Midway through Friday’s opening day of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Chaska, the winds shifted. Gone were the morning clouds, fog and September chill.
So, too, was the commanding lead for the United States.
Up 4-0 after the morning foursome session, the U.S. lost its way in the afternoon four-balls in nearly as big of a fashion.
The Europeans stormed back to win three of four matches to set up a 5-3 score heading into Saturdays two sessions.
The lone afternoon victory for the U.S. came in a 5 and 4 rout by Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka over Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett. The teams traded birdies on the opening hole – Europe’s coming by Willett in front of several thousand pro-American fans jeering him after his brother’s anti-American essay earlier in the week.
But from there it was all red, white and blue as Snedeker and Koepka traded birdies on Nos. 2 and 3 and again on Nos. 6 and 8.
The Americans got to 5 up on the 11th hole and eventually nabbed the point three holes later after a string of pars.
The other home team pairs didn’t fare as well.
In a rematch of a morning grouping, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson thwarted Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed 5 and 4. The U.S. side didn’t play poorly – they combined for six birdies on 14 holes in the match – but Stenson and Rose simply made their putts while Spieth and Reed spent the afternoon watching their golf balls burn edges.
A pair of European Ryder Cup rookies paired up with steely veterans to claim two points for the visitors. Rafa Cabrera Bello teamed with Sergio Garcia to beat J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore 3 and 2 while Thomas Pieters shook off a rough morning and joined Rory McIlory in the afternoon to beat Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar 3 and 2.
McIlroy, riding a hot streak after winning last weekend’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup playoff trophy, drained a 20-foot eagle putt to clinch the match.
Two years ago at Gleneagles the U.S. was walloped 7-1 in the two fouresomes sessions. That was certainly not the case Friday.
Johnson and Kuchar were the final pair off the tee for the American side but they put up the biggest statement, defeating Lee Westwood Pieters 5 and 4.
That pair never trailed, and neither did Spieth and Reed who took down Stenson and Rose 3 and 2. Clutch putting in the end – particularly by Reed – saved the U.S. against a Euro pair that had some fun with a fan on the putting green in practice Thursday but could not find the right line when it mattered.
America’s other two wins both came after rallies.
Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were able to stave off a pair of impressive birdie putts from McIlroy on Nos. 13 and 14. They won the next three holes, cinching the match 1 up with a putt on 18 but that was only set up when Andy Sullivan plopped his tee shot on No. 17 into the water.
Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson fell behind Garcia and Kaymer on the second hole, and watched as Garcia egged on the pro-US crowd with a 25-foot par putt on No. 4. The Americans got back to all-square on No. 12, then won the next four holes as well for a stunning 4 and 2 romp.