CHASKA, Minn. — On an opening day of international golf competition that had Phil Mickelson conceding he “felt more pressure,” America got off to its quickest Ryder Cup start in 40 years and then staggered home with one its poorest finishes.
After winning all four of the morning foursomes, in which the pros play alternate shots with one ball, the United States team was beaten in three of the four four–ball matches on Friday afternoon, leaving the U.S. holding a 5-3 lead at Hazeltine National in the suburbs of Minneapolis.
For the Americans to win the Cup for the first time in four matches, it needs 14 ½ points when play ends Sunday, while the Euros need only 14, because a tie retains the trophy which they have won in 10 of the previous 12 Ryder Cups.
Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were 4 and 2 winners over Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan in the morning. Then, before resting in the afternoon — only eight of the 12 players on each squad are active in team matches — the 46-year-old Mickelson made an interesting admission.
“I certainly felt more pressure heading into today’s matches,” Mickelson conceded. He had been responsible in part for new methods of choosing and coaching the U.S. team.
“Given the buildup over the last couple of years,” he said, “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 enjoyed the pressure.”
The partisan fans some wearing red, white and blue striped trousers or draped in American flags enjoyed the morning sweep.
Play began on a cool, foggy morning after a video tribute to Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday and the display Arnie’s golf bag when he was captain of the 1975 U.S. Ryder team. That was followed by music from home town hero Prince, “Let’s Go Crazy,” over the speaker system. Early on that’s what the American team did.
For the first time since the 1975 Cup matches, the U.S. swept the morning, the teams of Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker-Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar and Mickelson-Fowler were all successful, the fans chanting and shouting.
“This afternoon the roles may be reversed,” warned Euro captain Darren Clarke, “and the Europeans will go out and make some putts and get momentum.”
Which is exactly what happened. The Euro team of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, respectively the gold and silver medal winners in the recent Rio Olympics, combined for nine birdies in the four-ball competition to whip Spieth and Reed, 5 and 4. Sergio Garcia and Rafael Cabrera Bello beat J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore 3 and 2. Americans Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka beat Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer 5 and 4.
Rory McIlroy and rookie Thomas Pieters finished off the long, raucous day with a 3-and-2 victory over Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. McIlroy ended it with a 20-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole, and he bowed twice to the crowd.
UNITED STATES 5, EUROPE 3
United States 4, Europe 0
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, United States, def. Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Europe, 3 and 2.
Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, United States, def. Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan, Europe, 1 up.
Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson, United States, def. Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, Europe, 4 and 2.
Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, United States, def. Thomas Pieters and Lee Westwood, 5 and 4.
Europe 3, United States 1
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Europe, def. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, United States, 5 and 4.
Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, Europe, def. J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore, United States, 3 and 2.
Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, United States, def. Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett, Europe, 5 and 4.
Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters, Europe, def. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, United States, 3 and 2.