Golf

Matt Fitzpatrick enjoys Ryder Cup birdie run as Europe continue momentum

Europe’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy celebrate on the 2nd during the Fourballs on day one of the 44th Ryder Cup in Rome (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Europe’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy celebrate on the 2nd during the Fourballs on day one of the 44th Ryder Cup in Rome (Zac Goodwin/PA) Europe’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy celebrate on the 2nd during the Fourballs on day one of the 44th Ryder Cup in Rome (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Matt Fitzpatrick finally had a reason to enjoy the Ryder Cup as Europe aimed to build on their record-breaking start 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 to fall 4-0 behind.

Fitzpatrick had failed to win a point in five matches across his previous two Ryder Cups, but both had been on away soil and none had been in his preferred fourball format.

That was rectified when he was sent out in the afternoon’s final match with Rory McIlroy and the 2022 US Open champion immediately made up for lost time.

Fitzpatrick birdied the second, third and fourth and then drove the green on the short fifth to set up an eagle which took the European pair four up on Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.

Jon Rahm and Nicolai Hojgaard held a narrow lead over Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka in match two, with the other two matches all square.

Rahm had earlier partnered Tyrrell Hatton to a 4&3 win over Scheffler and Sam Burns, 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 Morikawa before McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood completed the rout by inflicting a first foursomes defeat on Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

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
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 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.

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 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.”