US off to fast start in bid to reclaim Ryder Cup

American Collin Morikawa tees off before an impressive crowd at Whistling Straits in the first session of the 43rd Ryder Cup
AFP

The United States were in command early at Whistling Straits on Friday, Olympic champion Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay leading the charge in the bid to wrest the Ryder Cup from Europe.

Schauffele and newly crowned US PGA Tour FedEx Cup champion Cantlay — both Ryder Cup rookies — won the first five holes against the experienced European duo of Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy.

As the opening match reached the turn — with Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia 2-up on Americans Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth — the hosts were leading the other three matches of the morning foursomes session.

Cantlay and Schauffele, part of the United States’ cadre of six rookies, lived up to expectations set by their 2019 Presidents Cup performance.

They opened with a textbook birdie at the first and took the second hole with a par as McIlroy and Poulter were unable to salvage a par after McIlroy sent his tee shot left and Poulter’s second shot put them in a greenside bunker.

The Americans were 3-up after another birdie at the par-three third, where Cantlay stuck his tee shot nine feet from the pin and Schauffele calmly rolled in the putt. A par was enough to win the fourth and they birdied the par-five fifth where McIlroy and Poulter settled for a par.

Americans Dustin Johson and Colin Morikawa — who own four major titles between them — were one-up over Paul Casey and European rookie Viktor Hovland through eight holes of a back-and forth battle.

Johnson and Morikawa had seized the lead with a birdie at the opening hole, but Casey and Hovland won the third and fourth to move ahead before the Americans won the sixth and seventh to regain the advantage.

Meanwhile, Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger had a 1-up lead through seven holes over Europe’s Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick — a match the Americans had led since a birdie at the par-5 second hole.

Thousands of raucous fans greeted golfers at the first tee, where the action got underway barely half an hour after the sun rose over Lake Michigan.

Crowds of about 40,000 each day promised to be overwhelmingly pro-USA thanks to continuing coronavirus travel restrictions.

European captain Padraig Harrington said he and his players were just fine with that.

“We want this atmosphere,” said Harrington, repeating the mantra that a pro-US crowd was better than no crowd — the scenario that was kicked around before the event was finally postponed from 2020.

‘Unbelievable’ scene

US captain Steve Stricker called the atmosphere “unbelievable.”

“It’s what we’ve been waiting for, right?” said Stricker “Three years since the last Ryder Cup.”

Stricker, a Wisconsin native, said he expected spectators to be loud but respectful to the European team.

There were scatterings of jeers for the Europeans early on, but Spieth offered a dressing-down to one fan at the third hole who he felt had gone too far in heckling the visitors.

Europe are trying to hang on to the Cup they captured in France in 2018 against a US team stacked with nine of the world’s top 11 players.

The Europeans have won nine of the last 12 editions of the biennial match play event, including three of the past six on US soil.

Despite a wealth of experience — Westwood is playing his 11th Ryder Cup and Garcia his 10th — they have painted themselves the underdogs against the firepower of the US players and the energy of the American crowds.

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