HAVEN, Wisconsin. An instant panorama of the first day of the Ryder Cup would start with a crowd of 40,000, 90% of whom are American fans due to pandemic travel restrictions, arriving loudly before sunrise Friday to roar relentlessly for 12 hours and up to eight matches that ended in gloaming. Patriotic costumes were all the rage, but not among the most prominent spectators: Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry.
Whistling Straits, the upside down golf house designed by Pete Dye along Lake Michigan, nearly claimed two contenders as a stumbling Jordan Spieth ended up jumping from a Great Lakes and Irelands Shane Lowry face factory collapsed onto his back on an embankment like a toddler on a slide.
Tiger Woods, still recovering from a devastating car crash in February, was in spirit on Friday, having sent an inspiring message to Team USA on the eve of the event. Always the attention lightning rod Bryson DeChambeau blew his opening workout of the day offline and off a spectator’s ankle. Later, DeChambeau ripped an imposing 417-yard disc and then helped chase the world’s top-ranked male golfer, Jon Rahm, to earn a crucial half point.
Ultimately, the big picture would reveal that the Americans had taken control of the event by winning each of the morning and afternoon four-game sessions for a 6-2 lead over the team. European. It was the United States’ biggest lead on day one of the Ryder Cup since 1975, when they had a five-point lead.
But that was when the Americans routinely dominated the event. Since the mid-1990s, the scenario has been reversed, with Europeans having won four of the last five events and nine of the last 12.
It was good to finally get things done, and it was obviously a good start, said Steve Stricker, the non-playing US captain. We would like to win every session.
Stricker, a sweet-mannered Wisconsin native little known for his risky moves, took big risks with his afternoon pairs after the Americans took a 3-1 lead in the morning games. Each match featured two-man teams on each side. The morning format was foursomes, in which players alternately hit the same golf ball on a hole, while the afternoon featured a four-ball format, in which each golfer plays their own ball, and the score the lowest for a team decides the result on a hole.
The strongest American combination of the morning was Xander Sc chaudele and Patrick Cantlay, two of the six rookie American teams in the Ryder Cup. The pair took a big lead early on and routed the top veteran European side of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, 5 and 3.
I’m not sure if anyone could have beaten Alex and Patrick today, McIlroy said later.
Usually, when a new team is formed and achieves immediate success, Ryder Cup Captains keep players together and play often. But for the afternoon games, Stricker surprisingly had ScHotele play with Dustin Johnson, who had teamed up with Collin Morikawa for an easy win in the morning. Stricker was also expected to keep this pair together.
Instead, Morikawa, the defending British Open champion, missed the afternoon matches, as did Spieth and Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger’s side, who had won a morning match.
But on Thursday, Stricker said he had set up his roster for the first eight games and that nothing that happened during the morning session would change his plans for the afternoon. Considering the pressure on the Americans to win at home, few thought Stricker would stick to such a plan. But he did, and the results were impressive.
Cantlay teamed up with Justin Thomas, who had played in the morning with his close friend Spieth. Cantlay, the player of the year on the PGA Tour, was stable and Thomas, who appears to be the emotional leader of the USA team, was fiery. But the duo lost most of their match to England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Norwegians Viktor Hovland. Then, with two holes remaining, Thomas rallied for a crucial putt that created a tie, so the game ended.
The usually stoic Cantlay even showed some emotion during the round with an occasional fist pump.
I was feeding off a bit of JT, Cantlay said, referring to Thomas. He carried me all day today, and he played really well, and it was air combat.
Cantlay was also doing most of the talking after the round because Thomas had almost lost his voice yelling and shouting towards the American crowd, which he did after hitting a meaningful putt.
The Johnson-Sc Chaudele team beat England’s Paul Casey and Austrians Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1. DeChambeau was paired with Scottie Scheffler in a match against Rahm and Englands Tyrrell Hatton which ended in a tie. The USA side of Tony Finau and Harris English used their length at the start and precise iron play to defeat McIlroy, who combined with Lowry in a 4-3 loss.
Competition continues on Saturday with eight more matches.
Some of the Americans mentioned that Woods’ post was part of the motivation for their winning game on Friday.
I’m obviously not going to reveal what he said, ScHotele said. But we referred to it several times a day, and we knew what we had to do. We knew he was pumping his fist from the couch. Whether he was on crutches or not, he pulled like all of us at home.
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