Day 1 is in the books and the U.S. holds a 5-3 advantage over the Europeans. While every American fan would have surely taken that margin to start the day, many will dream of what could have been after the Americans stormed out to a 4-0 advantage after sweeping the morning foursomes session.
On the other side of the table, the Europeans will head into Saturday’s 36 holes feeling great about salvaging a near draw after their disastrous start. Here are 8 observations from Friday’s opening sessions:
Rory’s extra gear
Over the past few weeks, McIlroy has refound his putting stroke and reminded golf fans that he is the best golfer since Tiger and the greatest player of this generation. McIlroy has yet to lose a Ryder Cup and it looks like he isn’t going to let Europe go quietly at Hazeltine. Europe’s top dog emphatically closed out the Europeans afternoon comeback on Friday by eagling the par-5 16th hole and celebrating by taking a bow for the hostile American fans.
An even matchup
Golf fans were treated to a dream morning and afternoon matchup of USA’s Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth vs the European pair of Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. The day ended in a draw as Reed and Spieth took the morning alternate shot match 3 & 2 and Stenson and Rose were able to regroup and take the best ball match in the afternoon 5 & 4. These two teams are as evenly matched as you can find and it seems that the difference will come down to who holes more putts.
Happy to count myself among those who questioned Captain Love’s morning foursomes pairings of Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler along with Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker. Each got off to rocky starts in their matches falling behind early but were able to dig deep and make strong surges on their respective back 9’s to win their matches. I think I overlooked how valuable being comfortable with your partner is as each cited in their post round interviews.
A Coming out party
Being an alumni of the University of Illinois, I have known about Europe’s Thomas Pieters for a long time. Now, everyone knows about him after the afternoon fourball format where the Belgian hammered drives even with his playing partners, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson, and showed off his deft touch around the greens.
Putting is King
PGA Tour stats have lead to a growing belief that putting is less valuable than lengthy drives, but with the best players from the U.S. and Europe meeting at the Ryder Cup, putting often becomes the margin of victory. What we saw on Friday was the U.S. with hot putters in the morning and the tides shift in the afternoon as Europeans yielded the hot flatsticks.
Need More Koepka
Davis Love III opted to sit his rookies Brooks Koepka and Ryan Moore during the Friday morning session to allow them to get acclimated to the atmosphere. Many questioned the move because of Brooks Koepka’s ranking as one of the best American players statistically. Koepka came out hot in the afternoon, hammering drives and sticking wedges as he and partner Brandt Snedeker rolled to a 5 & 4 victory over Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. One takeaway from Friday was Koepka needs to play the rest of the matches for America.
If it don’t make $, it don’t make sense
With player’s sponsorship rules lifted for the weekend, many Europeans opted to go hatless at Hazeltine. This might be news to some, but professional golfers wear hats all the time because they get paid a lot of money to do so.
Going to be a close one
The morning sweep duped U.S. fans into dreaming of a potential walk-away victory at Hazeltine. The dream was a short one as Europe stormed back in the afternoon sending the message that the U.S. would have to earn every one of the 14.5 points it needs to win the cup. Look forward to a tight matchup and drama-filled weekend of golf!
Gonna layoff on the over-analysis, but it is interesting that Darren Clarke broke up his strong Rose-Stenson pairing to pair them with his two rookies (Chris Wood and Matthew Fitzpatrick) who didn’t play on Friday. It will be interesting to see if the strategy pays off and who wins the compelling pairings.