1 Viktor Hovland shot lit up the Ryder Cup. It was all Europe after that
ROME — The thousands of fans who had set their earliest alarms to crowd onto the 1st tee Friday morning didn’t have to wait long to see the Ryder Cup lean heavily in Europe’s direction. It happened with the second group out. A jolt to the entire property.
Much had been made of the all-Scandinavian pairing potential of Viktor Hovland — perhaps the best player on the planet the last two months — and Ludvig Aberg, the transcendent talent finally reaching the peak of the professional ranks. Aberg is one of the best drivers in the world of golf. Hovland can mostly say the same exact thing. When it comes to ball-striking, the same applies. Pair them up together and they might be a major issue for Team U.S.A. At least that was the prevailing thought as much of the golf world gets acquainted with Aberg, the newest phenom on the scene.
But you just never know at these team events. Everything gets intensified. Aberg was playing college golf just a few months ago. He’s never played in a major championship. Plus, the beginning session of the Ryder Cup was foursomes, which is always a bit uncomfortable. Aberg may be one of the best drivers in the world, but the format meant he wasn’t even allowed to hit a tee shot on the 1st hole. Instead he was stuck hitting an approach to about 50 feet, beneath a ridge and along the edge of the green. It would be a difficult two-putt for his partner on distance alone.
A corner of rough jutted into the green between his ball and the pin, so Hovland actually had to chip from the curtain of the putting surface and clear the ridge with just enough spin to attack the hole. From afar, it was fair to wonder if Hovland’s hands were shaking. Once upon, he was infamous for being great everywhere but around the greens. Only 2023 Hovland is different. We saw that in his late-season sprint to win the FedEx Cup. He’s now an all-around top-tier player, and he reminded everyone of that when his chip from the edge of the green carried the ridge, rolled out and clanked into the direct center of the flagstick, dropping into the bottom of the cup for a hole-clinching birdie.
Back on the 1st tee, Shane Lowry watched along with those thousands of fans. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was out there. PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh was out there. Kathryn Newton and Novak Djokovic and Nick Faldo were all out there. Everyone got a good look from the Jumbotron as Hovland punched the air with his fist and let out a few expletives in the direction of his caddie and Aberg.
Lowry went a bit berserk on his own.
One half-hour had passed since the opening tee shots of the Ryder Cup were struck and Europe was already 1 up in an emphatic way. The home crowd was short on coffee but flush with adrenaline. When Hovland proceeded to make a 20-footer for birdie on the 2nd hole shortly later, another roar streamed out over the property. (He nearly holed another chip at the 3rd, just for good measure.) Meanwhile, Jon Rahm was up on the 3rd, holing a 30-footer from off the green to push his match 1 up. Then on the 7th, Rahm flirted with an ace, clanking his tee ball off the flagstick. Europe 2 up there.
All the good shots from the morning seemed to come exclusively from the boys wearing sky blue. And on paper, that tends to check out. Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns won just one hole against Rahm and Tyrell Hatton. Max Homa and Brian Harman won just two holes against Hovland and Aberg. Less than four hours after Hovland’s chip-in Europe had taken every point available from the first session. At least we all know where it started.