Heroes and Zeros from Day 1 of the Ryder Cup
Best shots, worst putts, MVP (LVP) and much more from a dominating U.S. performance
By Alan Shipnuck
HAVEN, Wis. — On Friday evening the sun was setting on Whistling Straits and, quite possibly, the European Ryder Cup team when U.S. captain Steve Stricker quick-stepped up the stairs behind the 18th green, in sweet Air Jordans that were an homage to a prominent fan in the gallery. “Good start,” Stricker said. “Great start. Can’t ask for much more.” Indeed, the U.S. led 6-2 and the partisan crowd was already deep in the heads of the Europeans. “You should write about their behavior,” said Paul Casey, downcast and glassy-eyed after a brutal day on an unforgiving golf course. “It’s bad. I’m sure 99 percent of the fans are great, but when you have this many people out here, that 1 percent is very disruptive.”
The Europeans will be fighting to stay alive in this Ryder Cup on Saturday, but before we become immersed in another dawn-to-dusk stress-fest let’s round up the heroes and zeros from an action-packed Day 1.
Most Valuable Player: Xander Schauffele. Helluva Ryder Cup debut for the Olympic gold medalist as he starred in two victories and justified Stricker’s confidence to send him out in the anchor match in the morning alternate shot and first off in the afternoon best-ball.
Honorable mention: Jon Rahm. The world No. 1 was a towering figure, accounting for 75 percent of Europe’s points. Dustin Johnson shook off a couple of wild drives early in alternate shot to make a boatload of birdies en route to two victories. After a winless season on the PGA Tour, Johnson seems extra fired up to help nab Samuel Ryder’s trophy.
Least Valuable Player: Rory McIlroy. In the face of the superior U.S. depth, Team Europe needed its most accomplished player to come up big. Alas, McIlroy’s play was so lifeless you might have thought it was Thursday at a major championship. Him getting skunked in two matches helped put Europe in a deep hole.
Honorable mention: Casey. The crusty vet couldn’t buy a putt, and his usually reliable ball-striking was shaky, sending him to two lopsided losses.
Best Match: Rahm-Tyrrell Hatton vs. Bryson DeChambeau-Scottie Scheffler in better ball. With two of the first three afternoon matches tilting the Americans’ way, Match 3 became crucial for the Euros. Scheffler made contributions throughout, but Rahm and DeChambeau were like two rutting stags—snorting, preening and locking horns. Neither team had more than a 1-up advantage, and the Americans led coming down the last hole. Hatton, a non-factor most of the round, flushed his approach and then buried the birdie putt, allowing Europe to salvage half a point. “That was some gritty, grindy stuff right there,” said NBA star Steph Curry, who was spectating. “We were talking trash about ol’ Tyrrell the whole back nine, and then he does that. Respect.”
Best Pairing: Rahm-Sergio Garcia in alternate shot. They looked like the second coming of the Spanish Armada, channeling the dazzling play and duende of their celebrated predecessors Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. Their victory in the opening match of this Ryder Cup prevented Europe from getting swept in the morning session.
Worst Pairing: McIlroy-Ian Poulter in alternate shot. Europe’s putative emotional leaders came out flat and ragged, losing the first five holes (!) in a sad performance that seemed to suck the life out of their team. A subdued Poulter, 45, looked like a man whose time has passed.
Most Inspired Captain’s Decision: Stricker resting major champions Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa in the afternoon and sending out the less celebrated Tony Finau and Harris English, who rewarded his faith by boat-racing McIlroy and Shane Lowry.
Least Inspired Captain’s Decision: Padraig Harrington breaking up the Rahm-Garcia team and/or sending Casey out in the afternoon instead of Garcia or Matt Fitzpatrick.
Best Shot: Thomas’s laser-like 3-wood on the 16th hole in better-ball, setting up the eagle that squared the match and allowed him and Cantlay to steal a halve from Tommy Fleetwood-Viktor Hovland, who had been 3 up through eight holes. It was a reputation-salvaging shot for Thomas, who played poorly in the morning vs. Rahm-Garcia and struggled mightily for much of the afternoon match.
Honorable mention: Spieth’s crazy-ass touch-the-clouds chip over a wall of turf that evoked the Green Monster on the 17th hole, followed by a death-defying romp down a landmine-filled hillside on the precipice of Lake Michigan. The entire Spieth experience distilled into one moment. Schauffele’s stone-dead tee shot on the par-3 12th hole in alternate shot also deserves mention. Europe had won the previous two holes and Mcllroy was already in tight. X’s cold-blooded answer blunted Europe’s mini-rally and helped secure the U.S. win. Then there was DeChambeau’s hyper-masculine 417-yard drive on the bending par-5 5th hole, which left him only 72 yards to the green. The ensuing eagle was an important moment in a taut match. And let us not forget Johnson’s drive on the 331-yard par-4 6th during better ball, which flew the green and damn near the grandstand behind it. It wasn’t the most strategic play but, dang, it was fun to watch.
Worst Shot: Lee Westwood’s tee shot on the par-3 17th in alternate shot. Westwood had nuttin’ the whole match, but spirited play by Fitzpatrick kept the Euros in it. A poor tee shot by the Americans opened the door for Westwood to extend the match to 18 and maybe allow Europe to steal half a point, but he clanked a long iron well short and right of the green and the match ended moments later.
Honorable mention: McIlroy flying the green with a wedge from the middle of the fairway on the 9th hole in better-ball. Europe was only 1 down, but it lost the hole after McIlroy’s wild shot and soon the rout was on as English and especially Finau put the hammer down.
Best Putt: Some big benders were holed on the Straits’s wild greens, but the answer here has to be Hatton on 18.
Worst Putt: Tommy Fleetwood missed a 4-footer on 10 … then did it again on 11. Thus spooked, Hovland missed a 5-footer to lose the 12th hole. Without this yippy display the Euros could have built an insurmountable lead.
Most Inspirational Sight: The swollen grandstand behind the 1st tee singing the national anthem as the sun rose over Lake Michigan. Goosebumps!
Least Inspirational Sight: Big man down! Lowry took a tumble on one of the course’s vertiginous sand dunes. If it’s any consolation, dozens (hundreds?) of fans went down too.
Best Saturday Morning Pairing: Starts right at the top with Rahm-Garcia taking on the spicy Jupiter pair of Koepka-Berger. There is a huge amount of pressure on the Euros because if the U.S. can take this point the 43rd Ryder Cup is headed toward a blowout.
Worst Saturday Morning Pairing: Man, poor Hatton and Casey – they got their teeth kicked in today and now they have to take on Team Flusher in Johnson and Morikawa. Hopefully it doesn’t get ugly early.
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