Europe had Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari to thank for avoiding a second successive 4-0 whitewash in the opening Ryder Cup session as the United States came out on top at the end of a dramatic morning’s play at Le Golf National outside Paris.
In a rollercoaster start to the 42nd edition of the transatlantic tussle, Fleetwood and Molinari recovered from being two down after 10 holes to beat Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed in a gripping anchor match.
That success stopped Europe suffering the same nightmare start as Hazeltine two years ago, when they ended up losing 17-11, as the Americans opened strongly in their bid to record a first win on this side of the Atlantic since 1993.
In a session full of ebbs and flows, Europe led in three of the matches before the pendulum quickly swung over to the Americans, but it wasn’t until after a couple of key moments that Jim Furyk’s men ended up in the driving seat.
In the top match, Tony Finau was the beneficiary of a huge slice of luck as his tee shot at the par-3 16th hit the wooden sleeper at the side of the water and bounced on to the green, allowing him to make a birdie.
That put him and Brooks Koepka all square after they’d trailed since the opening hole to Justin Rose and Jon Rahm and it was a bitter pill to swallow for the Europeans as they then lost at the last after Rose’s second shot topped off the back of the green into the water.
“It feels like two points,” admitted Koepka, a two-time major winner this season. “Rosey played unbelievably and Jon did, too, for the first nine holes, but we just kept fighting.”
Finau, who was handed the honour of hitting the opening shot on his debut in the event by Furyk, held his hand up about the 16th, saying: “I knew it had to get up and that was a huge break for us.”
The Americans had put the first point up on the board as world No 1 Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler dished out a 4&2 hammering to Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen.
McIlroy was the only player involved in the session not to make a birdie, putting too much pressure on the shoulders of Olesen, one of the four rookies tossed straight into the heat of battle by home captain Thomas Bjorn.
“It is great,” admitted Fowler of the US pair drawing first blood. “We played some solid golf and knew that was going to be needed in a tough match.”
In arguably the best of the tussles, Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton fell three down to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas when Spieth made five birdies in the first seven holes.
The English pair fought back superbly to get back on level terms after 13 holes, only for Thomas to crucially birdie the 15th and hold on for victory.
“It was tough, but we did a good job and Justin making birdie at the 15th was huge - that was so clutch,” said Spieth.
Molinari and Fleetwood were also in danger of suffering defeat when they lost three holes to par on the front nine, but Molinari birdied the 11th and 12th, Fleetwood repeated the feat on the 15th and 16th and Molinari finished it in style with another birdie on 17.
“That is what the Ryder Cup is all about,” said Fleetwood after marking his debut with a crucial victory for the home side. “I loved every minute of it.”
For Molinari, the win delivered his first full point in the event and the Open champion admitted: “We needed to get the crowd going.”