Saint-Quentin-En-Yvelines, France — Three matches in the books, three red points on the board, and Tiger Woods was still on the golf course.
This was exactly the start the Americans wanted in the Ryder Cup.
And then Europe finished even better.
Four hours later, the cheers at Le Golf National ramped up to a feverish pitch as Europe swept all four matches Friday afternoon for a 5-3. It was the first time Europe swept a session since 1989, and the first time ever at the Ryder Cup in foursomes.
“We didn’t come here to win the foursomes,” Francesco Molinari said. “We came here to win something else.”
Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood were the only Europeans to play both matches, and they won them both. They combined for five birdies over their last seven holes to polish off Woods and Patrick Reed and salvage something from a morning that belonged to the Americans. They took down Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the afternoon.
“It was a bit of a roller-coaster ride,” European captain Thomas Bjorn said. “We know it’s a marathon, and we’re delighted with the way the day turned out because it was a fairly tough morning. We go home happy tonight, but we refocus and look forward to tomorrow.”
The change was noticeable in the body language.
The Americans walked tall and had reason to feel as though nothing could go wrong, especially Tony Finau. It was his amazing fortune that turned the tide in the morning. He and Brooks Koepka were 1 down to Justin Rose and Jon Rahm on the par-3 16th when Finau’s 8-iron appeared headed for the water. Instead, it landed on the 12-inch wide boards that frame the green, soared into the air as the gallery gasped, and plopped down 3 feet from the hole.
They wound up winning on the 18th when Rose hit into the water, the only time Finau and Koepka led all match.
In the afternoon, the mood changed in the mild air and freshening wind. Spieth was shaking his head after all those putts that dropped in the morning slid by the edge of the cup in the afternoon. Ian Poulter’s eyes grew wider with each hole he won with Rory McIlroy in the afternoon.
“You see a change in body language,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said. “I’m sure the Europeans’ body language significantly changed to all smiles and boisterous and hugs and high-fives, and I’m sure the looks on some of my players were not quite the happiest, and dead opposite this morning.”
Furyk tried to see the big picture.
“It was four points out of 28 that we played for,” he said. “We are not happy with it. I think we use it as motivation tomorrow.”
The Americans are trying to end 25 years of losing the Ryder Cup in Europe, and for one morning, it looked as though this might be the time. By the end of the day, the Americans were seeing blue, and plenty of it.
Europe took the lead in every foursomes match and never let up. Rose teamed with old partner Henrik Stenson and dismantled Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler by winning five holes in a seven-hole stretch.
Right behind them, McIlroy recovered from his awful morning by joining forces with European stalwart Poulter, who lived up to his reputation. They were 2 down early until Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson collapsed by losing four straight holes, three of them with bogeys.
Phil Mickelson missed his first opening session since his rookie year in the Ryder Cup, and he was missing while in action during the afternoon. Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were 7 down at the turn and did well to at least get to the 14th hole, where Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren closed them out.
But this was more about Europe’s great play. Garcia and Noren were 5 under at the turn, an astounding score on his golf course in these windy conditions.
Thousands of fans, some of whom managed to get a seat for the opening tee shot in the grandstand that holds just under 7,000 surrounding the first tee, left Le Golf National chanting, cheering and singing over this wild turn of events.
Many would have been happy for Europe to keep it close, especially after Finau’s big break. The gallery was so stunned that it booed Finau as he approached the green, and he paused before rapping in the short birdie putt.
“We’ll take the breaks where we can get them,” Finau said. “We needed one there.”
Behind them, Thomas and Spieth lost a 3-up lead, and then Thomas holed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole to go 1 up. Spieth polished off their victory over Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton with a 3-foot par putt on the 18th.
In his return to the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2012, Woods quickly added to his losing record. Five days after Woods won the Tour Championship for his first victory after four back surgeries, he and Patrick Reed went cold at the end.
They were 2 up until Molinari and Fleetwood went to work with a pair of Molinari birdies to tie the match, a pair of Fleetwood birdies to take the lead, and one last birdie putt from Molinari to finish them off.
The key moment was at the 15th, where Woods was in the left rough. Because of water surrounding the green, Woods told Reed he would lay up and make 4 to at least stay in the hole. Reed hit into the water, and Woods never had a chance at par. Fleetwood holed a 15-foot birdie from the fringe for the lead, and then the Englishman made a 35-footer on the next hole.
“They put it on us, and we couldn’t answer,” Woods said.
At least they have Saturday, when Furyk is sending out the same teams and can only hope for similar results to Friday morning.
Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, United States, def. Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, Europe, 1 up.
