Europe's Big 3 of McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland back up their heavyweight status at the Ryder Cup
GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — Viktor Hovland got the party started by chipping in on his opening hole in the morning and then sunk a decisive putt on 18 in the afternoon.
Jon Rahm made long putts and chips all day long during his two trips around Marco Simone and produced eagles on two of the three finishing holes in the fading light.
Rory McIlroy was the only player to earn two points Friday.
Europe’s Big Three came through in a big way on the opening day of the Ryder Cup, helping establish a massive five-point lead as Luke Donald’s team attempts to reclaim the trophy following a record loss at Whistling Straits two years ago.
“They are superstars. They are studs,” Europe captain Donald said. "They are three of the top four players in the world. You need your superstars firing. You need them playing well. Without that, it’s really an uphill battle.
“They stepped up and did what they needed to do, and I’m so proud of them.”
McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland are ranked Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the world, respectively, and they backed up that status by accounting for five of Europe’s 6 1/2 points. Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler, by contrast, produced only a half point in the afternoon when paired with Brooks Koepka.
It had to feel more like another loss for Scheffler, though, after Rahm chipped in from off the green for an eagle 2 on the reachable par-4 16th and then rammed in an eagle putt on the par-5 18th to win a half point with Nicolai Hojgaard.
When Rahm’s ball on 18 hit the back of the hole, bounced up and then went back down, the big Spaniard closed his eyes in apparent disbelief.
“It’s the intention of the moment and then the fact that something happens is truly unique,” Rahm said before giving credit to Hojgaard, who invoked the late Seve Ballesteros.
“He gave me the freedom to basically go at it," Rahm said. "He said, ‘What would Seve do? Do it for Seve.' I don’t know if he would have quite made it like that, but I’m sure glad that it went in.”
Added Donald: “Thank God he took the flag out because it might have bounced off the flag if he hadn’t.”
It was a similar scene moments earlier when Hovland’s birdie putt on 18 made a late break and slowly dropped in. The Norwegian reacted with a series of fist pumps then threw his ball into the pro-Europe crowd. It was another match in which Europe had trailed — he and Tyrrell Hatton were 2 down with five holes left — but ended up tying.
“I almost corkscrewed into the ground fist-pumping,” Hatton said.
It seemed appropriate that Hovland, one of the hottest players in the world coming into golf’s biggest team event, made such a big impact. Over the past three months, Hovland had three wins and he was coming off the FedEx Cup title.
McIlroy — who has played on four winning Ryder Cup teams — hit a tee shot to 2 feet on the par-3 17th in the morning as he and Tommy Fleetwood — “Fleetwood Mac” they were called — handed Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele a 2-and-1 loss in foursomes. Then McIlroy was carried by Matt Fitzpatrick for a 5-and-3 rout over Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.
Leading 6 1/2 to 1 1/2, it matched the Europeans best start ever, having also held such a lead heading into Day 2 in 2004 in Oakland Hills. They went on to win that Ryder Cup 18 1/2-9 1/2.
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