Advantage USA as Rory has a Morning to Forget!!!
Oh it all started so well!
Justin Rose’s beautiful approach to the first green at half seven this morning, and it looked like all was well with Europe. But by lunchtime, Rose and the European team would be left seeing red – quite literally.
In a front nine that the FedEx Cup Champion and partner Jon Rahm dominated Brooks Koepka and a nervy Tony Finau, Europe’s opening pairing would only find a single birdie between them on their way in. The turning point proved to be a lucky break at the par-3 16th for debutante Finau. His tee shot seemed to be leaking right and short into the water before bouncing plum on a wooden sleeper and landing four feet from the hole. Heading up the 18th all-square, Rose’s approach looked great in the air before finding the water. Rahm could not make par to save a half-point and Koepka and Finau hit the front just as the holes ran out.
That consolidated America’s early lead. Half an hour earlier, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler tied up the first point of the competition, in what proved to be pretty comfortable fashion. The opening exchanges between themselves and Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen proved nip-and-tuck, Olesen unlucky not to convert a birdie chance at seven before the Danish rookies par on the par-3 8th was enough to see Europe hit the front. But a disastrous ninth that saw Olesen find the water, and the Ulsterman find the thick rand-hand rough obliterated their advantage immediately.
Fowler birdied the tenth to put the American’s one up, before some vintage tee-to-green play from world number one Johnson saw Jim Furyk’s men open a three-shot advantage by the 13th. Olesen tried his best to drag the European’s back into contention, but another sublime Johnson approach on the 16th resulted in a birdie, condemning a birdieless McIlroy and his playing partner to a 4&2 defeat.
The best golf of the morning most definitely came in the third game of the day, as Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton battled back from an indifferent start, against Jordan Speith and Justin Thomas, that saw them three down at the turn. Spieth, in scintillating form following his omission from last week’s season ending Tour Championship, had figures of -5 through 7 in the early part of his round.
Three consecutive birdies between eleven and thirteen hauled the two Englishmen back level, but it would be a Thomas birdie at 15 that would prove significant in the end. Both Casey and Hatton had holeable putts on the final hole to halve the match, but both missed from around twelve feet.
Europe’s only solace, on what was a disappointing morning for the home side, was the battling performance of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who overcame Patrick Reed and a sloppy Tiger Woods.
The 42 year-old, who clinched his 80th tour title at East Lake last weekend, started well. A beautiful tee-shot at the par-3 second, resulted in a birdie, drawing the sides level after Molinari had achieved the same feat on the first. But as the round meandered on, it would be Reed who would offer the biggest resistance to the Europeans, birdies at seven and ten putting the US group two up with eight to play.
But the Open Champion and the mercurial Fleetwood rallied. Molinari’s putter on fire as he birdied both eleven and twelve to force parity. And then it was the turn of the Lancashire man to take the spotlight. An unlikely birdie from the apron at the par-4 fifteenth, before an exquisitely measured putt for a two on the par-3 put the European pairing in command. The fight had gone out of Woods and Reed at that stage, and Molinari would have the last word, birdying seventeen for a 3&1 victory to get the first splash of blue on the scoreboard.
McIlroy will have the opportunity to atone for this morning’s failures as he partners Ryder Cup veteran Ian Poulter in this afternoon’s foursomes, reliving their pairing from Medinah in 2014. They are second up, against Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.
The Fowler – Johnson partnership goes in search of their second point of the day against Rose and Henrik Stenson in the opening foursome group.
Elsewhere, wildcard Sergio Garcia and Sweden’s Alex Noren will be hopeful of a point against Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau as both captain’s go for a mix of youth and experience.
The final group of Day 1, will see two successful pairs from this morning go head-to-head, as Molinari and Fleetwood, take on Speith and Thomas.