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Team US out to end 30-year drought as Ryder Cup tees off

Rory Mcilroy is the most experienced player on either team with six previous Ryder Cup appearances. (AP pic)

ROME: Team US started their bid to end a 30-year wait to win the Ryder Cup on European soil as Scottie Scheffler struck the opening tee shot in Rome, but it was the hosts who made a quick start today.

The 44th edition of the event got underway after world No 1 Scheffler teed off in the opening foursomes match with American teammate Sam Burns against Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.

But roars went up across the course as Norway’s Viktor Hovland chipped in to win the first hole with Ludvig Aberg in the second match against Max Homa and Brian Harman.

Rahm then curled in a birdie putt off the third green as Europe struck first blood in the top two matches.

Team US captain Zach Johnson has an array of talent at his disposal, including Scheffler and five-time major champion Brooks Koepka, the only LIV player to make the trip to Italy.

Seven of the team also featured in 2021 when the Americans dismantled Europe with a record-breaking 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits, making the US favourites to finally end their European hoodoo this time around.

Johnson will have four rookies to introduce into the matchplay showdown, but largely opted for experience with his captain’s picks, calling up Koepka, Jordan Spieth, the out-of-form Justin Thomas, and Rickie Fowler.

He decided to leave out Spieth and Thomas, a star pairing in the last two Ryder Cups, for the first session of four alternate shot matches.

Europeans have to be members of the DP World Tour to be available for selection, so skipper Luke Donald was made to do without Ryder Cup stars and LIV rebels Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, and Ian Poulter.

Rory McIlroy is the most experienced player on either team with six previous appearances. The Northern Irishman will take on Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay alongside 2018 hero Tommy Fleetwood today.

“There’s a lot of great things to come. But couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the team, and to have those other 11 guys be my teammates,” said world No 2 McIlroy.

Johnson selected Koepka after his excellent performances in the major tournaments this season, winning the PGA Championship after finishing a runner-up at the Masters.

But there was no place for Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, or former Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed, who all now ply their trade with LIV.

Dustin Johnson was the talisman of the USA team two years ago, romping to five wins from five matches, and expressed disappointment at being overlooked.

But Koepka, who is also sitting out the first session, said, “Everybody had an opportunity to get there. I mean, I had the same opportunity as every other LIV player, and I’m here. Play better. That’s always the answer.”

‘Transition starts’

Europe will be slight underdogs but recent history is on their side after six consecutive home wins and they boast a dangerous team spearheaded by McIlroy, Rahm, and the in-form Hovland.

McIlroy will be desperate for redemption after breaking down in tears while apologising for his disappointing performance in 2021.

Rahm, and his partnership with Garcia, was the only real bright spark for Europe during that thrashing.

“I can go 0-5 and if the team wins I’ll be really happy,” said the reigning Masters champion.

“As long as we win, I don’t care. As long as we get to 14.5 points, what I do doesn’t really matter.”

A lot of eyes will be on Swedish youngster Aberg, who only turned professional in June but has already climbed to 80th in the world rankings.

At the other end of the scale, Justin Rose is the oldest European player at 43 but he admits this weekend’s matches represent a possible changing of the guard.

“The transition starts, or maybe the transition started last time around at Whistling Straits, and now we’re coming through that already,” he said. “But yeah, there is a difference.”

Despite boasting the world’s second, third, and fourth-ranked players, Team Europe’s average ranking of just over 29 is far inferior to Team US’s 12.75.

But that has often been the case in previous Ryder Cups when Europe have ended up with their hands on the trophy.