Europe ride blue wave to take momentum into second day
Persistence proves the key for Thomas Bjorn's side in historic foursomes whitewash
Justin Thomas of USA plays his second shot on the fifth hole during the afternoon foursomes of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
The Ryder Cup comes at you in waves – it’s up to you whether you surf or sink. Thomas Bjorn had a lot of soaked golfers on his hands around lunchtime, but by the end of the day they had the wind whistling through their hair and an unlikely first-day lead to take to their dinner. They did it, as Rory McIlroy put it afterwards, through not just resilience but also persistence.
By nightfall Europe had a 5-3 lead, essentially because they made so much more of their wave than the Americans made of theirs. It wasn’t just that they swept the afternoon session, it was that they beat the Americans so soundly as to put all notions of even a half-point out of their heads long before the end.
Put it this way – an afternoon session that began at 1.50pm saw Europe leading all four matches by 3.30pm.
Jim Furyk’s team went an hour and a half without winning a single hole. In three out of the four matches the USA were never ahead at any stage. By 5pm Europe’s respective leads were 3-up, 3-up, 6-up and 3-up. They weren’t so much beating the US as smothering all life out of them.
“I think, if I’m going to be honest, I think the guys that played at Hazeltine probably feared a little bit at one stage [in the morning] that we would go the same route as there because we knew how much an uphill battle that was,” Bjorn said afterwards.
“But I tried to say all week that I trust them as a group. They have a lot of belief in each other, and they are pretty easy to manage. They look at each other more than they look to me and my vice-captains. They look at each other, and want to do it together. They wanted to go out and prove something this afternoon, and that was nice to see. But it says a lot about the group.”
Chief among those with something to prove was McIlroy, who had been the only one of the 16 players in the fourballs not to register a birdie. Bjorn was firm afterwards in saying he never considered benching McIlroy for the afternoon, and that the best way to get him back was to let him play his way out of the morning’s funk. Alongside Poulter he more than repaid his captain’s faith.
“It was a bad morning. He didn’t play well, but you go again. You go out there and you bring a different type of game. I made quite clear all along that I’m not in any way, shape or form qualified to tell Rory McIlroy how to play golf. But I’m qualified to lead him in a direction with the people he’s surrounding himself with this week to get good things out of him,” said Bjorn.
“He was very keen to get to the range when he finished this morning and sort a couple of things out. They didn’t come off to the best start this afternoon but certainly from there, they kicked into gear – both of them – and it turned out to be a great victory for him.”
For Furyk, a day that began with his team seemingly proving all the pre-match yak about them being the strongest US team ever to darken the door of a Ryder Cup ended with an unprecedented tonking. Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were a hapless pairing, Brooks Koepka was unconscionably benched for the afternoon, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth lost their putting mojo entirely.
“We didn’t play our best golf,” said Furyk with magnificent understatement. “What happened – I think it happens a lot in golf – is the momentum. You start seeing those putts go in. You start seeing the birdies. You start seeing the blue numbers on the board. I think the guys pressed a little hard. I think they tried a little bit too hard, and I think they put a little bit too much pressure on themselves.
“That type of format is about executing and hitting a bunch of fairways and hitting a bunch of greens, and putting the pressure on the other team. And Europe was able to do that better than us this afternoon.
“Again, what we all have to remember and the important message is, it was four points out of 28 that we played for. We are not happy with it. I think we use it as motivation tomorrow. It’s significant but it’s a small percentage of the points that we’re going to play for this week. Right now we’re two points down with 20 left. There’s time. So we need to talk a little bit as a team tonight, and I think, hopefully, come out tomorrow and rally.”
Furyk pooh-poohed any suggestion that Tiger Woods was suffering with his back after Woods seemed increasingly stiff the longer the morning fourballs went on. He and Patrick Reed ran into the windmill pairing of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, the turbo pairing of the day.
If USA are to start their fightback in any sort of style Reed and Woods have to find a way to put a halt to MoliWood’s gallop starting at 7.40am (Irish time) Saturday morning.
The Ryder Cup is alive and well and up and running, and the weekend has stories to tell. Can’t ask for any more from it than that.