Tiger Woods made a subdued start to his first Ryder Cup in six years as he and partner Patrick Reed squandered a two-hole lead to lose three and one to Europeans Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood at Le Golf National on Friday.
With eight holes remaining of the day’s fourth four-balls match, the 42-year-old seemed poised to mark his return with a precious point for captain Jim Furyk.
But he ran out of steam, and rookie Fleetwood and Open champion Molinari stole the show with a scintillating finish — earning hosts Europe their only point on a morning dominated by the United States.
Woods, whose Ryder Cup record is mediocre for a 14-times major champion, will not feature again until Saturday after being left out of the afternoon foursomes.
It’s only the second time Woods has missed a session as a team member — he was left off the 2014 and 2016 teams as he recovered from back surgeries. He is now battling back from his fourth operation, a spinal fusion procedure in 2017.
The former king of golf had arrived at the course close to historic Versaille on a high after ending a five-year title drought by winning the Tour Championships in Atlanta last week.
American fans, and many wearing European colours, roared him to the first tee on a fresh morning and he delivered his opening drive straight down the fairway.
Europe snatched the opening hole of the day’s fourth four-balls match, though, before a majestic tee shot by Woods to the par-three second helped level the match.
With Woods playing steadily, the United States won the ninth hole and when Reed chipped in at the 10th to put them two up it seemed Woods would mark his return with a U.S. point.
But consecutive birdies by British Open champion Molinari levelled it up, and with Woods struggling to recapture his earlier form Europe roared to victory to give Europe their sole point.
Rookie Fleetwood rolled in a birdie on the 15th, and after a flat-looking Woods hit his tee shot into the water at the 16th, Fleetwood drained a 35-footer to put Europe two ahead.
Molinari finished the job on the 17th, leaving Woods with plenty to contemplate on his afternoon off.
McIlroy out of sorts as Team US draws first blood in Ryder Cup
World number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler put the first point on the Ryder Cup scoreboard on Friday, beating a misfiring Rory McIlroy 4&2 and rookie Thorbjorn Olesen.
McIlroy, who arrived in France in mixed form, look subdued all morning as he struggled to find his groove and failed to score a birdie.
His disappointing start in the fourball contest may cause European captain Thomas Bjorn some concern about the afternoon’s play. McIlroy will team up with Ian Poulter for the foursomes.
Under a gorgeous autumn sun and soft breeze, neither side could establish an early lead at the immaculate Golf National, outside Paris. Fowler on the sixth came close to sinking a chip for eagle and left McIlroy leaning on Olesen to make birdie and halve the hole.
The Europeans drew first blood on the 8th, where a par three was enough for Olesen to win the hole. It was the only hole the Europeans would win.
The Americans responded immediately. On the par five 9th, McIlroy pushed his drive into the rough and Olesen found water. Fowler played a delicate chip from off the green, using the fringe to check his ball’s speed and leave himself just a few inches from the cup to win the hole.
From there, Fowler, ranked 9 in the world, and Johnson turned the screws, scoring another four birdies.
On the 14th, Fowler sank a 40-foot birdie putt after a glorious wood shot from the fairway, turning around what looked a lost cause after he hit his drive into the thick rough.
Three holes down, the Europeans never looked like clawing their way back into the game. A birdie by Johnson on the par 3 16th hole sealed the game for the Americans.
“We knew we were going out in a tough match and would have to play well. We both played great,” Johnson said in a post-match interview.
One statistic the Europeans will now be left battling to defy: Since 1975, the team that has won the first point of the Ryder Cup has gone on to win the event 79 percent of the time.
“The crowds are great, they’re energetic, playing for the home team a bit more but they’re respectful,” Fowler said. “I’m glad we got off to a good start.”