Johnny Miller: U.S. Ryder Cup team must do this more than anything to win

Johnny Miller

Johnny Miller, during the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.

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Europe did it in 2018, 2014, 2006, 2004 and 2002. And the U.S. did it 2016 and 2008. 

They won the Ryder Cup. And they won Friday. 

A tournament, as the saying goes, can’t be won on the first day — but it can certainly be lost. And two-time major championship winner and recently retired analyst Johnny Miller says the biennial event has shown it’s no exception. 

“Seems like Europe always seems to have a leg up on the camaraderie and toughness and ability to come out of the blocks. And that’s the point I was going to make the most,” Miller said Saturday on Golf Channel during their coverage of the Fortinet Championship. “It seems like whoever leads after the first day, wins the Ryder Cup. And it sort of shows the nerves.

“First day is very nervous for most players — they can hardly tee the ball up on the first tee, you know, and the heart is pounding like this. [Gestures.] So it’s really important to get off to a good first-day start. For some reason, after all those years of covering the Ryder Cup, that’s the key thing. And then of course, finishing it off is important, too. It is important to finish those off, too. It’s very exciting.”

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In a scan of the past nine Ryder Cups, going back to 2002, Miller’s sense was right: Seven times, the leader after Friday was the winner after Sunday. The exceptions were 2012 and the “Miracle at Medinah,” where Europe won Sunday singles 8.5-3.5; and 2010, where rain interrupted play at Celtic Manor. (Complete results below.) This year’s event begins Friday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. 

“The Ryder Cup is good even when it’s not that close,” Miller said on Golf Channel. “That was the highlight — that and the U.S. Open were the highlight of my year.”

Among other topics discussed on Saturday, Miller said Phil Mickelson’s victory at this year’s PGA Championship “was one of the great wins of my lifetime in golf, no doubt about it.” Mickelson, at the age of 51, became the oldest-ever major winner.    

“Well, he’s got so much talent it’s coming out of his ears,” Miller said. “… For him to win that PGA with no top-25 finishes, out of nowhere — they say in boxing that all great fighters always have one last great fight left in them. And I think that’s basically what he did. 

“Not that I’m telling you you’re done, Phil. But at 50 years-plus, you don’t usually win on the Tour too often.”

Ryder Cup overall and first day results since 2002

2018 overall: Europe 17.5, U.S. 10.5; first day: Europe 5, U.S. 3 

2016 overall: U.S. 17, Europe 11; first day: U.S. 5. Europe 3

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2014 overall: Europe 16.5, U.S. 11.5; first day: Europe 5, U.S. 3 

2012 overall: Europe 14.5, U.S. 13.5; first day: U.S. 5, Europe 3

2010 overall: Europe 14.5, U.S. 13.5; session one: U.S. 2.5, Europe 1.5; session two, U.S. 3.5, Europe 2.5; rain interrupted)  

2008 overall: U.S. 16.5, Europe 11.5; first day: U.S. 5.5, Europe 2.5 

2006 overall: Europe 18.5, U.S. 9.5; first day: Europe 5, U.S. 3 

2004 overall: Europe 18.5, U.S. 9.5; first day: Europe 6.5, U.S. 1.5 

2002 overall: Europe 15.5, U.S. 12.5; first day: Europe 4.5, U.S. 2.5 

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor