The Ryder Cup is the best. It’s the best for so many reasons but Friday morning I was reminded that one of them is how much things change in just minutes. Golf is a slow sport, but the fickleness of match play can make a Ryder Cup session feel like it’s moving as fast as a Golden State Warriors 3-point run that puts you 20 points down in a matter of minutes.
It’s not that active, of course, but a session feels like it’s going one way and then it quickly feels even or swings to the other team. The board is all red and then it’s all blue just when you thought you had a sense of how things were going to shake out. That quick shift occurred three or four times in the opening session of four-ball, with the USA and Europe going back-and-forth over the first few hours in Paris. Europe was the team to land on tilt last and the USA pranced out of four-ball with a 3-1 lead. They stole one in the first match, watched Rory fall apart in another, and rode the best buddies in a third.
After a 2 a.m. start, we’re now in for another alternate shot session and four more points up for grabs. Here’s some of what you missed while you were sleeping during the first session:
The Big Break
It’s hard to isolate single moments that swing a session or a Ryder Cup, but there was no bigger shift than when Tony Finau caught one of the luckiest bounces you will ever see and at the most critical time.
Finau and Brooks Koepka stood on the 16th tee 1-down to the power pairing of Justin Rose and Jon Rahm. The USA had never led the match. They weren’t playing poorly but they were struggling just to hang on and needed some magic in the final three holes to pull even. Then they got this bounce:
THAT was a heck of a bounce, Mr. Finau.#GoUSA pic.twitter.com/LHG56SjLn0— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) September 28, 2018
Fortunate bounces off those bulkheads are common. But rarely will you see it land so soft and so close to the hole for a brush-in birdie. And that it came in the first match of the first session of a Ryder Cup when you’re one-down with three holes to play, well that’s absurd timing.
Europe could not make birdie to even things up with two to play and then to make matters worse, Rose caught a bad break on the 18th when his solid approach shot rolled off the back and into the water. The U.S. won the hole with a damn par and in a match they never led until the last putt, thieving the first point with a 1-up win on the 18th green. It’s just a point, but that leadoff match, and the leadoff session, have delivered an overall cup title in 13 of the last 19 Ryder Cups, per Golf Channel.
That bounce and this unexpected point really swung the entire session.
The player of the session, at least through the first two hours, was Jordan Spieth. He was the only USA player not to qualify for the Tour Championship last week in Atlanta. So after his most disappointing season as a pro, there were questions of how much and with whom Spieth should play this week.
He paired with Justin Thomas and immediately started running it up on the Euro team of Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey. He nearly holed-out from the very first fairway, and then proceeded to post five birdies in his first seven holes. There were long putts you cannot expect to make and chip-ins that deflated the opponent.
HE IS FEELING IT!— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) September 28, 2018
Watch @JordanSpieth do @JordanSpieth things at the #RyderCup now! pic.twitter.com/DpaJOD5mVc
Hatton and Casey did an incredible job to get this match back to all-square following the early 3-up rout. They birdied five straight holes around the turn to do it, but a late birdie from Justin Thomas delivered the USA its third and final point of the session.
Tiger and Reed fizzle
Tiger Woods started his first Ryder Cup in six years with an ostentatious club twirl that had you feeling like we were going to watch something special. Then he nearly aced the second hole, a par-3 hole location that many players were having trouble getting close to early in the day.
That early birdie at No. 2, however, was kind of the primary highlight for Tiger, who was also oddly shown less than any event he’s played in this year. His partner, the Ryder Cup ace Patrick Reed, was not up to his usual strutting and shouting self. Reed dumped a basic wedge shot in the water on the first hole and then spent most of the match struggling with those wedge approach shots. And he made almost nothing with his putter.
Neither Tiger nor Reed were sharp and that’s not going to hold up against a power duo like Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, who picked up Europe’s only point. In our predictions, I wrote that Fleetwood was the Euro I feared most and he was lethal in the first session (patting self on the back for the moment). Tommy Lad was especially money at the end when he needed to be.
