Ryder Cup 2016: 5 things we learned Friday at Hazeltine
1. The leadoff match in each session delivered excellent action
In the morning foursomes, U.S. team Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth played mistake-free, building an early edge and keeping Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose at least 2-down throughout.
The great golf continued in the afternoon, as expected. This rematch featured the strongest team on each side and four of the top 11 golfers in the world.
Entering the week, Stenson, the reigning Open champion, said he was healthy enough to play all five matches for captain Darren Clarke, if necessary. He answered any lingering questions about his knee - which caused him to pull out of the FedEx Cup playoffs after two weeks - during the afternoon fourballs by hitting the pinpoint iron shots we expect from the strapping Swede. Stenson made five birdies in a 5 & 4 victory for Europe to deal Reed and Spieth their first Ryder Cup loss in four matches.
2. Brooks Koepka played like a seasoned veteran
Amid intense pressure and a frenzied environment, the 26-year-old American rookie remained cool. On the first hole, he crushed a 330-yard drive that split the fairway and spun a wedge shot within one foot for a conceded birdie. Two holes later, he hit a 350-yard drive and 290-yard 3-wood to set up a two-putt birdie to win the hole. He made three birdies, pairing with hot-putting Brandt Snedeker to crush Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. It was the only point the U.S. won in the afternoon.
3. Friday was a mixed bag for the captain’s picks on each side
Rickie Fowler performed the best for U.S. captain Davis Love III. He carried partner Phil Mickelson at times in their foursomes victory. Ryan Moore struggled early but made three birdies on the back nine as he and fellow captain’s pick J.B. Holmes fought back from 4-down at the turn. Matt Kuchar paired with the best player in the world, Dustin Johnson, to win a foursomes match. But he didn’t make a birdie until No. 16 in a loss with DJ in the afternoon.
Team Europe’s picks weren’t much better. Lee Westwood played poorly in the morning foursomes loss and sat out the afternoon. Former U.S. Open, PGA and Players champion Martin Kaymer was missing in action in both sessions, losing two points to drop to 4-5-3 overall in the Ryder Cup. Thomas Pieters, a rookie, split two matches.
4. Garcia and Cabrera-Bello could be the next dynamic Spaniards
Spaniards have played a pivotal role in Team Europe’s Ryder Cup success over the last 30 years. Europe might have found another team to carry on the tradition started by Seve and Olazabal. The veteran Sergio Garcia and rookie Rafa Cabrera-Bello teamed in the afternoon to defeat J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore 3 & 2. Cabrera-Bello made two key front nine birdies. Once again in these matches, Garcia discovered the velvet touch on and around the greens. He chipped in, sank clutch putts and taunted the crowd. Garcia improved to 16-6-5 in foursomes and fourballs in his eight Ryder Cup appearances.
5. Hazeltine is a fine host course
The beefy Robert Trent Jones layout offers something for everyone. There are 108 bunkers, the longest par-4 in Ryder Cup history (No. 12, 518 yards), approach shots defended by lakes, light rough and perfect greens rolling at the ideal speed to make putts. Love III wanted a course setup where players could be aggressive and put on display their incredible shotmaking. Whether it was Dustin Johnson carving an iron shot 246 yards from the trees to the green, Phil Mickelson hitting a shot righthanded beside a fence or Thomas Pieters bombing a tee shot over a dogleg corner, the course provided a palette where gifted artists could exhibit their skills.