Europe had whitewashed America 4-0 in the morning’s foursomes, and as the sun began to set at Marco Simone Golf Club, the 18th green became the setting for late drama in the afternoon’s fourballs. Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose all made crucial putts at the last to turn defeats into ties and ensure the US did not win a single match on day one – the first time that has ever happened at the Ryder Cup.
“The 18th hole was incredibly kind to us,” said Rose, after he locked in Europe’s 6½-1½ overnight lead, and celebrated wildly with his teammates watching on. “The boys made some incredible putts. Those three ties mean a lot.”
Max Homa and Wyndham Clark were in full control of their match against Rose and rookie Bob MacIntyre, leading two up with two holes to play – but Rose won them both. “I haven’t had many moments in the Ryder Cup where I’ve had the whole team around me watching and getting to celebrate with them,” he added. “It was immense.”
MacIntyre found it tough on his debut and the Scot was the only player not to win a hole during the afternoon’s fourballs. “I struggled out on the greens today, but that’s why we’ve got a partner. This guy [Rose] has done it all in the world of golf and he proved it again today.”
On the emotion of playing in his first Ryder Cup, MacIntyre added: “I’ve never walked off a driving range to the first tee almost in tears. It was everything I’ve ever dreamed of.”
One of the defining images of the day was Rahm, stood with a wry smirk after draining his eagle putt on the 18th to win the hole and halve the match. Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler offered magnanimous handshakes but they would have been burning inside, having twice gone one up in the finale of a thrilling match. Afterwards, Koepka accused Rahm of “acting like a child” in the way he celebrated.
Rahm credited the dramatic finish to his teammate, rookie Nicolai Hojgaard, and the great Seve Ballesteros. “I’ve got to give Nicolai props because over here on 18, he gave me the freedom to basically go at it, and he told me to hit a putt, try to make it,” said the Spaniard. “And he said ‘What would Seve do? Do it for Seve’. I don’t know if he would have quite made it like that, but I’m sure glad that it went in.”
Moments earlier, Hovland had punched the air after making his putt on the 18th which ensured he and Tyrrell Hatton couldn’t lose the match – a major boost for Europe after the duo had been two down to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas through 13 holes. Thomas rolled in from four feet to at least avoid another American defeat.
“It was about time the ball went in,” said Hovland after a few near misses during the afternoon. “I felt like we played some really good golf today. The Americans played some great stuff too and to make that on the 18th was special.”
The other afternoon match was won by Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, with the latter putting together a scintillating front nine to be six up at the turn. Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa briefly fought back but eventually went down 5&3.
“It was one of the greatest days I’ve ever had on a golf course,” said Fitzpatrick, after hitting five birdies in a row from the second hole to effectively kill the match. “It was very, very special. From the moment I knew I was partnered with this man [McIlroy], I just couldn’t want to get out there. I loved it.”
It ensured Fitzpatrick finally earned his first Ryder Cup point, having lost all five of his previous matches across two Ryder Cups.
“For the first nine holes I was just trying to hang on to his coattails,” said McIlroy. “A great day in front of amazing fans. I’m so glad I was with Fitz for his first Ryder Cup point.”