PARIS: The United States stormed to a 3-1 lead after the opening Ryder Cup fourballs on Friday as the young generation made their mark while Tiger Woods again failed to deliver in golf’s flagship biennial team event.
In front of huge, noisy crowds at the event being held in France for the first time, the US got the first point on the board early as world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler won 4 and 2 against an out-of-sorts Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen.
Tony Finau took advantage of a huge slice of luck on the 16th as he and Brooks Koepka came from two down to beat Justin Rose and Jon Rahm on the 18th in the first game out.
In an absorbing third match Jordan Spieth’s putter was on fire as he hauled Justin Thomas to a three-hole lead at the turn. However, Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton won three in a row to make it level after 14, only for the Americans to win one-up.
Woods, returning after missing the last two events and on the back of his first Tour victory for five years, was the biggest draw for the huge crowds at Le Golf National.
He claimed a nice birdie two on the second but never really got going as he and Patrick Reed lost 3-up to Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood after the Englishman landed two huge putts to win the 15th and 16th to swing the match.
The result took Woods’ fourball record to nine defeats from 12 games. Having sat out only one session in his previous seven Ryder Cups, he was then stood down from the afternoon foursomes.
Fowler and Johnson struggled to put anything together on a scrappy first eight holes as they trailed by one but they suddenly found their touch on the greens to win four of the next five before finishing with a flourish by winning the 16th.
“When one of us was out of the hole, the other picked the guy up,” said Fowler.
European rock Rose, the world number two and unfazed by the 7,000 roaring fans at the first tee, set the pace with a birdie on the opening hole and looked in control as Europe led by two after 12.
The Americans pulled one back, though, and then got the most enormous slice of luck to turn the match as Finau’s tee shot on the par-3 16th cannoned high into the air off the wooden surround of a greenside lake to land stone dead for birdie.
They then won it on the 18th as, for just about the first time all morning, Rose faltered as his approach trickled into the water to allow Koepka to win the hole and the match with a par.
“I felt like we hung in there and for Tony to take advantage of that break on 16 was massive and it set us up – and he hit two great shots after that to allow me to attack,” said Koepka
Rookie Finau said: “It was a great kick and we needed it. The reason we play together is we are never up or never down – we fight.
“If we hadn’t been that way with our attitude I don’t think we could have pulled that one off.”
Having won the 2016 edition comfortably after starting with a 4-0 sweep, the United States has history on their side now as they bid for a first overseas win in 25 years.
In the 19 matches since the Britain and Ireland team was expanded to include Europe, the team who have won the first match have gone on to win the Cup 12 times with the losers coming back on five occasions.