Last-gasp heroics from Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose helped Europe hold off a United States fightback to seize a massive 6.5-1.5 lead after the opening day of the Ryder Cup on Friday.
Rahm, Hovland and Rose all holed clutch putts on the 18th green to snatch dramatic halves in their afternoon fourballs matches to extend the hosts’ advantage to five points after sweeping the morning foursomes.
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The Americans, bidding for a first Ryder Cup success away from home in 30 years, failed to win a match in a day for the first time.
Luke Donald’s Europe could not have dreamt of a better start to their attempt to regain the trophy in Rome after suffering a record-breaking 19-9 thrashing by the Americans at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, surprisingly left out of the foursomes by US skipper Zach Johnson, played out a thrilling tie with Tyrrell Hatton and Hovland, who holed his 20-foot birdie putt on the final green.
Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick dismantled Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa 5 and 3 in the fourth fourballs match to briefly put Europe 5.5-0.5 ahead.
The USA appeared likely to win both the other two matches, but Rahm chipped in for eagle on the short par-four 16th before draining a 30-foot eagle putt on the 18th to steal half a point with Nicolai Hojgaard against Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
“Just keep fighting. You never know what’s going to happen,” insisted Koepka.
“Still got a long day tomorrow.”
But Koepka complained about Rahm’s behaviour on the course.
“I want to hit a board and pout just like Jon Rahm did. But, you know, it is what it is. Act like a child. But we’re adults. We move on,” said an irate Koepka, the only player in the field from the Saudi Arabia-backed rebel LIV Golf circuit.
The five-time major champion had sat out the morning foursomes but appeared set to help get the USA’s first full point on the board when world number one Scheffler restored their one-hole lead on 17 after Koepka had hit his ball in the water.
Instead, the Americans failed to win a single match in a day for the first time at a Ryder Cup as they slipped five points behind.
Europe looked even less likely to avoid defeat in the final match on the course with Rose and Robert MacIntyre 2-down to Max Homa and Wyndham Clark with two to play.
But a Rose par on the penultimate hole took the match down 18 and the oldest player in this year’s event showed all of his experience by calmly rolling home an eight-foot birdie putt with all of his teammates watching on.
“That’s for the boys, because everyone’s in it together,” said the 43-year-old Rose.
Thomas and Spieth, who had four points from six previous matches as a Ryder Cup duo, led 2-up with five holes remaining.
But Spieth was unable to contribute to any of the last four holes and Thomas was left to hole a nervy short birdie putt on the 18th just to tie after Hovland kicked off the last-green drama.
Fitzpatrick’s incredible run early on paved the way for victory with McIlroy, playing the second to sixth holes in six under par as Europe raced six ahead through just seven.
After Rahm’s stunning surge, it was left to Rose to put another dagger in American hearts in the setting sun after a baking hot day at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
Europe race out of blocks
Donald’s men made a rapid start and never gave the Americans a sniff in the morning as they romped to victory in all four matches for the first time in a morning session.
The US never led in a single foursomes contest as Rahm and Hatton led the way with their 4 and 3 triumph over Scheffler and Sam Burns in the opening clash.
McIlroy hit a brilliant tee shot on the par-three 17th within two feet to close out a tense 2 and 1 win with Tommy Fleetwood in the bottom match against Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.
European captain Donald had opted to switch the usual schedule and open with the alternate shot foursomes instead of fourballs in the hope of a “fast start” — and his team delivered it in style.
Masters champion Rahm was Europe’s talisman early on, almost making a hole-in-one at the par-three seventh when his tee shot hit the pin.
“I think it might have been too much if it goes in but it got the job done,” said Rahm.
Norwegian Hovland and Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg, who is the first golfer to be selected for a Ryder Cup without playing in a major championship, cruised to another 4 and 3 victory against Homa and Brian Harman after Hovland chipped in on the first.
Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka rode the wave with a 2 and 1 success over Collin Morikawa and Rickie Fowler.
McIlroy and Fleetwood inflicted Schauffele and Cantlay’s first foursomes defeat in international competition after five previous successive wins.
Another strong performance in Saturday morning’s foursomes would drive home Europe’s already significant advantage.