Europe roar back to lead Ryder Cup 5-3 on thrilling first day

Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari celebrate on the 16th green during their crucial fourballs win over Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed. Picture: Tom Russo
Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari celebrate on the 16th green during their crucial fourballs win over Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed. Picture: Tom Russo
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Allez Les Bleus! It’s advantage Europe after the opening-day exchanges in the 42nd Ryder Cup, a 5-3 lead over the Americans having been earned on the back of a history-making display in the foursomes as the benefits of the home players being used to playing Le Golf National in different conditions over the years became evident almost straight away.

Trailing 3-1 after a keenly-contested opening fourball session, Thomas Bjorn’s men turned the leaderboards blue in the afternoon, taking full advantage of the wind picking up for the first time this week on this magnificent layout in the Paris suburbs to claim a 4-0 whitewash in the session.

It was Europe’s first clean sweep in the foursomes in the event, a feat made sweeter, no doubt, by the fact that, based on the world rankings, this is the strongest United States side to head into battle. One, in fact, that had been tipped to destroy their opponents this week.

Admittedly, the Americans played a part in their own downfall after getting off to an encouraging start with an insipid performance in the alternate shot format – they were a combined 11-over-par – but that shouldn’t take anything away from how their opponents went about their business as they repaired that earlier damage.

In fairness, the Europeans also played well in the main in the fourballs, which ebbed and flowed in dramatic fashion, and could easily have ended up 3-1 in their favour as opposed to the other way around.

At the end of an enthralling morning’s golf, the point secured for the home side by Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari against Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed in the anchor match was massive, the European duo showing exactly why so many people had felt confident about them being paired as they birdied three holes in a row from the 15th to secure a 3&1 success.

Psychologically, it would have been a hammer blow for Bjorn and his players to suffer a whitewash, which would have been a repeat, of course, from the corresponding session when the Americans 
ended up cruising to a 17-11 victory at Hazeltine two years ago.

There might have been no way back again if the same thing had happened again, especially against an American side that had come into this event feeling quietly confident about landing a first victory on foreign soil since doing the trick at The Belfry in 1993.

Even on the back of that welcome late boost in the fourballs, Bjorn found himself in the spotlight a bit sooner than he would have liked after his gamble of sending out four of his five rookies in that session didn’t pay off.

You could sense the knives were already being sharpened, in fact, when he sent Rory McIlroy, the only player out of the 16 involved in the morning not to make a birdie, back out again as the Dane stuck to his carefully-crafted plan for the pairings on the first day.

Good on him for that. He clearly has faith in his players and was rewarded for that. In short, the Americans were blown out of the water in the second session. At Gleneagles four years ago under Paul McGinley, Europe triumphed 3½-½ each time in the foursomes. They would have taken the same again but hit the jackpot.

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, a tried and tested pairing from that match in Perthshire, led the fightback. In the quick turnaround between his two matches, Rose was encouraged by team-mate McIlroy to go out and put some blue up on the leaderboards and, reunited with Stenson after being paired with a rookie, Jon Rahm, in the morning, he, well, rose to that challenge. Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, one of the successful US pairings earlier in the day, were duly put to the sword in a 3&2 defeat.

From virtually the halfway stage in all four matches, the writing was on the wall for the Americans. Two down early on, McIlroy and Ian Poulter roared into life, winning four holes in a row from the sixth as they triumphed 4&2 over Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. It was the third time that McIlroy and Poulter had joined forces in the event and they are undefeated.

Those critical of Sergio Garcia’s wildcard selection by Bjorn will have wanted to see the Spaniard deliver this week. How about a thumping 5&4 win for starters in the company of Alex Noren? That was gained against Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. It wasn’t what Mickelson would have been hoping for on the day he equalled Nick Faldo’s record by playing in his 46th match across 12 appearances. Eyebrows were raised about him playing in the foursomes when his game is more suited to fourballs. He just didn’t hit it off with DeChambeau, for whom it was the sorest of debuts.

Fittingly, it was left to 
Fleetwood and Molinari to round off an outstanding 
afternoon’s work from the home team. Winners in the morning as well, Jordan 
Spieth and Justin Thomas never had a look-in second time out. Friends off the course and equally at home with each 
other on it, Fleetwood and Molinari look as though they could become one of the great Ryder Cup pairings. Put it this way, Spieth and Thomas won’t be on the wrong end of many 5&4 defeats in their careers.

In the end, it was a great day for Europe and, in contrast, a potentially demoralising one for the Americans. It was also 5-3 after the opening two sessions at Gleneagles and the Europeans went on to taste victory there.

Expect the visitors to come out fighting on day two, but noses have been bloodied all right and the momentum is definitely with Bjorn’s boys.