Europeans Storm Into Ryder Cup Lead With Afternoon Sweep

Anticipated matchups don’t live up to their billing in Friday play

One of the most unique events in sports, the Ryder Cup got underway at Le Golf National in Paris with a bang on Friday as the American team took a morning lead, only to see the Europeans sweep the afternoon session to take a 5-3 overall lead after one day of play.

In the morning fourball, matches, the Americans went three for four. Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler had the most emphatic victory, finishing ahead by four holes with two to play. The only morning loss for the USA was when Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood defeated the anticipated pairing of Tiger Woods and 2016 Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed. Molinari and Fleetwood won that match on the seventeenth hole, finishing three holes up with one to play.

Two morning matches went all eighteen holes before being decided. Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka defeated Justin Rose and Jon Rahm by winning the final hole of the match, giving the US a point that would turn out to be critical after the afternoon sweep. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth also needed every hole to defeat Paul Casey and Tyrell Hatton. Thomas and Spieth, friends since an early age, played two matches together on the day.

Thomas and Spieth’s afternoon match with Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood provided considerably less drama. Molinari and Fleetwood dominated the match, finishing five holes up with four to play. In fact, none of the afternoon matches were particularly close. Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were down by seven holes at the turn at Le Golf National, and finished down five with four left. Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy pulled away from Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson on the back nine to finish four holes up after 16. Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, both Ryder mainstays, jumped out to a three hole lead through nine and held on to win three up with two left.

The European sweep in the afternoon gives them a lead coming into Saturday’s matches. However, while the score is 5-3 in favor of the Europeans, there is an invisible half point that the United States holds in the competition for being the defending winners of the Cup. If the event ends in a tie, the United States retains the Ryder Cup for another two years.

The crowds are enormous at the Ryder Cup, an event all its own in both the golf world and the sports world. Fans arrived in costume, and were full-throated in their cheering during the event. This is not a place for traditional “golf-clapping,” but rather a rock festival disguised as a golf event wrapped around a rivalry.

The bleachers constructed at the first tee have nosebleed seats. Yes, there can be nosebleed seating at a golf event. Hills to the sides of holes were densely-packed with fans—not “patrons” like they have at Augusta, fans—who wanted to catch a good glimpse of the action.

There is an art to getting a good sightline in a golf crowd. Hills always help. Staying ahead of the group one intends to follow is a helpful hint. Still, there are a lot of people in those large crowds who are just cheering based on what the people in front of them do and waiting to get an early jump on getting to the next shot. In a way, one takes turns with everybody else getting to see the play, but at the Ryder Cup getting to see the crowd itself might be enough.

This is one of the few events in sports where the crowd’s intensity is palpable through a television set an ocean away.

There is still a lot of golf to be played, with two more sessions on Saturday and the singles matches on Sunday that have long been the iconic standout of the event.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.