(Photo credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Jon Rahm dunked two eagles in the final three holes of his afternoon four-ball session, and Team Europe finished the first day of the 44th Ryder Cup with a commanding 6 1/2-1 1/2 lead over the United States team Friday near Rome.
The Spanish star teamed up with Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark to pullout a dramatic tie with Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka of the U.S. after Team Europe dominated the morning foursomes matches and won all four points at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
The U.S. team failed to win a single match on Friday. The Americans held leads in each of the first three afternoon matches and ceded draws in all three.
The second of Rahm's eagles fell mere minutes after Norwegian Viktor Hovland and Englishman Tyrrell Hatton rallied to tie Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. To end the day, Ryder Cup veteran Justin Rose of England won three of the final four holes himself, carrying Scottish debutant Robert MacIntyre to a tie with Max Homa and Wyndham Clark.
In the other afternoon match, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Matt Fitzpatrick of England cruised to a 5-and-3 victory over Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.
"It's a dream start for us," Team Europe captain Luke Donald said. "... Every match that came here to 18, we won. That could have been easily 3-1 to the U.S. this afternoon and we actually ended up winning the session. Great heart, great fight from the guys."
Koepka rolled in a birdie at No. 15 to put the U.S. team 1 up, but Rahm chipped in for eagle from off the green at the par-4 16th to draw level.
Scheffler's tee shot at the par-3 17th landed 6 feet away, and his birdie won the hole for the U.S. But at the par-5 18th, both Scheffler and Koepka needed three shots to reach the green, while Rahm was faced with a 33-foot eagle putt up a slope.
Rahm's putt was tracking with enough speed that it bounced off the back of the hole and dropped straight in.
And Rahm's play was reminiscent of that of another Spaniard, the legendary Seve Ballesteros, who is with Team Europe in spirit this week. He appeared in eight Ryder Cups from 1979 to 1995 and had a career record of 20-12-5 with 22.5 points. Team Europe has an empty locker to honor Ballesteros, who died from a cancerous brain tumor in 2011 at 54.
"It's the intention of the moment, right, and then the fact that something happens is truly unique," Rahm said. "I've got to give Nicolai props because over here on 18, he gave me the freedom to basically go at it ... And he said, 'What would Seve (Ballesteros) do? Do it for Seve.'"
It was one of three critical European putts in a short span at No. 18.
Spieth and Thomas had birdied Nos. 12 and 13 for a 2-up lead. Hatton birdied Nos. 14 and 16 to draw even. At the 18th, Hovland sank an uphill birdie putt from 26 feet to ensure Europe would at least tie. Thomas, who had pitched onto the green to 6 feet, withstood the Europeans' celebration and made his birdie for the half-point.
Homa and Clark absorbed Rose's birdie at No. 15 and won the 16th hole to go 2 up with two to play. But neither could find the green at No. 17 and failed to make par. At the 18th, Homa narrowly missed a birdie from 12 1/2 feet, and Rose's 9-footer was center-cup.
The U.S. team never even led any of the four morning matches, as Europe swept all four matches of a morning session for the first time in Ryder Cup history.
McIlroy and Englishman Tommy Fleetwood prevailed 2 and 1 over Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. The U.S. team appeared ready to tie that match at the par-4 15th hole, but Fleetwood sank a 20-foot par putt and Schauffele shockingly missed a 5-footer to halve.
After Cantlay's first shot at No. 17 landed 20 feet away, McIlroy's sat still just 2 1/2 feet from the flagstick, earning a joyous celebration from the European crowd. Schauffele missed his putt and Fleetwood tapped in the easy birdie.
"I have hit a lot of good shots in my time. That's right up there," McIlroy said.
Schauffele and Cantlay were the United States' most daunting pairing. They entered Friday 5-0 as teammates in foursomes play.
Rahm and Hatton defeated Scheffler and Sam Burns, 4 and 3. Hovland and Ludvig Aberg of Sweden won four of their first six holes in beating Homa and Brian Harman, 4 and 3. And Irishman Shane Lowry and Austrian Sepp Straka were 4 up through nine holes en route to beating Rickie Fowler and Morikawa, 2 and 1.
The Americans are the defending champions but have not won a Ryder Cup played in Europe since 1993.
"You gotta look at it from this point of view: You got 28 points, eight are done, so we've got 20 more points (to play)," U.S. captain Zach Johnson said. "... Really, we've kinda just started the second quarter. Or you could argue you're on your fourth hole, however you look at it, fourth or fifth hole. A lot of golf left, a lot of opportunity left."
--Field Level Media