GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — Europe had the stars, all the pivotal shots and a delirious home crowd pushing them to a record-tying lead Friday in the Ryder Cup, an opening day performance so dominant the Americans never won a match.
It was a rude welcome and a harsh reminder to the Americans why it has been 30 years since they last won the Ryder Cup away from home. And if Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland keep this up, that drought is sure to continue.
Europe swept the opening session for the first time, winning all the foursomes matches before they even reached the 18th hole. Three of the fourballs matches in the afternoon that did reach the par-5 closing hole at Marco Simone all went in favor of European blue.
Rahm chipped from deep rough across the green for eagle on the par-4 16th and then holed a 35-foot eagle putt on the 597-yard 18th hole as he and Ryder Cup rookie Nicolai Hojgaard earned a halve against Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, undefeated in three previous Ryder Cup fourballs matches, were 1 up and looked to have a red point in hand until Hovland poured in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th that took one last turn before dropping.
When thousands of flag-waving fans headed for the exit, Europe had a 6 1/2-1 1/2 lead, matching the largest in Ryder Cup history. The last time it was a five-point margin after just eight matches was in 2004 at Oakland Hills, where Europe won easily.
It was even bigger than the U.S. lead over Europe at Whistling Straits two years ago, when Europe had hardly any fans because of travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A great day in front of some amazing home fans,” said McIlroy, the only player to win both his matches.
There were plenty of American fans at Marco Simone. They just didn’t make much noise because there was so little reason to cheer.
The final blow came from 43-year-old Justin Rose, the oldest player in these matches. Rose made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th to earn another halve with Robert MacIntyre against Max Homa and Wyndham Clark.
“I didn’t want us to be the only one to let red on the board,” Rose said, illustrating how ruthless Europe felt with a home crowd on its side.
European captain Luke Donald looked like a genius by leading off with foursomes, the more difficult format of alternate shot. Europe has started the Ryder Cup at home with fourballs every time since 1993, which also was the last time Europe lost at home.
He felt his side statistically was stronger in foursomes and he wanted a fast start. McIlroy said Donald had Europe play three-hole matches in practice to develop a sense of urgency.
Whatever the plan, it worked to near perfection.
“All week, all we’ve been talking about is getting off to fast starts … something Luke has drilled into us,” McIlroy said. “We were ready to go from the first tee shot, obviously, as you can see in how everyone played.”
Rahm holed a 30-foot putt from off the second green and hit a tee shot that banged off the bottom of the pin at the par-3 seventh. Hovland got his side going early, chipping off the tight grass of the fringe, over a ridge and into the cup on the opening hole.
McIlroy delivered the final dagger, a tee shot to 2 feet on the par-3 17th hole as he and Tommy Fleetwood — “Fleetwood Mac” for this Ryder Cup — handed Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele their first loss in foursomes.
U.S. captain Zach Johnson also had a plan for the five sessions, only this beating was so thorough it brought to mind what heavyweight Mike Tyson once said of Evander Holyfield: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The Americans were bloodied, all right.
It took six hours and 25 minutes after the Ryder Cup began for the Americans to lead in any match. That came on an 8-foot birdie putt in the afternoon by Thomas, and the lead lasted as long as it took Hovland to birdie the next hole.
Even so, the Americans were poised to keep the deficit at 5-3, which would salvage the day and perhaps swing momentum in their favor. And then Europe delivered in the clutch by flipping three matches late.
The other fourballs match was a mismatch thanks to Matt Fitzpatrick, who had lost all four of his matches in two previous Ryder Cups. He won five straight holes — four birdies and an eagle on a reachable par 4 — on the front nine. He and McIlroy were 6 up after seven holes and held on for a 5-and-3 win over Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.
“It’s not the start we wanted, but fortunately for us we’ve got a lot of golf left,” Thomas said. “But tomorrow is important. We’ve put ourselves in a spot where every session is extremely important.”