Ryder Cup: Europe with mountain to climb after dire first day

Padraig Harrington

They call Wisconsin the Dairy State. If so, and despite all of the pre-event COVID fears, it appears the European Ryder Cup team has been struck down by lactose intolerance.

Padraig Harrington’s side was creamed on day one of this pandemic-delayed match by a rampant US side that churned out win after win to take a 6-2 lead into Saturday. 

Whistling Straits? Try Dire Straits. Sure, only eight matches have been played to this point. Yes, there are 20 more to go. But already it looks and feels as though Europe will need another miracle of Medinah proportions if they are to retain the trophy.

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A 3-1 thumping in the opening foursomes session set the tone. The same scoreline in the afternoon fourballs compounded the misery.

And for those of a blue and gold persuasion, it largely was misery.

The positives: Jon Rahm turning in a pair of performances worthy of his place atop the Official World Golf Rankings; baby-faced assassin Viktor Hovland making an assured, impressive debut; Tommy Fleetwood continuing to be anathema to the US in team matchplay.

The negatives: Ian Poulter being not so much ‘Postman’ as ‘posted missing’; Matt Fitzpatrick maintaining his 100% losing record in the contest.

Most concerning of all? The performance of Rory McIlroy. The four-time major winner continues to sleepwalk through what should be the best years of his career. 

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For the first ever time in the Ryder Cup, he lost twice in one day and, worse, carried the demeanour of a man who would sooner have been floundering in a Lake Michigan rip-current than battling on the golf course. Should he reappear before Sunday it will be not just a surprise but a massive gamble on the part of captain Harrington.

The Americans, by complete contrast, look calm, focused and confident. Most ominously, they look motivated. The position they have worked themselves into is by no means unassailable, but it is commanding. They have not led by this big a margin after two sessions of the Ryder Cup since 1977. 

To put it another way, this is their biggest first day lead in the European era of the competition.

"No doubt it was a tough day," admitted Harrington, "Clearly not what you wanted, 6-2. There's obviously still 20 points to play for. We've only just played for about 25% at this stage. It isn't a good start, but there's still a lot to play for.

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"Clearly the US played very well today, and they did what they needed to do. We need to do that tomorrow."

His American counterpart Steve Stricker was, as one might expect, much happier. 

"It's a great start," he said. "We are very happy with the start. But my message to the guys before I left is tomorrow is a new day. Let's just go out tomorrow and try to win that first session again in the morning and pretend today never happened, and let's keep our foot down and continue to play the golf that we know we can play."

It's not over, clearly. But you'll excuse the fat lady if she at least clears her throat. 

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