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Team Europe make dream Ryder Cup start

Rory McIlroy (centre) and Tommy Fleetwood celebrate after winning their foursome match against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. (AP pic)

ROME: Team Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald had called for a fast start and got more than he could have dreamed of as his inspired side romped to a 4-0 “bluewash” against a crestfallen Team US in the opening foursomes today.

The massive crowd that flocked to the Marco Simone course as the sun rose on the Roman countryside were in full party mode, roaring Team Europe to its best-ever start to the biennial contest.

Donald opted to start with the foursomes rather than fourballs which had been the case at home since 1997 and it proved a masterstroke as Team Europe outplayed Zach Johnson’s team.

Spain’s Jon Rahm and his English partner Tyrrell Hatton lit the blue touchpaper with a 4&3 victory over world No 1 Scottie Scheffler and rookie Sam Burns, while Scandinavian duo Viktor Hovland and debutant Ludvig Aberg followed suit with a 4&3 defeat of British Open winner Brian Harman and Max Homa.

Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Austrian Sepp Straka maintained the European momentum with a 2&1 defeat of the highly-fancied Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa.

Team Europe’s talisman Rory McIlroy, playing with Tommy Fleetwood, then put the icing on the cake of a fabulous morning by subduing Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay.

Europe also won the first-day foursomes 4-0 in Paris in 2018 on their way to victory, although that was after the Americans had won the fourballs in the morning.

While there is still a long way to go for Donald’s side, who need 14.5 points to reclaim the trophy they surrendered at Whistling Straits in 2021, they are firmly in the driving seat.

“It’s the perfect start. They got leads early on which is paramount in matchplay,” said Donald.

“But we know the US will be hungry to come back for more. We need to keep our foot firmly on the pedal.”

Both captains tweaked their pairings for the later fourballs, meaning all 24 players will have been involved on day one.

The afternoon pairings were: Rory McIlroy/Matt Fitzpatrick v Collin Morikawa/Xander Schauffele, Justin Rose/Robert MacIntyre v Max Homa/Wyndham Clark, Jon Rahm/Nicolai Hojgaard v Brooks Koepka/Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland/Tyrrell Hatton v Justin Thomas/Jordan Spieth.

Selection criticism

A day that began in a blaze of colour and a deafening din turned ugly for the Americans whose captain Johnson received criticism on social media for leaving four major winners out of his foursomes selections, including Spieth and Thomas.

From the moment Hovland, playing alongside Swedish rookie Aberg, raised the volume by holing a chip at the first, Team Europe were in the ascendancy and Team US – bidding to win in Europe for the first time in 30 years – appeared powerless to resist.

Scheffler was heckled with “You stink Scottie” before he hit the opening shot of the day in front of 5,000 fans packed into the huge first tee grandstand, sliding his drive into the rough.

Rahm holed a putt from off the green at the third and sunk a short birdie putt on the fifth after Hatton’s neat chip to put Europe two up. Debutant Burns made a putt to win the sixth but it was a temporary reprieve.

Masters champion Rahm almost aced the scenic par-three seventh and when he chipped in to save the 10th it was a body blow to the misfiring Americans who lost the 11th and 12th and shook hands on the 15th.

“There really isn’t a much better feeling. In foursomes, the key is not to give away holes and we did that,” Rahm said.

Hovland was majestic as he and Aberg, the first Ryder Cup player not to contest a major, proved too hot for Homa and Harman to handle in match two, although they were pegged back early, having taken a two-hole lead.

Lowry and Austrian debutant Straka raced into a four-shot lead after the nine against Morikawa and Fowler with a barrage of birdies and were never threatened.

The blows kept raining down on the Americans with Europe winning 22 holes to the 10 of the defending champions who will be under intense pressure to hit back in the afternoon.