The Ryder Cup teed off Friday morning with Scottie Scheffler getting booed by the crowd, Jon Rahm pumping his fist as he walked off the first tee, and the normally staid Viktor Hovland going full Tiger Woods not once, but twice … by the second hole.
Golf’s U.S. vs. Europe bi-annual does, indeed, juice the emotions a bit more than normal, even before 8 a.m. ET. That’s when foursomes kicked off a long day outside of Rome along with the quest for 14 points — 14 ½ for Europe as the challengers.
Eight points were up for grabs between Friday’s morning and afternoon sessions. And already the Europeans have taken a commanding lead. They swept all four foursome matches, and it wasn't even close. In fact, the Americans didn't lead a single match even once.
Europe did so not having to face Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas, who were left out of the opening session by U.S. captain Zach Johnson. And now Johnson, with his team already in trouble, must figure out how to counter in the afternoon session.
EUR-Jon Rahm/Tyrell Hatton def. USA-Scottie Scheffler/Sam Burns (4&3)
The Europeans haven’t lost on their home soil in 30 years, and Rahm and Hatton set the tone early that the Americans were in for another fight. Playing the alternate shot format, Rahm rolled one in from off the green at No. 3, Hatton gave his partner a knock-in for birdie at No. 5, and Rahm returned the favor by nearly draining it at No. 7.
— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) September 29, 2023
By the time they walked to the eighth tee, Europe was leading all four matches.
Even when Scheffler and Burns had something going, Rahm had the answer, like this to halve the hole at No. 10.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 29, 2023
Then he drove the green at the par-4 11th, and they won that hole, too. It was that kind of morning.
EUR-Viktor Hovland/Ludvig Aberg def. USA-Max Homa/Brian Harman (4&3)
Hovland is always smiling, but chipping in from on the green at No. 1 brought something more.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) September 29, 2023
He's a different player than he was two years ago in Wisconsin when he went 0-3-2 in his Ryder Cup debut. He’s now one of the best players in the world and only getting better at proving it on the biggest stages.
For Aberg, this is the biggest stage he's played on by a mile. The 23-year-old Swede turned pro only a few months ago and has never played in a major. He was a bold pick by European captain Luke Donald that's already paid off.
"I think he's a generational player," Donald said of his decision to use a captain's pick on Aberg. "If he wasn’t going to play this one, he was going to play the next eight Ryder Cups. That’s how good I think he is.”
EUR-Shane Lowry/Sepp Straka def. USA-Rickie Folwer/Collin Morikawa (2&1)
This was a mess for the Americans. Fowler and Morikawa bogeyed four of the first eight holes, Lowry and Straka birdied four of their first eight.
At No. 9, the Americans had a putt for eagle ... and lost the hole.
Fowler and Morikawa, however, did not buckle. Down four at one point, they got it together on the back nine to draw within two with two to play. Fowler nearly holed a chip on No. 17 that, had it gone in, would have taken the match to the 18th.
EUR-Rory McIlroy/Tommy Fleetwood def. USA-Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay (2&1)
If you were to name the four best players in the world who haven't won a major or haven't won a major in recent memory, it would be exactly these four. Without Koepka in the lineup — or Patrick Reed on the continent — Schauffele did his best to play Captain America.
Down two, his 10-footer for birdie at No. 14 brought a half point back into play. But Fleetwood countered at No. 15 and the Europeans were on their way to a morning sweep.
What's next? Fourball
Players playing in pairs play their own ball. That's a lot of playing. Anyway, best score wins the hole.
Johnson had a lot of experience on his bench in the morning session. He's unleashing it in the afternoon.
Both squads will have four players pulling double duty under the scorching sun in Rome.
Match 1, 6:25 a.m. ET: USA-Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth vs. EUR-Viktor Hovland/Tyrrell Hatton
Match 2, 6:40 a.m. ET: USA-Scottie Scheffler/Brooks Koepka vs. EUR-Jon Rahm/Nicolai Hojgaard
Match 3, 6:55 a.m. ET: USA-Max Homa/Wyndham Clark vs. EUR-Robert MacIntyre/Justin Rose
Match 4, 7:10 a.m. ET: USA-Collin Morikawa/Xander Schauffele vs. EUR-Rory McIlroy/Matt Fitzpatrick