PARIS — Sacre bleu, quel cauchemard!
For non-French speakers among us, that would be . . . what a nightmare!
And in broad daylight, before a hooting, cheering, shouting, laughing, rollicking army of European fans that loved every American bogey of it. That was Friday afternoon for the United States in the Ryder Cup. Four matches, four losses. And faster than you could ask, “Are Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau really down seven after nine holes?” a reddish scoreboard had turned bluer than the left side of the French flag.
It is not just that Europe will take a 5-3 lead into second day of the Ryder Cup. It’s that the home team will go into Saturday on a tsunami of momentum, after a complete rout in foursomes. The Americans had not been swept in a Ryder Cup session in 29 years. And that wasn’t the only depressing number. At one point, the four matches had combined for 36 holes — and Europe had won 19 of them.
It was all the more shocking because the morning’s fourball had been so encouraging for the United States, with a 3-1 lead. A mirage, it turned out.
Full Friday highlights from 2018 Ryder Cup
So what now? Tourniquet please, because someone on the U.S. side has to stop the bleeding. Quickly.
“The important message is, it was four points out of 28 that we played for,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said. “We’re not happy with it. I think we use it as motivation tomorrow. It’s significant, but it’s a small percentage of the points we’re going to play for this week. There's time.”
Something Rory McIlroy said about the European task, coming off a shaky morning. “You have to persist. Persist, persist, persist, until it turns around for you.”
Now it’s the Americans' turn to face that task. They had looked so good in the morning light. “You love making everybody quiet over here,” Brooks Koepka had mentioned as one of the winners.
Yeah, that didn’t last long. The wind picked up considerably at Le Golf National in the afternoon. So did the crowd noise. It was a stage made for a European blitz. “We got them going. They started believing, and then they went through the whole golf course,” captain Thomas Bjorn said. “And then it seemed like nothing could go wrong.”
The players noticed, too. “We were walking down 6, and we said, 'Sounds a little bit better this afternoon,’” Tommy Fleetwood mentioned, about strolling with his partner Francesco Molinari. They were the day’s dream date, by the way. Two matches, two wins, two points. On Fleetwood’s son’s first birthday.
What was there to say after such a sudden drubbing?
Mickelson, on the 5&4 mashing he and DeChambeau took at the hands of Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren: “Even if we had played really well, it would have been tough to hang with them.”
“There’s a lot of golf left.”
U.S. captain Jim Furyk answers tough questions after Friday's two sessions
Rickie Fowler, who won convincingly with Dustin Johnson in the morning but lost 3&2 to Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson: “Each session is a whole battle.”
“There’s still a lot of golf to be played.”
Bubba Watson, on the 4&2 loss he and Webb Simpson took against McIlroy and Ian Poulter: “They just beat us. It wasn’t like we played bad golf. It was just we couldn’t get the ball in the hole.”
“As we know, it’s a lot of golf left.”
Yes, we certainly do. So do the Europeans.
“We know it’s a marathon," Bjorn said.
If this bad news had a familiar feel to it, no wonder. In 2014 at Gleneagles, the U.S. was wiped out 7-1 in foursomes play. The Americans outscored Europe by a point in everything else. Like then, Friday’s alternate shot became alternate frustration. Curious thing, though. The Americans started the 2016 Ryder Cup by going 4-0 in foursomes the first day. But that was in Minnesota.
The morning round was so promising. They were good. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas birdied seven of the first 10 holes. Fowler and Johnson steamrolled Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen.
And they were lucky. The Ryder Cup gods not only smiled upon rookie Tony Finau, they gave him a high-five. Finau’s shot to the par-3 No. 16 green seemed for all the world to be short, and destined for the water. “I’m thinking `go.’ In Brooks head, he’s thinking, `go.’ My caddie’s thinking `go,’” Finau said later.
The next sound everyone expected was splash. Instead, it turned out to be . . . well, whatever sound a golf ball makes caroming off wood. His ball hit the boards bordering the pond, bounced high into the air and landed four feet from the cup. “Sometimes the ball rolls your way, and sometimes it doesn’t,” Finau said.
Watch the top 10 shots from Day 1 of the 2018 Ryder Cup
The birdie tied the match for Finau and Koepka against Rose and Jon Rahm, and they won it on No. 18. The four golfers managed only one birdie among them the final five holes — Finau’s good-bounce off the boards.
Gee, that certainly seemed like a good American omen. So did the 3-0 lead. No team has ever taken a 3-0 lead and lost the Ryder Cup. Ever. Not in nine past instances.
But so much for karma. In the afternoon, the four American pairs played the front nine in 11-over par. Out of those 36 holes, they had one birdie. Meanwhile Europe was on fire. Furyk stressed that shouldn’t be forgotten. And then, as his players saw the blue numbers go up, the pressure to stop it contributed to the landslide.
It was not a good day for U.S. icons. Tiger Woods was beaten in the morning. Mickelson, struggling mightily in the afternoon, was never in his match. Not even Captain America could save the day. Patrick Reed was teamed with Woods and they were the only morning losers, chased down and passed on the back Molinari and Fleetwood.
Meanwhile, McIlroy did not have a single birdie in hs morning round, eliciting a kindly word and arm around his shoulder from captain Bjorn. “The only thing I say to Rory is, we go again, that’s what we do,” Bjorn said. So McIlroy was out with Poulter in the afternoon, charging toward redemption. “I could barely keep up with his little legs,” Poulter said.
“What that does to the American team, I’m not really sure,” Poulter said. “They will be trying to work out what happened, and why that happened . . . and they might try to do something different tomorrow.”
Furyk is sending out the same eight players in Saturday’s fourball as he used on Friday. As for the the afternoon foursomes, “We have to shore things up.
“I think they’ll respond, I really do. Obviously it’s going to leave a sour taste in their mouth tonight, and they have to sleep on that. We come back tomorrow and I bet we’re fine.”
And word is, there remains a lot of golf to be played.