HAVEN, Wis. – Beautiful weather greeted the 40,000 spectators when the 43rd Ryder Cup teed off Fridays. So did massive traffic jams on the rural roads that surround Whistling Straits. At the end of the day, though, there was at least hope for the American side that has been dominated by the Europe in in the recent years of this biennial competition.
The U.S. ended day one of the three-day event with a 6-2 lead, the country’s biggest first-day lead in 46 years, but there’s a long way to go. There’ll be another day on Saturday like Day 1 – four foursome matches in the morning and four four-ball matches in the afternoon. Then all 12 players on each team will decide the outcome in singles play on Sunday.
Friday was an extraordinary one on a day in which late afternoon winds topped 30 miles per hour. In the last Ryder Cup three years ago in Paris the U.S. took a 3-1 lead after the first morning session but the Europeans swept the afternoon matches and went on to a one-sided victory. This year’s Day 1 was much different.
The high profile Spanish pairing of Jon Rahm. the world’s No. 1-ranked player, and Sergio Garcia, the highest point-scorer in the history of the Ryder Cup, opened the day with a 3 and 1 win over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
Europe had won four of the last five Ryder Cups and seven of the last nine , and that start didn’t bode well for the Americans. After that, though, it was a banner day for Team USA. The U.S. won the last three foursome matches of the morning session and went 2-0-2 in the afternoon four-ball play.
What was particularly notable was the drubbing the U.S. administered to the fearsome Ian Poulter and his partner, Rory McElroy. England’s Poulter became a Ryder Cup legend after his showing at Medinah in 2012. That year he won all four of his matches in dramatic fashion.
Poulter, with McIlroy as his partner, birdied the last five holes of a critical four-ball match and then won in singles on the final day when the Europeans pulled off “the Miracle at Medinah’’ or – as the American fans call it — “The Meltdown at Medinah.’’ Europe came from 10-6 down after the two days of team play to pull off the victory with a Poulter-inspired run in singles.“
Despite his 14-6-2 career record in Ryder Cup play and his 5-0-1 mark in singles, the U.S. had no trouble with Poulter on Friday. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, both playing in their first Ryder Cup matches, won the first five holes – four of them with birdies – and took a 5 and 3 win over Poulter and McIlroy. Euro captain Padraig Harrington sat Poulter in the afternoon four-ball matches.
“It was a shame, because we actually played quite well,’’ said Poulter. “It’s not nice to get off to a 5-down start after five. It’s not easy to come back from that, and they finished the match off.’’
McIlroy was called on to play again in the afternoon and he (along with partner Shane Lowry) were hammered again, this time 4 and 3 by Ryder Cup rookies Tony Finau and Harris English. Finau and English weren’t part of the morning matches.
A couple oddities: American Cantlay and Norway’s Viktor Hovland of Europe played most of the day without caps. It could be both feared the wind would blow off their caps in a crucial situation. Also, for the first time in Ryder Cup history, no pairings from the morning session were brought back intact for the afternoon.
U.S. captain Steve Stricker and Harrington both used their entire roster on Day 1.