The 2018 Ryder Cup kicked off Friday in France with Europe gaining a 5-3 edge after the first two sessions at Le Golf National.
Team USA won the morning fourball wave 3-1, but Europe stormed back by sweeping the afternoon foursomes (alternate shot) session with four blowout matches. It was the first time in Ryder Cup history Europe swept that format.
Here’s a breakdown of Saturday morning’s fourball matches:
Sergio Garcia (1-0) – Rory McIlroy (1-1) vs. Brooks Koepka (1-0) – Tony Finau (1-0)
When European captain Thomas Bjorn picked Garcia a lot of eyebrows were raised. The 2017 Masters champion had endured a rough season, and many felt he didn’t deserve a spot on the team. But Garcia was sublime Friday afternoon, teaming with Alex Noren to destroy Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau. Rory McIlroy gets his third partner in three sessions, and he needs to hit the ball more consistently to help this partnership earn a point.
Koepka and Finau fell behind early Friday morning, but some luck and skill helped them scratch out a win. Both players seem similar on paper: long hitters, solid putters and calm demeanor, and that just may prove to be a winning formula this week.
Advantage: The Koepka-Finau partnership has some flaws, but not as many as Garcia and McIlroy. Look for the U.S. to bounce back from Friday afternoon’s ugly session and get a point on the board with this matchup.
Paul Casey (0-1) – Tyrrell Hatton (0-1) vs. Dustin Johnson (1-1) – Rickie Fowler (1-1)
Johnson looked listless Friday afternoon, almost uninterested after he missed a number of short putts. Fowler tried to pick him up, but he couldn’t find a fairway. While the two looked great Friday morning, it may have been wise to give one or both a session off to regroup. Maybe U.S. captain Jim Furyk believes a move back to fourball will help them out.
Casey and Hatton, a couple of Englishmen known for their ball-striking, played well Friday morning but still lost. They get a chance to go over any possible mistakes and gain even more chemistry. Both players are streaky, yet they seem up for the moment.
Advantage: Hatton and Casey are both solid, and can play in any weather condition. Johnson and Fowler need to have a huge emotional rise after Friday afternoon, so look for Europe to avenge the first match here.
Francesco Molinari (2-0) – Tommy Fleetwood (2-0) vs. Tiger Woods (0-1) – Patrick Reed (0-1)
When Bjorn threw down Molinari and Fleetwood together Thursday night it looked juicy, and proved a great mix of putting and accuracy off the tee. The two looked unflappable while taking down four of the game’s best players (Woods, Reed, Spieth and Thomas) on Friday. These guys are comfortable and have momentum on their side.
When you go 2-0 on your first day as a pairing… pic.twitter.com/p6TBQCNCIG
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 28, 2018
Why did Woods sit in the afternoon? Was he injured? A whispers have made their rounds claiming the 14-time major champion was feeling some back pain after the morning session. If that were the case, he should be shut down. Reed looked a bit shaky late Friday, and it’s difficult to figure out why he was paired with someone other than Jordan Spieth.
Advantage: Until Molinari and Fleetwood lose, or even look like they could lose, they have the advantage in every match they play.
Ian Poulter (1-0) – Jon Rahm (0-1) vs. Jordan Spieth (1-1) vs. Justin Thomas (1-0)
Coming off a poor season in which he failed to record a top-2 finish, Spieth didn’t need to play the first three sessions. He hasn’t lit a fire under anyone, and few are afraid of him right now. Thomas could have used someone like DeChambeau as a partner in this one, someone who would have made him a little uncomfortable and determined. Right now, the U.S. may be pairing friends together too much. Reed and Spieth were excellent together in 2016 because they wanted to beat each other just as bad as their opponents.
Poulter proved the difference maker for Europe in the afternoon Friday. The man just knows how to win in the Ryder Cup. Rahm is an interesting partner for him, Noren, after a great Friday afternoon session, would have been better, but this should be a passionate partnership that could build off the crowd.
Advantage: It wouldn’t be surprising to see a gutty draw here, but Europe has a slight edge with Poulter involved.
Europe: Justin Rose, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen and Henrik Stenson — Tough to sit Stenson; shocking to see Noren out, and smart to give Rose a breather. Olesen likely won’t play until Sunday.
U.S.: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau — Watson and Mickelson looked poor Friday afternoon, and it will be tough to get them back in before singles matches. Simpson and DeChambeau may feel a little hard-done-by but they didn’t show much form when given the chance.