Euro euphoria and USA's fizzling finish

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The USA squad sought to right the ship in the afternoon four-balls but endured several closing hole jolts. M. James Ward reviews the critical meltdowns now placing the American team in a near desperate position.
Posted on
September 30, 2023
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy -- Lead NBC-Sports golf analyst Paul Azinger made it a point numerous times in citing the wherewithal of key players on the USA squad in having the requisite skills in knowing how to close out matches for wins.

After getting totally annihilated in the morning foursome play and picking up zero points, the necessity of the USA team to resurrect itself in the afternoon four-ball session was essential.

For a good bit of the afternoon the USA pushed back and the possibility existed that at the end of the first day the overall score would be 5-3 in favor of Europe. Such an achievement would have been uplifting given the dreadful start.

Just when hopes may have been raised -- the bottom fell out.

Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who were benched in the foursomes session, were able to secure a two-up lead on Viktor Hovland and Tryell Hatton after 13 holes. At this point, Spieth did a disappearing act and Thomas carried on solo in battling against the two Euro players. Thomas missed key putts at the 16th and 17th holes which would have likely sealed the match.

Going to the final hole one-up, the USA duo appeared in good shape when Thomas wedged to several feet for a final birdie. Before Justin could putt -- Hovland dropped a 26-foot birdie putt and now instead of a full point for the Americans it was Thomas needing to make his putt to secure a tie which he did. Nonetheless, a full point was doable but not secured.

Next up came the American tandem of Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka. The duo managed to arrive at the 16th hole with a one-up. Then an initial lightning bolt happened with Jon Rahm knocking in his third chip shot from just off the green for an eagle and a tied match. Scheffler was able to push the USA team ahead with a birdie at the penultimate hole after nearly holing out his approach on the fly.

Then Rahm opted to play the role of his childhood hero the late Seve Ballesteros and drain a 32-foot putt for eagle and a halved match. The ball slamming int the back liner of the cup -- jumping up momentarily - and then quickly being sucked down into the hole. Another half point taken by the Euros.

In the second to late match, it appeared Max Homa and Wyndham Clark would secure a full point - being two-up with two to play. The Euro pair of Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre never backed off and claimed the final two holes with Rose sinking a 9-foot birdie putt on the 18th green.

The difference in point totals from what might have been to what the tally actually is now is striking. The hill to climb now becomes the equivalent of a Mount Everest effort. The opportunity to stem European momentum was there Friday afternoon -- a golden opportunity for a fitting finish turned out into a fizzling flop.

After the Europeans went 4-0 in the Friday morning session for the first time in Ryder Cup history, they won one four-ball match and tied three others in the afternoon. Europe has a 6 ½-1 ½ lead, which matches its largest advantage after the first day since 2004. The Europeans won the Ryder Cup 18 ½-9 ½ at Oakland Hills Golf Club in Michigan that year.

It is only the second time the U.S. failed to win a match in a single day at the Ryder Cup; it gained just a half-point on a rain-interrupted Sunday in 2010. It is also only the second time a team has failed to win a match on opening day; Great Britain and Ireland went 0-4-0 on the first day in 1947.

It is only the fourth time the European team went unbeaten in a session overall. It's the first time since 2006 that the European team had a lead after the first session. It won the Ryder Cup 18½ - 9 ½ at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland.

Now there are 20 matches to play but the USA squad will need to play flawlessly and win 12.5 points. Impossible -- no. Likely -- doubtful. In simple terms the American team is on life support and needing divine intervention to resurrect hopes.

More importantly, it will need to show the skillset they have failed to show since 1993 -- winning tight matches on the other guy's home turf.

Zach Johnson made highly questionable choices in his opening session pairings but the fault lies at the four-ball teams who had a clear opportunity to seed doubt into what appears for now a European juggernaut.

The USA team was looking to secure a critical beach head and move onward from there. The Europeans repelled that push quite effectively at the closing hole.

Saturday brings the promise of another day but for the USA team it will take a monumental swing of fortune -- no pun intended. The lights have not gone out entirely for the USA team, thus far, but the ever-increasing growing shadow of permanent darkness now  looms large.


Saturday's AM Foursome Line-up

Match one: Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas (USA) vs. Rory McIlroy/Tommy Fleetwood (Europe)
Match two: Scottie Scheffler/Brooks Koepka (USA) vs. Viktor Hovland/Ludvig Aberg (Europe)
Match three: Max Homa/Brian Harman (USA) vs. Shane Lowry/Sepp Straka (Europe)
Match four: Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele (USA) vs. Jon Rahm/Tyrrell Hatton (Europe)

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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