping to end its 30-year drought in Ryder Cups played outside the U.S., has plenty of work to do with 20 matches to play.