Wednesday 22 November 2017

Europe bounce back in afternoon delight

Ryder Cup, Day 2, Live, Sky Sport 1, 1.35

Rory McIlroy plays an iron shot during yesterday’s play
Rory McIlroy plays an iron shot during yesterday’s play
Rory McIlroy bows to the crowd after his eagle putt on the 16th secured a point for Europe
Left-handed Phil Mickelson plays right-handed from the rough on the sixth hole during yesterday’s foursomes match against Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan. Picture: Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Defending champions Europe walked into the bear pit of Hazeltine National, got mauled, scratched, battered and bruised in the morning, but just about kept their Ryder Cup hopes alive as the USA ended the day with a 5-3 lead.

Blitzed 4-0 in the morning foursomes, Darren Clarke's adjusted pairings for the afternoon fourballs needed to strike back.

If they failed to find their traditional fire, the Europeans could have found themselves overrun by the Americans.

The last time either side made a clean sweep of the first session of a Ryder Cup was in 1975 at Laurel Valley when GB and Ireland turned up for their ritual hammering.

On that occasion, USA won the morning foursomes 4-0 with a team which included the great Jack Nicklaus, and Lee Trevino.

This 2016 outfit, captained by Davis Love III, also has great individual players, but as a team they faced huge pressure in seeking to win the Cup for the first time since 2008.


They got in the groove, and a sensational four-point lead energised the USA side and the already enthusiastic home galleries.

Davis Love rested Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson for the afternoon fourballs, and shuffled the pack to bring in JB Holmes, rookies Ryan Moore and Brooks Koepka, and Brandt Snedeker. That meant all his players got a game on day one.

Darren Clarke omitted misfiring Lee Westwood and rookie Andy Sullivan for the afternoon, calling up Rafa Cabrera-Bello and under-fire Danny Willett for the second session.

Chris Wood and Matthew Fitzpatrick, both newcomers, were left to kick their heels without hitting a shot in competition on the opening day.

Clarke maintained that was his plan all along. What was undeniable was the need for his big guns, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, and Henrik Stenson to dig deep after all suffered defeat in the foursomes.

McIlroy and rookie Thomas Pieters brought up the rearguard in the fourth pairing, and tore into Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar go 4 up through 13.

But DJ and Kuchar hauled McIlroy and Pieters back to two-up before Rory clinched it with an eagle on the 16th to spark passionate celebrations from last week's FedEx Cup winner.

"We are probably going into our locker room a little bit happier than they are this afternoon.," added a delighted McIlroy.

Garcia and Cabrera-Bello formed a new Spanish Armada and beat Ryan Moore and JB Holmes 3&2.

Up front, Jordan Spieth and Reed found Rose and Stenson in revenge mode for their loss to the same pair in the morning.

The Europeans showed their true form, to reach three-up after 12 holes. They kept up the pressure and closed out the match 5&4 with a birdie three by Rose.

"This afternoon, brilliant. We obviously got running and dovetailed really well," said Rose.

Stenson admitted: "It makes it sweeter though, when you beat the guys you lost to in the morning, that's for sure."

On the US side, Koepka and Snedeker plundered seven birdies between them - four for Snedeker and three by Koepka - to win 5&4 against Danny Willett and Kaymer.

"We did a great job of staying in the present. He (Koepka) made me look good," said Snedeker.

Masters champion Willett got some stick from the US galleries who were only too well aware of the insulting comments his brother had made about golf fans Stateside, but that was to be expected.

Willett started well, dropping in a birdie putt at the first, and later holed from 40 feet across the green for a birdie three at the ninth, but it was too little, too late.

For the veterans, Mickelson, playing his 11th Ryder Cup, and Westwood, making his 10th appearance, the morning could not have ended in more contrasting style.

'Lefty' hit the ball all over the place, but his short game and Fowler's ability saw them through a one-hole victory over McIlroy and debutant Andy Sullivan.

"Given the build-up over the last couple years, the criticism, the comments, what have you; the pressure was certainly as great or greater than I've ever felt.

"I could have copped out and asked to sit, that would have been a total weak move, and I wanted to get out there. Put me out there. I enjoy that pressure," he said.

Fowler got a win for the first time three Ryder Cup appearances, so happy days for both of them.

Westwood and Pieters did not gel, as was evident by a 5&4 drubbing at the hands of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

"I'll take responsibility for that. I played poorly today and Thomas played well.

"He's got into The Ryder Cup really well, and he showed some balls out there and made some putts when we needed to.

"But this is only the first morning. Anything can happen in The Ryder Cup. It's freaky like that.

"You just need a bit of momentum to go your way," said Westwood.

Spieth and Reed saw off Stenson and Rose 3&2 in the top foursomes match. PGA champion Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson edged out Garcia and Martin Kaymer 4&2.

All in all, a tumultuous day of high emotions. Just as we expected for a Ryder Cup, but especially this one in which so much effort has been invested by the PGA of America, the US captain and the players.

It had begun in the pre-dawn darkness of a chilly morning. The huge galleries surrounding the first tee at Hazeltine National golf club hollered, chanted, and sang in the 90 minutes before Rose struck the first ball to start the competition.

On the tee, an old-fashioned Ryder Cup golf bag, with old-fashioned clubs was placed to one side. It had belonged to Arnold Palmer whose spirit of fair competition and sportsmanship was invoked many times during the week.

'The King' was not forgotten. "Arnold Palmer, Arnold Palmer" the crowd chanted at one point.

He must have heard them in golfing Heaven, as the atmosphere around the packed stands at with music blaring, the drums beating, the outbreaks of rival chants was everything we expected.

But make no mistake - the golf fans of this great nation have had quite enough, thank you, of seeing their superstars trampled underfoot by the men in blue at home and abroad in the last eight years.

They responded with a sell-out attendance of around 45,000 eager to respond to the PGA of America's orchestrated, yet effective "We are 13" campaign to drive support for the home team.

It's likely there will be plenty more of the same today.

Irish Independent

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