BACK-TO-BACK‼️#TeamEurope pic.twitter.com/C1LwmFrtx8— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 28, 2018
The day started with anger. Lots of rage and fury, like beyond the usual amount you can expect on the golf Internet. The Twitter masses were furious with Golf Channel’s ample commercial breaks and gaps showing golf shots for an event that’s limited to just four matches, as opposed to the usual juggle and priority dance that goes on when a full field is all over the course. It was not good, and the anger was coming from the diehards who get up or stay up in the middle of the night to watch from the start.
In case anyone was wondering, from 3:05 to 3:45 @GolfChannel ran 28 ads and 1-2 minutes of flyovers/promos/not live golf.— Robbie Vogel (@RobbieVogel14) September 28, 2018
In that time, they showed 33 golf shots, 13 of which were putts.
World number 1 Dustin Johnson was not shown once.@NoLayingUp @gfordgolf @tdemers7
It seems Golf Channel likely front-loaded a bunch of commercial breaks and will make up for time in the later part of the day, when most of the American audience is awake. But it was noticeably commercial-heavy and we were missing lengthy portions of matches, which is hard to take after a two-year wait for this thing to return.
Thunder Bear carries Rory
The last qualifier for the European side was Thorbjorn Olesen, who has neither the world ranking nor pedigree you might expect for a Ryder Cup. He’s a world-class player, but just untested, and the assumption was captain Thomas Bjorn threw him with Rory McIlroy as a guide for his first ever match. Rory is a European mainstay and the roster’s most decorated player.
But it was the Thunder Bear, not Rory, that kept Europe in it against Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. McIlroy was awful. He was wild off the tee and horrible with his putter and everyone watching knew it.
Both DJ and Rickie were excellent, but there was no real positive framing of Rory’s performance you could reach for as he struggled to make a single birdie while the other 15 players out there poured them in. Olesen tried to hold off the DJ-Rickie pairing on the back nine but there was no way Europe was going to get a point off that match with Rory playing so poorly.
First tee nerves
With the largest grandstand we’ve ever seen at the Ryder Cup, and that first-tee pressure every player says is the most intense in golf, we were bound to get a couple foul balls. There was nothing as bad as Webb Simpson’s pop-up to lead off the Ryder Cup the last time we were in Europe, but Finau did begin the competition with a tee shot that rolled to the edge of the water forcing him hit left-handed to get back in play.
Several minutes later, another rookie, Olesen yanked one hard left into the water. Despite the massive grandstand, several people on the ground shared that the crowd was relatively meh in terms of volume and enthusiasm, which is unfortunate.
Here’s your match board from the opening session:
Koepka & Finau (USA) vs. Rose & Rahm (EUR) — USA wins, 1-up
Johnson & Fowler (USA) vs. McIlroy & Olesen (EUR) — USA wins, 4&2
Spieth & Thomas (USA) vs. Casey & Hatton (EUR) — USA wins, 1-up
Reed & Woods (USA) vs. Molinari & Fleetwood (EUR) — EUR wins, 3&1
Some nuggets from Golf Channel stats ace to temper your runaway American enthusiasm as the afternoon alternate-shot Foursomes session begins:
Long way to go: since the Ryder Cup expanded to include all of Europe in 1979, the U.S. is 0-3-1 when leading after the first session on foreign soil.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) September 28, 2018
U.S. leads 3-1 after morning four-ball. Now is when the fun starts: the team to win more points in foursomes has won the Ryder Cup 6 of the last 7 times.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) September 28, 2018
And here’s your lineup for the more difficult alternate-shot format:
- 7:50 a.m.: Dustin Johnson & Rickie Fowler (USA) vs. Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson (EUR)
- 8:05 a.m.: Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson (USA) vs. Rory McIlroy & Ian Poulter (EUR)
- 8:20 a.m.: Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau (USA) vs. Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren (EUR)
- 8:35 a.m.: Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (USA) vs. Francesco Molinari & Tommy Fleetwood (EUR)