What a bloody opening day this became for Pádraig Harrington and Europe. The captain would have been forgiven for the use of aromatic salts as the United States dealt blow after blow to their beleaguered Ryder Cup champions. As Harrington contemplated how the hell to regain this situation, he would know very well that history is not on his side. Harry Houdini died across the water from Whistling Straits in Michigan; Europe needs its form of flight act here.
Since the Ryder Cup was modified to include Europe instead of Great Britain and Ireland as of 1979, the USA had never led 6-2 after day one. Up to now. The overwhelming favorites played as the overwhelming favorites, especially with putters in hand, in what was close to the perfect day for Steve Stricker. The United States is already eight and a half points away from victory.
As Stricker reminds his US team that they just need more of the same, or even something that comes close to it, Harrington doesn’t have his trouble searching. A fundamental problem is the form of Rory McIlroy, who was sadly in a bad mood when he joined Shane Lowry for the afternoon’s 4 & 3 loss to Harris English and Tony Finau.
Lowry put his arm around McIlroy for comfort as the pair walked from the ninth green; the level of sympathy, even from a Ryder Cup rookie, was totally understandable. McIlroy showed a dejected figure as Finau sealed a point for the United States. Finau’s putting was exceptional all afternoon. Later, there was the McIlroy challenge. “We can go back from 6-2,” he said. “If it’s 6-2, we can go back.” Social media duly exploded and they disagreed.
Dustin Johnson, serving as a reminder of how formidable a matches player he is, teamed up with Xander Schauffele for a two-and-one win over Paul Casey and Bernd Wiesberger. “It’s always nice when you have a free-flowing DJ playing great golf,” Schauffele said. “I’m lucky to call him my partner now, watching him play free-flowing golf.”
Tyrrell Hatton produced a magnificent 3-pointer in the 18th to secure a half point, alongside Jon Rahm, against Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler. DeChambeau began his day by hitting a spectator in the leg with a wayward tee shot. He still produced a birdie three in the 1st. In the fifth, DeChambeau’s drive extended to 417 yards. However, this tense fight was about skill rather than brute force. Scheffler nudged the United States ahead at 15 before nervously making sure the lead remained a gap later. The final act was from Hatton, to bring the overdue European standing ovation. “That was huge for the team in the end,” said the Englishman. “Obviously, it’s a good feeling to release that.”
Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland had emerged as four-ball glimpses for Harrington before. They were three after eight against Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay before losing the ninth and twelfth. As Europe desperately tried to hold on, Thomas played a wonderful approach to par five 16 as Fleetwood got into Lake Michigan. Thomas’s Eagle tied the game. It was supposed to end that way after the exchange of four in the 18th, meaning the USA remained undefeated after the opener of the day. The partisan galleries naturally licked it all up.
The United States had led a 3-1 lead from foursomes to fourballs, to mirror the situation in Paris three years ago. The key difference here, of course, was the home advantage that Striker’s team enjoyed.
Johnson and Collin Morikawa eliminated Casey and Hovland, 3 and 2. Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger pushed Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick aside for 2 & 1. Cantlay and Schauffele were five after five against McIlroy and Ian Poulter, the duo American later sealing a hit of 5 and 3.
“We had a plan, we stuck to the plan,” Harrington said as dust collected on the quatrains. “I think the players played well this morning. That is match play. We definitely stick with the plan. ”Was“ the plan ”inflexible enough to be applied regardless of the score?
The best European performance came in the first game. Rahm and Sergio Garcia were five short on the 17 holes required to complete a 3-1 win over Thomas and Jordan Spieth. One criticism that will likely be directed at Harrington by now is that he not only split the Spanish duo by all four balls, but left Garcia out entirely. With the visitors swaying, Garcia’s experience could have been invaluable. Instead, his contribution for the afternoon involved trying to help his struggling teammates. The fact that Fleetwood missed the first session also drew attention after its prominence in 2018.
Spieth delivered one of the most remarkable moments of the first day on the last hole of his loss. The Texan played an extraordinary shot from thick and rough wooden sleepers covering on a steep bank to within 5 feet of the crown. The momentum carried Spieth swiftly down the hill and two steps from the lake. Garcia stood up and applauded his opponent’s efforts before admitting he feared Spieth might get hurt.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating that drop,” Spieth said. “Once I started moving, I thought, ‘I have to keep moving until I find a flat place.’ It’s one of those shots you do as a kid for fun and ultimately you don’t want to do it. The chances of him going there could roll a thousand balls off the green, and he’s not going to stay where he was.
“I hit a 52 degree wedge because a 60 could have gone through the back of my head. I tried to move it just below and hit it as hard as I could, as high as I could. He finished right on a crown where it was a tough putt, we just had a really tough break there. “
The United States did not find many of them. Europe is gasping for air and something, anything for inspiration. Otherwise? They will need a wake by the lake.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism