Europe storm into record-equalling five-point lead on first day of Ryder Cup

Jon Rahm cemented his status as Spain’s latest Ryder Cup superstar as Europe claimed a record-equalling five-point lead after an extraordinary opening day of the 44th Ryder Cup.

Captain Luke Donald’s decision to start with foursomes for the first time since 1993, when the United States last won on European soil, paid handsome dividends as his side swept an opening session for the first time ever.

Roared on by a partisan crowd at Marco Simone, the home side never trailed at any point in all four matches and their opponents won just 10 holes all morning.

Zach Johnson’s side threatened to stage a fightback as they led in all but one of the afternoon fourballs on the closing stretch, only for three European pairs to snatch half a point each in incredible fashion.

The five-point lead – 6.5-1.5 – after the opening day equals the biggest in Ryder Cup history and was last achieved at Oakland Hills in 2004, when Europe went on to win by nine points.

Rahm had led from the front as he partnered Tyrrell Hatton to a 4&3 victory over world number one Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns in the foursomes, but his performance in the afternoon was on another level.

The Masters champion chipped in for an eagle on the 16th to get back on level terms before Scheffler – partnering five-time major winner Brooks Koepka – won the 17th with a birdie after almost holing his tee shot.

Scheffler and Koepka then both had birdie putts from close range on the par-five 18th, only for Rahm to hole from 33 feet for eagle, his ball slamming into the back of the hole and into the air before dropping into the cup.

Jon Rahm
Fans on the 18th as they celebrate an eagle from Europe’s Jon Rahm to halve the match with Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka (David Davies/PA)

“There was definitely a bit of Seve magic on that one,” Rahm said in reference to the late Seve Ballesteros, who has a space dedicated to him in the European team’s dressing room.

“He definitely pulled that one towards the hole.”

Viktor Hovland had already holed from 20 feet on the 18th to ensure he and Tyrrell Hatton halved their match with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, the star American duo having been surprisingly left out of the foursomes.

Moments after Rahm’s heroics, Matt Fitzpatrick claimed his first Ryder Cup point after five straight losses as he partnered Rory McIlroy to a 5&3 win over Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.

Max Homa and US Open champion Wyndham Clark looked set to claim a first win for the visitors when they won the 16th to go two up on Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre, but Rose’s par was enough to win the 17th and the Englishman then birdied the last to cap a stunning finish.

Asked where that putt ranks in his career, the former US Open champion and Olympic gold medallist said: “Top, top, top.

“A lot of putts have meant a lot to me. We don’t know the significance of the putt yet but the last putt of the day, all of your team are behind you, the stage was set.

“Just to enjoy the amphitheatre was incredible, and to knock one in, I kind of let it rip (with the celebration). It was fun.”

Speaking about his first Ryder Cup match, MacIntyre added: “It was incredible. I’ve never walked off a driving range before almost in tears.

“But to have the crowd behind you the way it was and to have Justin there to hang on, I managed to get a half point, it was everything I ever dreamed of.”

Matt Fitzpatrick
Europe’s Matt Fitzpatrick celebrates on the fifth green (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Fitzpatrick had never played a fourball match before but instantly made up for lost time, making four birdies and an eagle in the first six holes to take total command of the match.

“Those first six holes, I was having goosebumps,” Fitzpatrick said. “I felt like I was hitting it well and I felt like as soon as I got on the green, I had a chance, didn’t matter where I was.

“You have days like that. You have days where it’s the complete opposite, but I was happy to take advantage of that today.”