Sunday, July 22, 2018

Morning sweep powers U.S. to Day 1 Ryder Cup lead

CHASKA, Minn. — The Americans were the morning people Friday, Day 1 of the Ryder Cup.

There were fist bumps and birdies by the bunch, punctuated by a thunderous chant of "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!" from the gallery at the 16th green after the United States won all four alternate-shot matches to take a 4-0 lead.

It was a quick, surprising reward after a labor-intensive two years for the Americans, captain Davis Love and team leader Phil Mickelson, who have been part of an extensive re-examination of how to change their nation's Ryder Cup fortunes.

But it will take more than one all-conquering morning at Hazeltine National Golf Club to finish off the Europeans. In golf's premier team event, they have won three straight and eight of the past 10. And they won Friday afternoon, roaring back to take three of four better-ball matches.

By the time the final putt had been conceded, the Americans still had the lead, 5-3, but they no longer had the momentum.

Rory McIlroy, the hottest European player coming into the event after winning the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup, emphasized that point with a perfectly weighted 15-foot eagle putt on 16 that finished off a 3-and-2 victory with Ryder Cup rookie Thomas Pieters over Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

After McIlroy's putt dropped into the hole, he turned and twice bowed theatrically in the direction of the American crowd.

"It's pretty hostile out there, I must say," McIlroy said. "You don't want to let that get to you, but you just want to let them know when you hole a putt how much it means to you.

"I thought about that celebration before I hit the putt."

The only U.S. win in four-ball came from Brandt Snedeker and former Seminole Brooks Koepka, who routed Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett 5 and 4.

Mickelson starts with win: Phil Mickelson came to Minnesota at the center of the Ryder Cup storm. He was the most vocal U.S. player lobbying for change. His seat got hotter when he criticized Hal Sutton for the way he paired Mickelson with Tiger Woods as captain in 2004. So at the first tee Friday morning, he knew he had to deliver.

"I could have copped out and asked to sit," he said. "That would have been a total weak move, and I wanted to get out there. Put me out there. I enjoy that pressure."

After a shaky start, Mickelson found his form on the back nine and partnered with Rickie Fowler for a 1-up victory over McIlroy and Andy Sullivan.

"Certainly I played tight. This guy loosened me up," Mickelson said, nodding toward Fowler, who won his first Ryder Cup match. "That's why I wanted him as my partner. He knows what to say and when to say it. He got some of my best golf out there in the end."

Mickelson didn't play in the afternoon matches.

Palmer's presence felt: Arnold Palmer's presence was felt everywhere five days after his death. His photograph greeted the U.S. players in the team room. His bag from the 1975 event, which the Americans won by 10 points with him as captain, greeted all the golfers on the first tee. Fans wore bipartisan buttons that read, "I am a member of Arnie's Army." Palmer died Sunday of heart problems at 87.