Finau made his Ryder Cup debut by nearly hitting his tee shot into the water. Rose began his fifth cup by hitting into 3 feet for birdie. Koepka hit it great but couldn’t convert putts. Finau chipped in for eagle on the short par-4 sixth. Europe led by as many as 2 up and never trailed until the shot of the day. Finau’s 8-iron came up short and hit the wooden plank instead of going into the water, soared high in the air and plopped down within 3 feet for birdie to square the match. On the final hole, Rose hit into the water with his approach, Rahm went long and missed his 10-foot putt for par. The last hole is the only time the Americans led.
Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, United States, def. Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen, Europe, 4 and 2.
McIlroy missed a birdie putt on the opening hole, which set the tone for his day. He failed to make a birdie. This was not an aesthetically pleasing match — more like a pillow fight — until the Americans took over. Europe went 1 up when Johnson missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 8. Europe made bogey on the next hole to halve the match, Fowler made a 4-foot birdie on the 10th for the lead, and Johnson made back-to-back birdies for a 3-up lead. Johnson ended it with a tee shot to short range for birdie on the par-3 16th.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, United States, def. Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, Europe, 1 up.
Spieth showed off some of his best form of the year, nearly holing out on the opening hole, making a 15-foot par putt to halve the fourth hole, and chipping in for birdie on No. 6 as the Americans built a 3-up lead. Europe rallied behind Casey, who ran off three straight birdies to square the match through 13 holes. The pivotal moment was at the 15th, when Thomas hit his approach over the water to 6 feet and Hatton’s shot spun back into the water. Thomas made birdie for a 1-up lead, and the Americans held the lead until Hatton failed to make a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th, and Spieth holed his 3-footer for par.
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe, def. Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods, United States, 3 and 1.
Woods returned to the Ryder Cup for the first time in 2012 and immediately added to his losing record. At his side was Reed, who hit into the water on his opening shot to the green. Woods made birdie on No. 9 for the first U.S. lead of the match, and Reed followed with a birdie. Molinari made a pair of birdies to square the match, and Fleetwood took over from there. He made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th for a 1-up lead, holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the next hole and Molinari closed out the Americans and won the only point for Europe with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, Europe, def. Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, United States, 3 and 2.
A rugged start turned in Europe’s favor quickly. The first four holes were halved, and then the Americans were scrambling for par and not making the putts. Europe won three straight holes to go 3 up at the turn. Europe started the back nine by winning two straight holes with pars to go 5 up. Johnson made a birdie putt at No. 13 to trim the deficit to 3 up with five holes to play, only for both sides to halve the next three holes.
Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, Europe, def. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, United States, 4 and 2.
McIlroy was coming off a bad loss in the morning and didn’t start all that well. He missed the green badly on the par-3 second hole but salvaged a halve with a clutch par putt. This was the only foursomes match the Americans led, winning the first hole with a par and the par-5 third hole with a birdie. After that, it was all Europe, mostly because of American mistakes off the tee and around the green. Europe won three straight holes with pars to lead 2 up at the turn, chopped up the 10th hole to make bogey and still halved the hold, and turned back a potential rally by winning the 12th with a par. Poulter nearly hit iron into the water on the 13th. McIlroy hit the best shot of the afternoon with the ball beyond the hazard line and well below his feet. He hit it to 18 feet, and Poulter made the putt for birdie.
Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, Europe, def. Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, United States, 5 and 4.
Garcia and Noren were so good that no one could have beaten them. They combined for a 5-under 31 on the front nine and built a 7-up lead at the turn. Mickelson and DeChambeau shoulder part of the blame, but not much. DeChambeau left Mickelson in some tough spots, and Mickelson didn’t show much until the back nine. All that did was keep the Americans out of the record book for the worst loss. They finished with three birdies in four holes, but still didn’t get past the 14th hole.
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe, def. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, United States, 5 and 4.
Molinari and Fleetwood were the only team to go 2-0 on the opening day. They seized control early with a birdie on the third hole for their first lead, and momentum really swung on the fifth hole when both teams were out of position. Fleetwood holed a 15-foot par putt, and Thomas missed his par putt from just inside that range. Europe was leading 2 up through eight holes when Thomas pulled his approach on the par-5 ninth into a collar of deep rough, Spieth muffed the pitch, Thomas chipped about 6 feet short from a sticky lie, and Spieth missed the putt to lose the par 5 with a bogey. Spieth hit into the water off the tee at the 13th to fall 4 down, and Molinari made a 6-foot birdie putt on the next hole to end it.
Saturday morning pairings
►2:10 a.m. — Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, United States, vs. Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, Europe.
►2:25 a.m. — Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, United States, vs. Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, Europe.
►2:40 a.m. — Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed, United States, vs. Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe.
►2:55 a.m. — Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, United States, vs. Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm, Europe.