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Europeans rally to cut Americans' lead to 5-3 in Ryder Cup

Europeans rally to cut Americans' lead to 5-3 in Ryder Cup
Rory McIlroy reacts after sinking a putt that won the hole at No. 16 and clinched a 3-and-2 victory for Europe in afternoon Ryder Cup play. (Craig Lassig / EPA)

Day One of the 41st Ryder Cup began with a video tribute to Arnold Palmer and a song — “Let’s Go Crazy” — by hometown guy Prince blasting from loudspeakers.

By the middle of the day, the United States had a stunning 4-0 advantage.

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It ended Friday with the U.S. holding a 5-3 lead over the Europeans and suddenly subdued fans holding their breaths.

The apparent rout at Hazeltine National Golf Club outside Minneapolis had become an obvious battle.

“We got hot and holed a lot of putts in the morning,” said Davis Love, the U.S. captain, “and they lipped a few out that were crucial. Then the opposite this afternoon. It was a good day.”

The U.S. team has lost three straight matches of this biennial golf competition and 10 of the last 12. When for the first time in 41 years, America swept the morning foursomes, or alternate-shot, competition, there was considerable hooting and hollering from the partisan crowd.

All the emotional stimulation, including the display of the actual Palmer golf bag when he was U.S. captain at the 1975 Cup, seemed to be working, along with the putting strokes of Jordan Spieth, Zack Johnson and Dustin Johnson.

Spieth and Patrick Reed were 3-and-2 winners over the men who respectively were gold and silver medalists in the recent Rio Olympics, Justin Rose of England and Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Stenson, of course, is also the British Open champion.

Let's go crazy. Oops.

The Euros won three of the four better- ball, or four-ball matches in the afternoon, Rose and Stenson teaming for nine birdies to defeat Spieth and Reed.

The only American winners in the second set were Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, 5 and 4, over Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett, the Masters champion and brother of the man who wrote the supposedly satirical article about U.S. golf fans.

Not only did the Englishman Willett, a Cup rookie, get thumped, he also received constant taunting from those fans because of brother Peter's magazine piece. These Midwesterners know how to extract revenge.

What Phil Mickelson knows is the run-up to this Ryder Cup, for which he helped institute changes in the American team’s selection and preparation, has left him unsettled.

Indeed, he and Rickie Fowler, two down early, won the last two holes to beat Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan in the foursomes, 1 up, but Mickelson was off in the afternoon. Only eight of the 12 squad members take part in team play, which continues Saturday. All 12 are in the singles Sunday.

"I certainly felt more pressure heading into today's matches," Mickelson conceded. He had been responsible in part for new methods of choosing and coaching the U.S. team.

"Given the buildup over the last couple of years," he said, "the criticism, the comments, what have you, the pressure was certainly as great or greater than I've ever felt. I could have copped out and asked to sit. That would have been a total weak move, and I wanted to get out there. Put me out there. I enjoyed the pressure."

The Ryder Cup used to be held in a country club atmosphere, but starting in the late 1980s it turned into, well, a sporting event, fans dressing up in all sorts of ridiculous outfits — pants with the stars and stripes of the American flag were prevalent at Hazeltine — and screaming all sorts of insults.

The late Bobby Jones in a pamphlet still produced at the Masters said it is impolite to cheer mistakes. Not at the Ryder Cup. The beer flows and the loudmouths bellow.

“Massive crowds,” Sergio Garcia of Spain said of the estimated 51,000 in attendance. “They are very excited. They should be. But it’s our job to hopefully quiet them down a bit.”

The Euros did just that in the afternoon. The change on the scoreboards — the U.S. is shown in red, Europeans in blue — was reflected in a change of demeanor. The party wasn't exactly over, but it was less boisterous.

"We're having fun," said Love, who referred to a celebration by McIlroy after an eagle putt at 16 clinched his four-ball match. "You know they had some fun this afternoon. We had some fun this morning. And we have two more fun days coming up."

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