CHASKA, Minn. – The Americans played Friday morning as if maybe they are the best team ever assembled.
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed set the tone, Rickie Fowler finally won a match and the Americans got this Ryder Cup off to a red and rousing start at Hazeltine with the first sweep of the opening session by either side since 1975.
This was just what the Americans – wearing red shirts and navy slacks – needed to try to avoid a record fourth straight loss, and the 4-0 start was fitting. That 1975 team had Arnold Palmer as the captain, and the King’s golf bag from that Ryder Cup was on the first tee as a tribute.
“With everything going on – me not having a point and Phil being a big part of getting the players a lot more involved to Arnie passing and him being a huge part of the week, this is big for us,” Fowler said.
Mickelson was the catalyst behind a task force geared toward getting the players more involved. U.S. captain Davis Love III was surprisingly bold last week when he said the message to his players would be that they comprised “the best golf team maybe ever assembled.”
The 1981 team, with 11 major champions, is considered the best ever. That team was the last to sweep a session (Saturday afternoon fourballs).
Europe had to pick itself up for Friday afternoon fourballs.
“Four-nil is a fair result for the way we played,” European captain Darren Clarke said. “It’s not an ideal start by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ve come back from deficits like this in the past.”
Spieth and Reed might have delivered the most critical point against Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, who were undefeated two years ago at Gleneagles. Spieth rolled in a birdie putt on the second hole, and the U.S. never trailed the rest of the way. Europe won only one hole at No. 9 to cut the deficit to 2 down. Momentum didn’t last, though, as Reed rolled in a 10-foot putt to halve the 10th hole and Spieth made a tricky 12-foot birdie putt on the 11th for another halve.
Johnson and Kuchar ran their record to 3-0 – they won both their matches at Medinah in 2012 – with the shortest match. They closed out Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters on the 14th hole.
The middle foursomes matches turned a tight start into a sweep.
Rory McIlroy did his part, rolling in a pair of birdie putts on the 13th and 14th holes for a 2-up lead with four to play. Andy Sullivan, one of six European rookies, chipped far too strong on the 15th that led to bogey. And with the match all square at the par-3 17th and Fowler about 10 feet away, Sullivan found the water. McIlroy missed a tough 20-foot putt on the 18th that would have halved the match.
Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson bogeyed the opening two holes, but Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer couldn’t take advantage. Europe led for 10 straight holes until a bogey on the 12th squared the match, and the Americans poured it on. They birdied the next two, won the 15th with a par and closed out the sweep with a birdie on the 16th for a 4-and-2 victory.
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