Young U.S. team puts Europe in its biggest hole at Ryder Cup

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Team Europe’s Sergio Garcia reacts after winning their foursome match the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — The Americans were looking for a fresh start in the Ryder Cup with its youngest team ever, and it worked out even better Friday than they imagined at windswept Whistling Straits.

Dustin Johnson and Xander Schauffele each won two matches and all six U.S. rookies contributed at least a half-point on a day of chill and warmth, sunshine and rain, and a constant dose of American red scores on the boards.

The Americans won both sessions to build a 6-2 lead, sending Europe and its vast experience to its largest deficit after the opening day.

“I thought 3-1 and 3-1 in the two sessions, that’s a great start,” Patrick Cantlay after his solid Ryder Cup debut. “Hopefully, we can keep the pedal down and keep doing more of the same.”

The first point of the 43rd Ryder Cup, postponed one year by the pandemic, went to Europe and its new “Spanish Armada” of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia. The final match ended in a halve when Justin Thomas delivered a late eagle putt that allowed him and Cantlay to come all the way back from a 3-down deficit.

A quick start is nothing new for the Americans, who now have gone seven straight Ryder Cups without losing the opening session. This time, they backed it up with a solid finish.

“We can come back from 6-2,” Rory McIlroy said, trying to summon calm and confidence after losing both matches on the first day for the first time.

Both captains stuck to their plans, and it only worked out for one of them.

Even with a 3-1 start in foursomes, Steve Stricker broke up all his American teams and and still won the afternoon fourballs session.

Johnson and Schauffele never trailed, while the high-spirited Tony Finau made six birdies as he and Harris English trounced McIlroy and Shane Lowry. McIlroy never reached the 16th hole in either of his losses.

Bryson DeChambeau still hasn’t won a Ryder Cup match, but he delivered quite a show.

He pounded a drive to where no one had dared to go on the par-5 fifth hole. It cleared a massive bunker complex and stopped rolling at 417 yards, setting up a 72-yard flip wedge for an easy eagle. He also drove pin-high into a bunker of the 394-yard 13th, even though that only resulted in a par.

Rahm was unbeaten in both his matches, one of the few bright spots for Europe. Rahm poured in putts from everywhere as he and Garcia handled Thomas and Jordan Spieth in foursomes. Garcia won his 23rd match, tying Nick Faldo for the Ryder Cup record.

Rahm then partnered Tyrrell Hatton, who kept his cool long enough to deliver a big moment.

DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler were poised for a 1-up victory until Hatton hit 5-iron into a a hard left-to-right pin that landed near the hole and settled 7 feet away. He made the birdie putt to scratch out a halve and could only hope it was worth more.

“Things like this can turn the tide,” Rahm said.

After one day, it already feels like a strong tide, and that makes Saturday and another round of foursomes and fourballs more important than ever.

Padraig Harrington also broke up all his pairings and only got to halves to show for it. This was the first time since the Ryder Cup was expanded to include all of Europe in 1979 that no one from the morning played together in the afternoon from either team.

Cantlay and Schauffele were tough as ever in foursomes, which set the tone for the Americans. They were 5 up through five holes against McIlroy and Ian Poulter, and closed out their impressive 5-and-3 win with four straight birdies, the last one conceded.

“I don’t know if anyone could have beat Xander and Patrick today,” McIlroy said. “They played really good — four birdies in a row. Geez, yeah, they played great.”

The Americans see this Ryder Cup as crucial to change the culture in these matches. Europe has won nine of the last 12 times dating to 1995. This is the youngest U.S. team in history, and only three players have competed in more than one Ryder Cup for them.

They played Friday with laughter and plenty of shouting back to a one-sided American gallery that filled with dunes and hillocks along Lake Michigan.

Only one shot went into the lake — a pull-hook from Tommy Fleetwood on the par-5 16th. And there almost was one player who went into Lake Michigan. That would be Jordan Spieth, facing an impossible shot beneath the 17th green with the ball on a severe slope.

He swung so hard with a 52-degree wedge that momentum sent him backward, scrambling to keep his footing and then running down toward the edge of the bank until he could get his balance. The shot? Remarkable as ever, plopping down 6 feet away.

Thomas missed the par putt and the match was over. That was one of the few moments that didn’t go the American’s way.

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