This American team mean business:
Coming into this year’s Ryder Cup on the back of three straight defeats and eager to make amends for their heart-breaking loss at the ‘Miracle in Medinah’, it did not take long for Team Europe to see USA's new plan and team ethos in action, as the hosts flew out of the blocks on Friday morning, recording the first clean sweep in session one of a Ryder Cup for 41 years.
Even though Darren Clarke’s men mounted a fine afternoon comeback to dominate the fourballs, it was clear on day one in Minnesota that this American team are a force to be reckoned with.
Rory McIlroy is seriously pumped up:
From the moment McIlroy appeared on the driving range ahead of his morning foursomes match it was clear that the Northern Irishman was up for this match, as he shouted ‘come on Rosey!’ in between shots when Justin Rose was announced on the adjacent first tee box.
Although on the wrong end of a narrow defeat to Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson in session one, he took to being the senior member of his partnership with Andy Sullivan, taking every opportunity available to bond with his companion.
However it was in the afternoon fourballs where we saw just how much The Ryder Cup means to the 27 year old, with Rory loudly celebrating when his rookie partner Thomas Pieters holed out. McIlroy saved his best celebration for the 16th green though, as he bowed before the crowd before letting out another passionate shout after holing a match-winning eagle putt in their match against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Rafa Cabrera Bello is at home in his environment:
With thousands of loud, passionate home fans waiting for you on the first tee, a Ryder Cup debut is a very tough proposition, which cannot be compared to any other tee shot in golf when it comes to theatre and pressure. Not that it seemed to bother rookie Cabrera Bello, who made a dream Ryder Cup debut alongside his Spanish compatriot Sergio Garcia in the afternoon fourballs, defeating J.B Holmes and Ryan Moore 3&2.
Normally you would expect the more senior member of a pairing to take the lead on the loud walk to the first tee, however it was Rafa who appeared to be doing most of the talking on the way to the tee.
However it is one thing looking at ease in press conferences and on the way to the first tee, but another to go out and deliver vital points for your team. Rafa managed to tick all of those boxes and will have another chance to repeat his debut heroics when he and Sergio meet Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth in the Saturday morning foursomes.
Stenson and Rose still have their magic:
Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose came to Hazeltine National Golf Club having built a reputation as a fearsome partnership after winning all three of the matches the pair contested together at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. However the Olympic gold and silver medallists soon found themselves up against it in match one on Friday morning, with Spieth and Reed eventually running out 3&2 winners. Would this very solid ball-striking duo be split up by captain Clarke for the afternoon fourballs? Not a chance.
Such is the trust that Clarke has in Henrik and Justin that the Northern Irishman sent the pair out again first for the fourballs, which proved to be a good decision with Rose and Stenson producing some sensational golf on the way to a comprehensive 5&4 victory. Their performance, which produced a combined nine under par through only 14 holes, evoked memories of their famous win over Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar in Scotland last time out. They might have tasted defeat on Friday morning, but Stenson and Rose are not to be messed with.
We have the makings of another great Spanish Duo:
The European Ryder Cup team has featured plenty of fine Spanish players over the years, with the likes of Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal forming famous partnerships. Garcia and Cabrera Bello, the two Spaniards on the team this week, came to Hazeltine talking of their admiration for one another, with Rory McIlroy cheekily observing in the build-up that the countrymen shared the biggest bromance on the European team. The pair backed up their good friendship with a resounding win on Friday afternoon and will be sent out again in the Saturday morning foursomes.
Garcia’s latest Ryder Cup win sees the 36 year old move to sixth place in the all-time list of players with most points, just one point behind his hero Seve. If the Spanish duo, who have labelled themselves the ‘Spanish Armada’, can replicate their day one form over the remainder of the 2016 Ryder Cup they will be the latest in a line of memorable Spanish partnerships.
Thomas Pieters is made of stern stuff:
Before coming to Hazeltine we already knew that Thomas Pieters is a very confident player. The Belgian, who won the final Ryder Cup Qualifying event at the Made in Denmark to earn a captain’s pick for Hazeltine, suffered a heavy defeat alongside Lee Westwood in their morning foursomes match. For many young players making their Ryder Cup bows that might have caused a loss of confidence. Not so Pieters.
Clarke knows Pieters well, and knew the 24 year old would bounce back, and so he did alongside McIlroy in the fourballs. Rory was very impressed by what he saw, saying:
“All the credit has to go to Thomas, a Ryder Cup rookie, who has taken to it like a natural. He's been incredible all day. Even the way he played in the morning in the foursomes and what he did out there this afternoon, he's a stud.”
Before Hazeltine Pieters received a lot of advice from Nicolas Colsaerts, who made a very successful Ryder Cup debut in Medinah. If the big-hitter can continue where he left off on day one, he too will have a serious impact on golf’s biggest team event.