Ryder Cup Friday stock report: Euros stun U.S. in historically dominant start
ROME — Well, we hope your Thursday evening sleep was restful.
Because by the time you awoke on Friday morning, the Europeans had already commandeered control of the Ryder Cup.
It’s hard to say precisely when the blue wave crashed over the Americans in Friday morning’s alternate shot matches, but it didn’t take very long. By the time the first foursomes group — Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton vs. Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns — crossed the ninth hole, the Europeans had claimed commanding leads in all four of the morning’s matches. By the time the morning was done, the Euros had claimed a clean sweep of the morning slate, holding their first 4-0 lead in the Ryder Cup’s 44-event history.
Officially, the tally reads 4-0 after 18 holes, but unofficially things are much worse for the Americans, who looked outclassed and overwhelmed at times in all four matches to start the day. Many of the U.S.’s less-experienced players seemed totally unprepared by the environment that greeted them at Marco Simone on Friday morning, a feat evidenced by the four combined birdies holed by the U.S. side during the first nine holes of the morning session.
That performance weighs particularly heavy on the shoulders of U.S. team captain Zach Johnson, who elected to sit two of his strongest historical match play competitors from the morning session — Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas — in favor of less-experienced Ryder Cuppers like Sam Burns, Collin Morikawa, Max Homa and Brian Harman.
Rest assured, the romp wasn’t all the U.S.’s doing. The Euros came out relentless to start Friday morning, riding the emotional powerhouse pairing of Hatton/Rahm to a 4-and-3 steamrolling in the first match of the day — a tone-setter that would carry through the rest of the morning session. Eventually, all three following Euro pairings — Viktor Hovland/Ludvig Aberg, Shane Lowry/Sepp Straka and Rory McIlroy/Tommy Fleetwood — would follow in Hatton/Rahm’s footsteps by stealing early Euro victories. Now the head into Friday afternoon’s fourball sessions riding both the momentum of a rabid crowd and the knowledge that even a 2-2 split would be enough to carry a comfortable lead into the weekend.
So, who’s playing well? Who’s playing poorly? And what else do you need to know before tuning into this afternoon’s fourball session? We break it down below.
Ryder Cup Friday stock report
The Hotheads: Stock UP
Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton are easily the most volatile pairing in this year’s Ryder Cup. A pair of fiery competitors who often run hot, Euro captain Luke Donald made the calculated gamble to send both players out first, betting they would ride the crowd into a tone-setting performance for the Europeans. He was sure right about that. Rahm and Hatton scared the hole on every shot they took for several hours on Friday morning, with Rahm draining a series of bombs from around the green, including a chip-in on the 10th and a near-ace on the 7th. The pair made light work of their opponents, closing out the match on the 14th hole.
The Mullet: Stock DOWN
Sam Burns made it onto the American team as the proverbial 12th man, and on Friday morning he did very little to affirm his roster spot. Burns and teammate Scottie Scheffler were simply no match for Rahm and Hatton, failing to mount much of anything all morning. Burns in particular seemed overwhelmed by the moment, struggling to play with any of the shotmaking tendencies or putting prowess that made him an attractive match play partner for Scheffler to begin with.
U.S. tone-setters: Stock UNDERWHELMED
Burns and Scheffler had the opportunity to make a statement for the U.S. by leading things off in the Cup. They made a statement all right — and at 0-3-1 in their match play careers as a pairing, it might be the last statement they make together all week.
The Nordics: Stock FIST-PUMPING
It was Viktor Hovland who secured the first lead of Ryder Cup week with a nasty chip-in on the first for birdie. The furious celebration that followed proved fitting foreshadowing for how the rest of their match would go. Hovland and rookie teammate Ludvig Aberg looked every bit the terrorizing tandem they were billed at the start of the week, unleashing both dazzling ball-striking abilities and stunning fist-pumps all afternoon en route to a 4-and-3 clobbering that was never close. Hovland picked up right where he left off at the Tour Championship last month, and that should be very bad news for the Americans.
U.S. Putting: Stock DISAPPEARED
Putting was supposed to be a strength of this U.S. team, evidenced by the addition of three of the game’s best flat-stickers: Brian Harman, Rickie Fowler and Sam Burns. None of the three could’ve drained a sink on Friday morning in Rome, burning putts off the edges all morning long. (Fowler settled in better than both of his rookie counterparts, but it was too little, too late.) As a result, all three pairings got washed away in winnable matches.
Fleetwood Mac: Stock UNCHAINED
Europeans have been clamoring to see the pairing of Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood — adorably nicknamed Fleetwood Mac by Sky Sports’ Jamie Weir — for years. European captain Luke Donald finally broke the chain on both Friday morning (pardon the dreadful pun) and was rewarded handsomely for doing so. Rory looked as comfortable in an alternate shot setting as we’ve seen in some time, while Fleetwood proved a perfect even keel amid the insanity brought by the European faithful. The two golfers could prove a terrifying pairing for the Europeans.
Bromances: Stock WAVERING
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay were the U.S.’s can’t-miss Friday morning anchor pairing. They’d played together brilliantly at Whistling Straits in ’21, going undefeated in a pair of alternate shot matches together, and had backed that up with an outright dominant performance at last year’s Presidents Cup. They were the Americans’ best pairing on Friday morning’s blowout, but that didn’t mean very much. The U.S. desperately needed a point from them and didn’t get it.
Fluent Italian: Stock VOLA
Italian for “flying,” which is precisely what Luke Donald did on Thursday morning. After speaking some stunningly fluent Italian during his opening ceremony speech, the European captain pushed all the right buttons on Thursday, riding the energy of the crowd and maximizing the talents of his players. He said Thursday afternoon that he had a “number in mind” he was hoping to win from Friday morning’s alternate shot pairings. We’re guessing it was less than the 4 points he got, but we’re certain he’s not complaining.
‘Grot-zeeh’: Stock SHRINKING
Zach Johnson’s first round of Ryder Cup decisions, like his Italian during Thursday’s opening ceremony, proved lacking. A quick review of those decisions:
— Sat Justin Thomas, the captain’s selection who Johnson called the “soul” of the U.S. team and who has the best match play record of any American on the team.
— Sat Jordan Spieth, Thomas’ partner and one of the best/most relentless alternate shot players of this generation.
— Sat Brooks Koepka, the reigning PGA Championship winner and Ryder Cup veteran.
— Sent out Burns and Scheffler to open the Cup, a fine pairing who played with all the chemistry of a middle school band.
— Followed that group with the all-rookie pairing of Homa and Harman, who looked unprepared for the moment.
— Followed the rookies with the strange pairing of Fowler and Morikawa, who gifted away a match against a Straka/Lowry pairing that hit two tee shots in the water.
— Finished the morning with Schauffele/Cantlay, a smart pairing who just got beat.
It never should have gotten to Schauffele and Cantlay to salvage the morning for the Americans, and Johnson will be questioned for the decisions that led to this, particularly the choice to sit Spieth, Thomas and Koepka on Friday morning. Generations of Ryder Cuppers have talked about the importance of getting out to a strong start while on foreign soil, but Johnson didn’t emphasize that with his pairings. If things get out of hand, these questions will linger long after the weekend is gone.
Suddenly Johnson is under fire, and the Americans need a stroke of genius to erase the deficit. Of course, one session does not a champion make — as we learned quickly at last week’s Solheim Cup, which started 4-0 U.S. and ended with the Europeans retaining in a 14-14 tie.
The good news for Johnson is that the Cup is only 14 percent over, the bad news is that if things don’t pick up, it could be getting late early.