By Mark Lamport-Stokes
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson inspired a bold fightback by holders Europe in Friday afternoon’s fourball matches before the United States ended a gripping first day at the Ryder Cup with a 5-3 lead.
Badly bruised after being swept 4-0 by the Americans in the morning’s foursomes at Hazeltine National, the Europeans showed great strength of character as they won the second session 3-1 with some sparkling golf in dazzling afternoon sunshine.
“The guys were disappointed with the way they played this morning and the way they performed, but they showed tremendous bravery and heart and desire to go out and play the way they have done this afternoon,” said Europe captain Darren Clarke.
England’s Olympic champion Rose and British Open winner Stenson, who went 3-0 together at Gleneagles two years ago, set the tone at the top of the order with a commanding 5&4 victory over American young guns Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
The European duo had lost 3&2 to Spieth and Reed in the morning but gained immediate revenge as Rose made six birdies on his ball and Stenson seven to earn their team a much-needed first blue point of the week in front of boisterous fans.
“They certainly are tough to beat but Henrik and I did what we do best, we stuck in there … and made a bunch of birdies,” said 2013 U.S. Open champion Rose.
“We didn’t really put a foot wrong tee-to-green this morning, but we didn’t make any putts. This afternoon, brilliant. We obviously got running and dovetailed really well.”
Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello held off late resistance from JB Holmes and Ryan Moore to win 3&2 before Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Cup rookie Thomas Pieters of Belgium beat Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar 3&2.
McIlroy ended the match in style after the Americans had come from four down after 10 holes to trail by just two, sinking a 20-foot eagle putt at the par-five 16th. He then twice bowed mockingly to the crowd before letting out a thunderous bellow.
“It’s pretty hostile out there, I must say,” McIlroy said of the raucous Hazeltine galleries. “Obviously you don’t want to let that get to you, but you want to let them know when you hole a putt how much it means to you.”
The only red number for the U.S. in the afternoon came from putting maestro Brandt Snedeker and Cup rookie Brooks Koepka, who crushed Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Masters champion Danny Willett of England 5&4.
“My job today was to come out and make putts, and just let Brooks do what he does,” said Snedeker. “Brooks played fantastic. It was an awesome win for us. We needed it and we’re going to build on this thing going forward.”
Watched by massive and largely partisan galleries at ultra-long Hazeltine, Rose and Stenson came from one down after three holes to take control against Reed and Spieth in a match of high quality to help turn the tide for Europe in the afternoon.
“We just ran into a couple of buzz saws,” said U.S. captain Davis Love III. “Our guys still played really well and I’m proud of them for fighting all day.
“We played really well in the morning, and we actually played pretty good this afternoon. They just made a bunch of birdies. Obviously Rory made a ton of them.”
On a chilly and overcast morning, the U.S. had completed their first sweep in an opening session since 1975 at Laurel Valley, putting pressure on the Europeans to battle back on Friday afternoon.
Europe have won eight of the past 10 Ryder Cups, but face a challenging task to retain the trophy with the U.S. having lost at home only four times since the matches began in 1927.
(Editing by Andrew Both)