How does the U.S. Team author Ryder Cup comeback now?
ROME – Remember Brookline? This one will take an even greater effort.
The ground in the vicinity of Marco Simone’s 18th green seemingly was shaking Friday evening after Justin Rose rolled in a nine-footer to further extend Europe’s lead in the 44th Ryder Cup. The home crowd’s explosion put an exclamation point on a record day for the Europeans, who lead the U.S., 6½-1½.
And now, U.S. Captain Zach Johnson’s squad is faced with a monumental task.
Back in 1999, Justin Leonard and his American teammates pulled off the unthinkable, rallying from 6-2 down after two sessions to lift the Cup by a single point. To this day, no team has come from more than four points down after the first day of competition to win.
Just in case you needed the math: This U.S. Team is five points behind their red-hot counterparts.
"They have every right to be frustrated, No. 1," Johnson said. "No. 2, what I've seen so far ... I've seen some guys, and basically what we've come up with is, once we leave here, it's done, and they are essentially leaving right now, so it's done. Today's done, and there's more opportunity out there. 28 percent-ish of a tournament is done, so we've got 72 percent left. That is a lot of opportunity, which makes for, you know, I would say just an ability to go out and show off and show the true character of this team, which I've been very proud of since the very beginning."
The U.S. outranked Europe 12.9 to 29.2 in terms of the Official World Golf Ranking, but by the time the first tees were pegged inside the first tee’s Colosseum-like amphitheater, the home side was a slight favorite. It didn’t take long for that gap to widen considerably.
A record 4-0 foursomes session for the Europeans.
A gusty, crowd-pumping comeback in four-balls to deny the Americans a full point over the course of a single day for the first time.
While Europe’s Big Three of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland combined for five points, the top three ranked Americans Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay could only muster a collective half-point.
And then there is a U.S. Team room, Johnson revealed, that has had illness spread among some of its players and other members, which has forced the Captain to adjust. Johnson preferred to keep the details internal, only saying, "There have been some unforeseen things that we've had to navigate around."
So, now what? How can the U.S. silence Rome and shock the world?
It probably starts with Scheffler and Brooks Koepka, who combined to birdie each of their final five holes in Friday's four-ball session – and didn't win any of those holes – as Rahm eagled two of his final three to muscle away a half-point. Spieth and Justin Thomas also managed a half-point after sitting the opening session. Schauffele and Cantlay will get another run, too.
Like Donald received from his studs on Friday, Johnson is going to need a boatload of points from those guys – and then some.
The U.S. skipper is confident his squad, despite feeling less than 100% and having just been waxed over nine-plus hours, has a comeback in them.
“Because of the 12 guys in my team room,” Johnson said. “Every one of them is feisty. Every one of them is hungry. Every one of them plays golf for the right reasons in the Ryder Cup.”
They’re just also stinging at the moment.
As the European players celebrated with each other and thousands of their new closest friends, the American brass somberly headed toward the clubhouse. Spieth and Collin Morikawa hit a few balls on the range. Not a word was said.
Meanwhile, at the nearby fan village, singer Tom Grennan belted out lyrics to one of his songs:
I've been holdin' onto pieces.
Swimmin' in the deep end.
Trying to find my way back…
This U.S. Team has a long way to go – and a 10% chance of winning now, according to OUTCOME IQ – but Rose wasn’t ready for anyone to start the engraving.
“There are small margins between the teams … and it's going to still to be that way for the next few days,” Rose said. “We're going to be fighting for small margins out there. I think Team Europe did an incredible job today the last few holes fighting for those small margins, and that's the difference on a day like today.”
Five points to be exact.
A difference no team has overcome ... yet.
“This is golf,” Johnson said. “I mean, this happens. These guys are athletes on both sides. Anybody can beat anybody at any given moment. … It did not go in our favour today. It does not mean it can't tomorrow, and certainly on Sunday.”