Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia withstood a late fightback in a 2 and 1 win over Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau to trigger a sustained European charge in Saturday’s morning fourballs at the Ryder Cup as the hosts stretched their lead over the United States to 8-4.
Four-time major champion McIlroy looked a shadow of himself in Friday’s opening fourballs as the US swept the first three matches, but he and Garcia formed a reliable partnership to chalk up a sixth consecutive point for Europe.
“We enjoy each other’s company, but we love coming out here, and the fire and the passion that he (Garcia) has, it’s infectious, and it rubs off on me pretty well,” said McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman, who failed to card a single birdie alongside rookie Thorbjorn Olesen in Friday’s 4 and 2 loss, reeled off four on the front nine at Le Golf National to seize control over Koepka and Finau.
A late wobble allowed the Americans to close to within one, but a fired-up Garcia drained a 20-foot birdie putt on 17 to seal victory and become the second highest points scorer in Ryder Cup history with 24.5 – second only to Nick Faldo (25). “It was amazing. It was a great moment. It was great to make that putt,” said Garcia.
“Rory gave me a little bit of freedom (by making par) and it was great to see it roll in.”
Paul Casey arguably delivered the standout performance of the morning, picking up birdies at five of the first six holes on the Albatros course to set the tone for his and Tyrrell Hatton’s 3 and 2 defeat of Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
‘Casey Express train’
Casey and Hatton, a Ryder Cup rookie, were on the losing side of a thrilling fourballs against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on Friday, but blew away world number one Johnson and Fowler by going a combined nine-under. “It’s amazing. I’m at a loss for words,” said Hatton.
“Obviously playing alongside Paul, he’s a Ryder Cup legend. What a player he is. It was the Casey Express train the front nine. I was just trying to help out when I could.”
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, the first European rookie to win two points on the first day of a Ryder Cup since Garcia in 1999, used a flurry of back-nine birdies by the Italian to beat Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed for the second time in as many days.
British Open champion Molinari and Fleetwood, the only pair to win two points on day one, condemned Woods and an out-of-sorts Reed to a 4 and 3 defeat in the third match.
With the contest all square, Molinari reeled off three successive birdies from the 11th before Fleetwood sealed the match on the 15th as Woods could only manage bogey. “We were solid, and just started riding that wave again on the back nine when Fran started playing great,” said US Open runner-up Fleetwood.
“We fought back from 2-down to get it to all-square. And then we didn’t do anything from there,” said Woods, who will again meet Molinari and Fleetwood in the afternoon foursomes with Bryson DeChambeau.
The Europeans, who swept a foursomes session for the first time on Friday afternoon, were denied a first fourballs whitewash since 1989 by Spieth and Thomas. The American duo overcame Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm, who plonked his ball into the water on the first two holes, 2 and 1 to end a run of eight straight wins for Europe.
The match was all square through the 10th before Spieth and Thomas exchanged birdies on the next two holes to move 2-up.
Rahm pulled Europe back to within one, and gave an animated fist-bump after another birdie at the next, only for an ice-cool Thomas to halve it and cup his ear to a baying crowd. Thomas, last year’s PGA Championship winner, then birdied the 16th and 17th – the latter to clinch the match.