SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — The Americans got off to the start they wanted. The Europeans had the finish they needed.
Europe began its bid to regain the Ryder Cup with a clean sweep of the foursomes matches Friday afternoon, allowing it to recover from Tony Finau’s amazing fortune that made it look early as though the Americans were ready to end that 25-year drought away from home.
Not so fast.
By the end of the day, the Americans were seeing blue, and plenty of it. Europe took a 5-3 lead by sweeping its first session since 1989, and its first sweep of foursomes in Ryder Cup history.
“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 European partnership to play both matches, and they won them both. They combined for five birdies over their last seven holes to polish off Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed, 3 and 1, and salvage a morning that belonged to the Americans.
Europe took the lead in every foursomes match and never let up. Justin Rose, whose approach into the water on the 18th in the morning cost Europe, 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, Rory McIlroy recovered from his awful morning by joining forces with European stalwart Ian 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. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas looked formidable in the morning and managed only one birdie in losing in the afternoon, 5 and 4, to Molinari and Fleetwood.
“We go home with a good taste in our mouth tonight,” European captain Thomas Bjorn said. “And then we regroup for tomorrow.”
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. The morning fourballs matches were every bit of that and could have gone either way.
At one point, the U.S. led one match, trailed another and the other two were tied. Finau and Brooks Koepka were 1 down with three holes to play when Finau hit a towering 8-iron into the wind to a flag tucked to the right of the green near the water. It looked to be in trouble. The ball smacked off a wood slat framing the green, went high in the air and as the gallery gasped, the ball came down 3 feet from the hole. It was such a shocking break that the gallery booed Finau when he reached the green. Finau made the birdie putt to square the match, and Koepka’s par was good enough to win the 18th for a 1-up victory.
“We’ll take the breaks where we can get them,” Finau said. “We needed one there.”
Behind them, Thomas holed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole to regain the lead, and 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.
The Americans had no answer in the afternoon. Foursomes are difficult enough, especially in an increasing wind and a golf course with rough so thick that anything missing the fairway was going to be tough to get onto the green. All four of the U.S. teams were at least 2 over at the turn. All four were at least 2 down at the turn.
Everything that started so well suddenly felt so wrong. Garcia and Noren were particularly sharp, playing the front nine in 31, an astounding score given the conditions and the format.
“Even if we had played really well, it would have been tough to hang with them,” Mickelson said. “But we’ve just got to regroup and come out sharp. There’s a lot of golf left, and a lot of matches, and we’ve just got to come out and bring our best stuff.”
42nd Ryder Cup
At Le Golf National
EUROPE LEADS, 5-3
Fourballs: U.S. 3, Europe 1
Brooks Koepka-Tony Finau, U.S., def. Justin Rose-Jon Rahm, Europe, 1 up.
Dustin Johnson-Rickie Fowler, U.S., def. Rory McIlroy-Thorbjorn Olesen, Europe, 4-2.
Jordan Spieth-Justin Thomas, U.S., def. Paul Casey-Tyrrell Hatton, Europe, 1 up.
Francesco Molinari-Tommy Fleetwood, Europe, def. Patrick Reed-Tiger Woods, U.S., 3-1.
Foursomes: Europe 4, U.S. 0
Henrik Stenson-Justin Rose, Europe, def. Dustin Johnson-Rickie Fowler, U.S., 3-2.
Rory McIlroy-Ian Poulter, Europe, def. Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson, U.S., 4-2.
Sergio Garcia-Alex Noren, Europe, def. Phil Mickelson-Bryson DeChambeau, U.S., 5-4.
Francesco Molinari-Tommy Fleetwood, Europe, def. Justin Thomas-Jordan Spieth, U.S., 5-4.
Saturday’s Fourball pairings
2:10 a.m.: Brooks Koepka-Tony Finau, U.S., vs. Rory McIlroy-Sergio Garcia, Europe.
2:25 a.m.: Dustin Johnson-Rickie Fowler, U.S., vs. Paul Casey-Tyrrell Hatton, Europe.
2:40 a.m.: Tiger Woods-Patrick Reed, U.S., vs. Francesco Molinari-Tommy Fleetwood, Europe.
2:55 a.m.: Justin Thomas-Jordan Spieth, U.S., vs. Ian Poulter-Jon Rahm, Europe.
Foursomes pairings TBA
TV: 2-3 a.m. Golf Channel; 3 a.m.-1 p.m., Ch. 4