Golf

Europe fight back after horrible start in Ryder Cup

Wildcard Thomas Pieters proved to be an inspired pick from captain Darren Clarke. Picture by PA
Phil Casey at Hazeltine

Europe will have to create history to retain the Ryder Cup after being whitewashed by the United States in the opening session at Hazeltine on Friday.

But Darren Clarke’s side were making a gallant fightback last night after their humiliating 4-0 defeat in the foursomes.

As play in the second session was moving into the early stages of the back nine in the fourballs, Europe were up in three of the four matches, with the aim being to escape from what could have been a nightmare day trailing just 5-3.

After 12 holes of the top match, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were three-up on morning conquerors Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, with the Swede in inspired form.

Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello looked to be coasting at four-up on JB Holmes and Ryan Moore after 11, but Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka led by the same score over Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer.

In the bottom match, Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters were four-up after 10 and looked certain to get a point on the board against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

Suddenly the picutre looked a bit better for the visitors after a horrific morning in Minnesota.

Olympic gold medallist Rose and Open champion Stenson surrendered their unbeaten record to Spieth and Reed, before Lee Westwood and rookie Pieters were thrashed by Dustin Johnson and Kuchar.

 Henrik Stenson came inches away from a hole-in-one on the eighth

Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson then won five holes in succession to beat Garcia and Kaymer 4&2, before Europe’s misery was completed as McIlroy (left) and Andy Sullivan lost on the 18th to Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler.

Perhaps fittingly, the last time the United States won an opening session 4-0 was when the late Arnold Palmer was captain in 1975, albeit against Great Britain and Ireland, and Palmer’s bag from that contest had been displayed on the first tee in tribute to the seven-time Major winner after his death on Sunday.

The United States have never lost a Ryder Cup on home soil after winning the opening session, leaving European captain Clarke with a massive task to rally his side.

After winning all three of their matches together at Gleneagles two years ago, it was no surprise that Rose and Stenson were sent out first for the second Ryder Cup in succession.

The identity of their opponents was not a shock either, two-time Major winner Spieth and Reed having also gone unbeaten on their debuts in Scotland with two-and-a-half points from three matches.

Three birdies in the first seven holes put Spieth and Reed in command and although a par on the ninth was enough to reduce the deficit – only after Stenson was made to hole from inside two feet – the European pair’s sole birdie of the day on the 11th was matched by their opponents.

In front of a raucous crowd Reed’s birdie on the 16th then sealed the win and he said: “I live for those kind of moments, having the whole crowd behind me gets me going. It was an awesome feeling.”

Spieth added: “We knew months ago Rose and Stenson would be thrown out first and we told the captain we’d love to hit the first shots. We got off to a hot start. We both believe in each other’s games.”

Westwood and Pieters were in trouble from the moment they bogeyed the first two holes and were five down after eight, their only win of the day coming with a par on the ninth after the Americans three-putted from long range.

Kaymer and Garcia were then made to pay for missing good chances to punish a nervous start from their opponents, who birdied the 13th, 14th and 16th – and won the 15th with a par – to come back from one down after 11 holes.

But arguably the biggest blow came as McIlroy and Sullivan twice squandered a two-hole lead in match two, the second coming after birdies on the 13th and 14th.

The European pair bogeyed the 15th and lost the next to a birdie before Sullivan, who had been superb, found water with his tee shot on the 17th.

Clarke said: “The American guys played better than we did and looking at it 4-0 is probably a fair result. Hopefully the roles will be reversed this afternoon and we can get some momentum.

“There are so many points to play for. 

“Obviously it is not an ideal start but we’ve come back from positions like this in the past.”

Asked if his fourball pairings had been impacted by the morning’s action, Clarke – who left Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick on the sidelines – added: “No, they weren’t really affected. 

“It was intended to get Danny and Rafa out there and get the rookies in.

“Fourballs is a totally different format to the foursomes. Justin and Henrik didn’t hole the putts this morning but they are still a wonderful pairing and Sergio and Rafa have been looking forward to playing together for the a long time.”

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