Europe came storming back into the Ryder Cup with a sensational clean sweep of the afternoon foursomes to take a 5-3 lead into Saturday’s second day.
After the morning fourballs the USA had a 3-1 advantage and seemingly all the momentum as they look to retain the trophy and win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.
Europe’s sole win in the first session came from Francesco Molinari and inspired debutant Tommy Fleetwood, who surged past a muted Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods 3&1.
With four-time major winner Rory McIlroy failing to register a single birdie as he and Thorbjorn Olesen were defeated 4&2 by Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, the portents looked dangerous for Thomas Bjorn’s Europeans.
But in the alternate shot format the scoreboard turned blue as all four pairings took a fierce grip on their matches – at one point holding a combined advantage of 17 up.
The old partnership of Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose saw off Johnson and Fowler 3&2, while McIlroy and Ian Poulter staged a comeback from two down to beat Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 4&2.
Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren were seven up after nine holes against veteran Phil Mickelson and rookie Bryson DeChambeau before sealing it 5&4, while Molinari and Fleetwood reunited to put Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth to the sword by the same score.
Not since 1989 had a European team won all four matches in a session, and never before had they done it in a foursomes.
In a competition that seldom disappoints it was another brilliant topsy-turvy day, setting up the weekend wonderfully and delighting the huge home crowds.
Stenson and Rose lead charge once again
European captain Bjorn put his trust in reuniting a pairing that had played together seven times before in Ryder Cups, and Stenson and Rose got the post-lunch charge off to a blistering start as they went five up after 11 holes.
Johnson and Fowler won the next two holes but continued to struggle with a course set up to punish inaccuracy from the tee.
The touch both Americans had displayed on the greens in the morning deserted them too, and when Johnson came up short on the 16th Rose was able to secure the point by cosying the ball up to the hole.
Well as the Europeans were playing, the Americans were giving them every assistance. Not a single pairing went through the afternoon under par on a course that is testing but never punitive.
Behind Rose and Stenson, McIlroy and Poulter were two down after three but then won four holes on the bounce from the sixth, Poulter – delighted to be back playing after being a vice-captain at Hazeltine two years ago – once again firing up the galleries and relishing the atmosphere he was helping to stoke.
McIlroy produced arguably the shot of the day on 13 when he fired a wedge from deep in sloping rough and way below his stance up over the water and onto a green that had appeared impossible to reach.
Poulter capitalised by making the putt as Watson’s Ryder Cup struggles continued, and there would be no let-up from the adrenalised duo.
Garcia passes Seve, catching Faldo
Spaniard Garcia had come into this week short of form. But in harness with Noren, who won on Le Golf National in the French Open two years ago, the man who made his debut 19 years ago at Brookline dished out a thumping to Mickelson and DeChambeau so painful that at the turn it had those watching checking records for the previous biggest winning European margin in a foursomes.
Garcia has now won 23½ Ryder Cup points down the years, drawing level with Colin Montgomerie and ever closer to Sir Nick Faldo’s all-time record points haul for Europe of 25.
“It means a lot to go ahead of Seve Ballesteros in terms of individual points in my career, but the team record is more important,” Garcia told BBC Radio 5 live.
“It’s historic. We swept the US and it hasn’t happened before so it’s obviously a great moment but it’s just the first day. We have to make sure we stay ahead going into Sunday.”
There will be those who question the selection by US skipper Jim Furyk of the veteran Mickelson for foursomes, the left-hander having struggled all season off the tee, and his partner DeChambeau was unable to rescue the pair.
Fleetwood and Molinari were superb in the morning and produced the same magical standards in the afternoon, the potent combo of Spieth and Thomas unable to hold back the stampede.
The home celebrations by the end of the afternoon were sweeping across the course, an Icelandic thunderclap greeting the Europeans on almost every green.
Europe’s final morning pairing brings down US giants
Reed’s superb Ryder Cup record – he has won seven points in two appearances – was built on his partnership with Spieth, the two playing together on seven occasions, but his pairing with Woods against Open winner Molinari and the popular Fleetwood brought the largest galleries to the fourth match out in the morning fourballs.
And it quickly developed into a ding-dong battle, Molinari birdieing the first, Woods the second, Fleetwood the fourth and Reed the seventh.
