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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Europe eyeing Ryder Cup 'history' after dominant first day

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Luke Donald wants his European team to make it a “historic week” at the Ryder Cup after seizing a record-equalling 6.5-1.5 lead over the United States heading into Saturday’s second day.

Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose all holed clutch putts on the 18th green to snatch dramatic halves in their Friday afternoon fourballs to extend the hosts’ advantage to five points after sweeping the morning foursomes.

The Americans, bidding for a first Ryder Cup success away from home in 30 years, failed to win a match in a day for the first time.

Europe could not have dreamed of a better start to their attempt to regain the trophy in Rome after suffering a record-breaking 19-9 thrashing by the Americans at Whistling Straits two years ago.

They equalled the biggest first-day lead in Ryder Cup history, matching their effort in 2004 and the USA’s in 1975.

“Unbelievable start… historic day, but we want it to be a historic week, so the job is certainly not done,” European captain Donald said.

“We will all celebrate an amazing day, but we’ll be back tomorrow morning with the goal of trying to win tomorrow morning’s session.

“We’ll be getting our guys focused to be back in the saddle.”

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, surprisingly left out of the Friday foursomes by US skipper Zach Johnson, will attempt to lead a fightback when they face Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood in the second-day opener.

Hovland and Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg will have to get past a formidable pairing of Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka to make it two foursomes wins out of two.

Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka will attempt the same feat against Max Homa and Brian Harman, before Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton take on Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

“I’m really focused on going out tomorrow morning and showing another strong session,” said Donald when asked if he would consider resting key players on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s singles.

“That will be our only goal for tomorrow morning, and it will be some wider thoughts, obviously, for Saturday afternoon and the singles, but this is a great start, and we want to build on that lead.”

Europe stave off US rally

The US briefly threatened a fightback in Friday’s fourballs, with even a 5-3 deficit looking likely, but they could not close it out.

Thomas and Spieth played out a thrilling tie with Hatton and Hovland in Friday’s fourballs, who holed his 20-foot birdie putt on the final green.

McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick dismantled Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa 5 and 3 in the fourth fourballs match to briefly put Europe 5.5-0.5 ahead.

The USA were still in control of the other two matches, but Rahm chipped in for eagle on the short par-four 16th before draining a 30-foot eagle putt on the 18th to steal half a point with Nicolai Hojgaard against Scheffler and Koepka.

“Just keep fighting. You never know what’s going to happen,” insisted Koepka.

Europe looked even less likely to avoid defeat in the final match on the course with Rose and Robert MacIntyre 2-down to Max Homa and Wyndham Clark with two to play.

But a Rose par on the penultimate hole took the match down 18 and the oldest player in this year’s event showed all his experience by calmly rolling home an eight-foot birdie putt with all of his teammates watching on.

“That’s for the boys, because everyone’s in it together,” said the 43-year-old.

Europe race out of blocks

Donald’s men made a rapid start and never gave the Americans a sniff as they cruised to victory in all four matches for the first time in a morning session.

The US never led in a single foursomes contest as Rahm and Hatton led the way with their 4 and 3 triumph over Scheffler and Sam Burns in the opening clash.

McIlroy hit a brilliant tee shot on the par-three 17th within two feet to close out a tense 2 and 1 win with Fleetwood in the bottom match against Schauffele and Cantlay.

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European captain Donald had opted to switch the usual schedule and open with the alternate shot foursomes instead of fourballs in the hope of a “fast start” — and his team delivered it in style.

Hovland and Aberg, who is the first golfer to be selected for a Ryder Cup without playing in a major championship, cruised to another 4 and 3 victory against Homa and Harman.

Lowry and Straka rode the wave with a 2 and 1 success over Morikawa and Rickie Fowler.

McIlroy and Fleetwood inflicted Schauffele and Cantlay’s first foursomes defeat in international competition after five previous successive wins.

AFP

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