Golf

Europe complete Ryder Cup foursomes clean sweep to take 4-0 lead over USA

Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood sealed a clean sweep for Europe (Mike Egerton/PA)
Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood sealed a clean sweep for Europe (Mike Egerton/PA)

Europe’s bid to regain the Ryder Cup got off to a dream start as they stormed into a 4-0 lead over a shellshocked United States in Rome.

Captain Luke Donald’s decision to start with foursomes for the first time since 1993, the last US victory on European soil, paid handsome dividends as his side swept an opening session for the first time in the contest’s history.

Roared on by a partisan crowd, the home side never trailed at any point in all four matches and their opponents won just 10 holes all morning.

World number one Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns accounted for only one of those as they were beaten 4&3 by Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton, with Viktor Hovland and rookie Ludvig Aberg despatching Open champion Brian Harman and Max Homa by the same score.

Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka maintained the momentum with a 2&1 win over Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa before Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood completed the rout by inflicting a first foursomes defeat on Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.

Rahm and Hatton had acquired the nickname of “Team Angry” due to their fiery nature, but they could afford to be all smiles as they gelled superbly to get Europe off to the ideal start.

Rahm holed from 27 feet for birdie on the third and short range on the fifth, before hitting the pin with his tee shot on the par-three seventh to leave Hatton with a tap-in birdie.

The European pair looked set to lose the 10th until Rahm chipped in for an unlikely par and the Masters champion then drove the green on the short 11th and found the putting surface in two on the par-five 12th.

GOLF Ryder
(PA Graphics)

That led to a conceded eagle and the out-of-sorts American pair were soon put of their misery on the 15th.

“Extremely satisfying,” Rahm said. “I had a good feeling about Tyrrell all along. It was good to come out here and see him perform the way he did.

“It was an incredible foursome match and we played as confident as two people could play.”

Lowry admitted he was “losing my mind” standing on the first tee as he watched Hovland chip in for birdie up ahead on the green, but the former Open champion regained his composure in time to help rookie Straka earn a debut point.

“It’s huge,” Lowry said. “Obviously it’s early days but I wanted to give Sepp his moment in the Ryder Cup to hole the winning putt (on 17). We are off to a great start this morning. We need to keep the foot down.

Viktor Hovland sparked the European charge
Viktor Hovland sparked the European charge (David Davies/PA)

“I would have liked to close out the match earlier because we had good chances, but it was nice to put a point on the board for Europe.”

A miserable morning for Zach Johnson’s side was epitomised in the bottom match, where Schauffele and Cantlay – who had boasted a 5-0 record in foursomes – won the 14th to halve their deficit and looked almost certain to get back to all square on the next following a wayward McIlroy drive.

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However, Cantlay charged his birdie putt four feet past, Fleetwood holed from 20 feet to scramble a par and Schauffele then missed his par attempt.

The American duo did win the 16th with a birdie but McIlroy hit a superb tee shot to within three feet on the 17th and Schauffele, knowing he had to make his birdie attempt from 20 feet to have any chance, inexplicably left it short.

Tommy Fleetwood's putt completed a dream morning for Europe
Tommy Fleetwood’s putt completed a dream morning for Europe (Mike Egerton/PA)

Fleetwood was left with the simple task of tapping in to complete a 2&1 victory and round off a barely-believable opening session for the European team.

“It’s been an unbelievable session,” McIlroy said. “We switched the format this year to go foursomes first because statistically that’s our better session.

“And all week all we’ve been talking about is getting off to fast starts. Playing three-hole matches in practise, three holes, go again, three holes, go again, something that Luke’s drilled into us.

“We were ready to go from the first tee shot as obviously as you can see in how everyone played.”