Young U.S. team puts Europe in its biggest hole at Ryder Cup

The Americans won both sessions to build a 6-2 lead, sending Europe and its vast experience to its largest deficit after the opening day.

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Team USA’s Tony Finau celebrates after making a putt on the 13th hole during a four-ball match Friday at the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course in Sheboygan, Wis.

Team USA’s Tony Finau celebrates after making a putt on the 13th hole during a four-ball match Friday at the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course in Sheboygan, Wis.

Jeff Roberson/AP

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The Americans haven’t opened with a lead this large in the Ryder Cup since Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino were playing, and before Tiger Woods was even born.

That didn’t seem to be big enough to satisfy U.S. captain Steve Stricker.

Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele each won two matches, Bryson DeChambeau smashed a drive that had everyone talking and the Americans were relentless Friday at Whistling Straits in losing only one match to build a 6-2 lead.

“It’s a great start. We are happy with the start,” Stricker said. “But my message to the guys is tomorrow is a new day. Pretend today never happened, and let’s keep our foot down and continue to play the golf that we know we can play.”

Oh, how Europe would like to forget this day ever happened.

Rory McIlroy never made it to the 16th hole in losing both his matches on the opening day for the first time. The lone bright spot was Jon Rahm, living up his No. 1 ranking by winning in foursomes with Sergio Garcia and keeping Europe in a tight fourballs match long enough for Tyrrell Hatton to birdie the last hole to at least salvage a half-point.

Europe has never trailed by four points after the first day since the Ryder Cup was expanded to include the continent in 1979, the modern era of these matches that Europe now dominates.

Go back to 1975 to find the last time the U.S. had a four-point lead in the Ryder Cup.

“No doubt, it was a tough day,” European skipper Padraig Harrington said, attributing the difference to a putt here, there and pretty much everywhere. “There’s obviously still 20 points to play for.”

Suddenly, though, there seems to be a sense of urgency. The Americans were delivering big moments and the big smiles, waving up hands to get the one-sided gallery to cheer even louder, cupping hands to their ears to urge them along.

They are looking for a fresh start after a quarter-century of losing, and its youngest team in history took a big step to creating their own memories.

“They fought hard every single shot out there, from what I saw,” DeChambeau said after he and Scottie Scheffler earned a halve in fourballs. “This is a great start, but the job’s not over. We have two more days. A lot more golf. And we cannot lose our mindset to win.”

The first point of the 43rd Ryder Cup, postponed one year by the pandemic, went to Europe and its new “Spanish Armada” of Rahm and Garcia.

The final match ended in a halve when Justin Thomas delivered a late eagle putt that allowed him and Patrick Cantlay to come all the way back from a 3-down deficit.

Through the morning chill, the midday warmth, a ferocious wind in the afternoon and even a little rain, the one constant was American red scores filling the boards across Whistling Straits.

“We can come back from 6-2,” said McIlroy, trying to summon calm and confidence after losing both matches.

Europe will have to do it without him. McIlroy is not part of the foursomes lineup Saturday morning, the first time he has sat in a Ryder Cup.

Both captains stuck to their plans, and it only worked out for one of them.

Even with a 3-1 start in foursomes, Stricker broke up all his American teams as planned and still won the afternoon fourballs session with two wins and two draws.

Johnson and Schauffele never trailed together, while the high-spirited Tony Finau made six birdies as he and Harris English trounced McIlroy and Shane Lowry.

DeChambeau still hasn’t won a Ryder Cup match, but he delivered quite a show.

He pounded a drive to where no one had dared to go on the par-5 fifth hole. It cleared a massive bunker complex and stopped rolling at 417 yards, setting up a 72-yard flip wedge for an easy eagle.

“There are two towers behind the green — I can’t even describe to you — they are like 250 or 200 yards right of where I’m trying to hit my drive,” Scheffler said. “And it’s crazy for him to be able to commit to that shot.

“It was great. That was a good spark for us and good momentum for the rest of the day.”

DeChambeau and Scheffler were poised for a 1-up victory until Hatton hit 5-iron into a hard left-to-right wind that landed near the hole and settled 7 feet away. He made the birdie putt to scratch out a halve and could only hope it was worth more.

“Things like this can turn the tide,” Rahm said.

After one day, it already feels like a strong tide, and that makes Saturday and another round of foursomes and fourballs more important than ever.

Harrington also broke up all his pairings. This was the first time since the Ryder Cup was expanded to include all of Europe in 1979 that no one from the morning played together in the afternoon from either team.

Cantlay and Schauffele were tough as ever in foursomes, which set the tone for the Americans. They were 5 up through five holes against McIlroy and Ian Poulter, and closed out their impressive 5-and-3 win with four straight birdies, the last one conceded.

“I don’t know if anyone could have beat Xander and Patrick today,” McIlroy said.

Only one shot went into the lake — a pull-hook from Tommy Fleetwood on the par-5 16th. And there almost was one player who went into Lake Michigan. That would be Jordan Spieth, facing an impossible shot beneath the 17th green with the ball on a severe slope in the morning round.

He swung so hard with a 52-degree wedge that momentum sent him backward, scrambling to keep his footing and then running down toward the edge of the bank until he could get his balance. The shot? Remarkable as ever, plopping down 6 feet away.

Thomas missed the par putt and the match was over. That was one of the few moments that didn’t go the American’s way.

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