U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III stepped in a pile of controversy early in the week when he called this the greatest Ryder Cup team ever.
Then the Americans went out Friday morning and swept a session 4-0, the first time they’ve swept any session since 1981. Ironically, historians generally consider the 1981 U.S. team of Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Miller, et al., to be the best of all time. Of those 12 Americans, all but Bruce Lietzke wound up a major champion.
Meanwhile, the ’16 Europeans looked overmatched. Just don’t blame it on their six Ryder Cup rookies.
In fact, two rookies played significant roles in two of the three afternoon four-ball wins that cut Europe’s deficit in half, 5-3.
Rafa Cabrera Bello had two hole-winning birdies in his first seven Ryder Cup holes as he and veteran Sergio Garcia won 3 and 2. And in the most emotional victory of the afternoon, Rory McIlroy’s match-clinching eagle 3 explosion on No. 16 came after rookie partner Thomas Pieters won four holes to McIlroy’s three.
“This guy beside me was absolutely incredible all day,” McIlroy said.
Pieters was the only rookie to play two matches. And don’t blame him for a 5 and 4 beatdown in the morning. The long-hitting, 24-year-old Belgian absorbed that one with 10-time Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood acting as an anchor around his neck. The low point was a double-bogey 6 on No. 7 when Westwood’s wayward water ball forced the kid to hit 3 from the tee.
Westwood was benched and might not reappear until Sunday. Captain Darren Clarke said the two rookies who didn’t play Friday — Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick — will play Saturday.
Pieters said he was “solid” in the morning. In the afternoon, he was a little nervy — hitting, for example, a skulled bunker shot 100 yards over the 11th green — but held it together nicely with a birdie on the par-3 13th.
“He’s the real deal,” Clarke said. “He’s not well-known over here, but he’s an immense talent.”
He has been turning heads slowly since winning the 2012 NCAA Division I individual title at Illinois. But this week could speed up the process.
“It was just nice to actually get a round under my belt,” Pieters said. “And I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.”