When both Europeans bogeyed the par-five ninth the US duo were ahead for the first time, Molinari grimacing as his par putt from seven feet lipped out, the bellicose Reed fist-pumping as his pitch on the next bounced up to the flag and in.
But the Italian made amends with a wonderful 20-foot putt on the 11th and kept his nerve over a short one on the next to level it up heading into the final six holes.
Fleetwood blew a glorious chance on 14 as he pushed a short putt to the right but kept his nerve on the 15th with an eight-footer to go one up with three to play.
Better still was to come on 16, a huge putt dropping to trigger a roar from the Englishman, and when Molinari made it three birdies in three holes, one small part of the scoreboard was at last blue.
Woods said: “It’s disappointing and frustrating for Pat and I to not contribute to the team. When you lose a point, you feel like you’ve contributed but you’re contributing to the wrong team.”
It helped compensate for a late capitulation from Rose and John Rahm, who let a two-hole lead slip to Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau.
Rose had conjured up a wonderful chip from a deep hollow in the rough on 12 that tiptoed up to the hole before dropping in, but then an extraordinary stroke of luck for rookie Finau helped bring the match all-square.
The rookie’s approach on the 16th looked to be short and heading for the water, only for his ball to hit the railway sleepers guarding the front of the green, bounce high in the air and come to rest a couple of feet from the home.
Finau gratefully took his chance, and when Rose stuck his approach on 18 into the water, the US had stolen away a critical point.
Casey comeback spoiled by Spieth
In four previous fourballs matches at the Ryder Cup Paul Casey had never been beaten, but Spieth’s touch with the putter had his morning pairing with Tyrrell Hatton in trouble from the start.
The three-time major winner birdied three of the first seven holes to establish a commanding lead, and that three-shot advantage held at the turn.
Casey then holed a testing seven-footer on the 10th to bring a little hope to the home pairing, and whipped up the crowds still further with an approach to three feet on the 12th followed by another rock-solid putt to drag it back to just one down.
Debutant Hatton then birdied the par-four 13th to complete a three-shot swing in three holes, only for Thomas to parachute a sweet second shot to within three feet on the par-four 15th and wrestle a lead back that was secured by Spieth’s birdie putt on 18.
At that point it was a near-perfect day for the US, Johnson and Fowler too good for McIlroy and Olesen in their fourball, Johnson draining a long putt on 12 and Fowler coming to the party with a beautifully judged long-range putt on the 15th.
Few saw the turnaround coming. But with the remarkable swing later in the afternoon, the momentum is once again with the European team.
What they said
European captain Thomas Bjorn: “It’s a pretty special occasion for those players that they have done that, but they are also very well aware that you can enjoy this for about an hour and then you turn around to tomorrow and you start focusing on what’s ahead of us.
“We know it’s a marathon, and we’re delighted with the way the day turned out, because it was a fairly tough morning. They wanted to go out and prove something this afternoon, and that was nice to see, but it says a lot about the group.”
USA captain Jim Furyk: “We played for eight points so far out of 28, a pretty small percentage of this golf tournament has been played. I think our guys will respond, I really do. I have a lot of confidence in this team.
“I think that the whitewash is going to leave a sour taste in their mouth tonight and they have to sleep on that. We’ll come back tomorrow, and I bet we’ll be fine.”
Europe’s Rory McIlroy: “The guys had a discussion earlier in the week and it was sort of a little bit of a last-minute thing that Poults (Poulter) and I would go together.
“We played well together at Medinah. We played well together at Gleneagles. It was nice to get back out there with them and deliver another point for Europe.”
America’s Phil Mickelson: “We’ve just got to regroup and come out sharp. We’ve got to come out and bring our best stuff. “We know it’s going to be a fight until the end, and we’ve got a lot of points left.
“We’ve only played eight points so far, and we just need to bring our best stuff and we will.”
Tiger Woods of the USA: “I’ll be ready come tomorrow whenever the captain puts me out. I’m not going to work on anything. My game is fine. I was hammering it, the ball was going far, it was going straight, but it was not cutting.
“I can accept that, that’s really no big deal. My putting feels solid.”