SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- On the 13th tee box Friday afternoon during four-ball -- after Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton had hit their tee shots -- Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau huddled for a chat. Shortly after they finished, Bryson reached in his bag, pulled out his driver and turned to the crowd as he lifted it over his head like a triumphant medieval lieutenant returning from the field of battle with his sword raised to the city.
The gallery, of course, roared its approval. DeChambeau proceeded to try and drive the 394-yard par 4.
Golf's foremost exhibitionist had finally found a perfect event for his skillset and his disposition. The U.S. halved that hole with 4s against Rahm and Hatton; then, the American pair later halved the match overall. That helped the hosts to a 6-2 lead entering Saturday, the United States' biggest first-day lead since the Ryder Cup expanded with the rest of Europe joining Great Britain and Ireland in 1979.
It's not over. We all saw what happened in 2012. But it's as close to over as could have been reasonably expected after Day 1, and DeChambeau's absurd traveling show was representative of a U.S. team whose players each seemed to settle into their own specific roles as they owned the first eight matches of this event.
Here are nine takeaways from Friday's eight matches. You can also check out a full Ryder Cup scoring breakdown from Day 1.
1. DeChambeau's driver is the biggest weapon in the event: This should not be surprising. Four-ball is the perfect format for him, and No. 13 is a good example of why. Scheffler was able to hit first and get something in the fairway, which more or less guaranteed a par. That freed DeChambeau up to absolutely eat. It wasn't the only time that happened Friday. On the par-5 5th, he hit a drive 417 yards with 72 yards in to make eagle. With somebody to cover up the big misses, there's no fear of holding back, which means the ones he hits on the screws are hole-winning drives. That's a problem for Europe.
This event lacked some real juice early on Friday morning. The first tee was flat and that normal Ryder Cup buzz was nowhere to be found. It found its footing in the afternoon, though, and DeChambeau played a big part in engendering some momentum that should flow into the weekend.
It was also nice to see DeChambeau embrace the day. After a summer full of vitriol and a lot of angst from every corner of the golf world, it was genuinely enjoyable to see him thriving in an environment he clearly loves. That doesn't abdicate the rest of his absurdity, but it was certainly fun on Friday afternoon. It's also extremely unsurprising that somebody who films himself hitting drivers into a cage in his living room and puts the videos on TikTok would completely thrive in an event where getting fans frothed up and delivering them a show is half the reason this thing is even played.
2. Big Tone is big time: Speaking of shows, how about Finau dropping five birdies in just 15 holes and (alongside Harris English) torching the Ireland-Northern Ireland pairing of Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy? Finau gets criticism for a lot of different things (some deserved), but he's been the man so far at this event. After posting a winning record in Paris in 2018 and baptizing Tommy Fleetwood in Sunday singles, he was out early on Friday morning when he was sitting out to whip the first tee crowd into a frenzy. He (maybe unexpectedly?) seems to truly love a stage that clearly elevates an already ridiculous game. Cannot get enough of him.
3. Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa are perfect: We thought coming in that D.J.'s game and Morikawa's game might mesh well together, and they were nearly flawless in a 3&2 foursomes win over Viktor Hovland and Paul Casey. They made seven (!) birdies in 16 holes and put the first U.S. point on the board. On the surface, it's an unlikely duo. Dig a little deeper, though, and you have two guys who are elite course managers and who both take care of their own business with little to no on-course drama. I could not be more in favor of rolling them back out as much as possible.
4. Spain is scary: One of a handful of mistakes from European captain Padraig Harrington was breaking up the Spanish duo of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia after they made six birdies on Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in the morning session. That ended up as the only match Europe won all day. Rahm played with Hatton in the afternoon, while Sergio -- the all-time European leader in Ryder Cup points earned, who played magnificently in the leadoff spot -- sat. That was unexpected coming in (Garcia had played 41 of 44 matches before this week), and it became unthinkable after how he played on Friday morning. Huge miss for Europe.
5. Closing time: There's little in golf more emphatic than a J.T. closing kick. After he and Patrick Cantlay fell three holes down to Europe in the afternoon, he made a resounding birdie on No. 9 to get within two and got up and down from 282 yards on No. 16 for eagle to tie it up. He made two runs at birdie on Nos. 17 and 18 but missed both. Still, stealing a half point late when the U.S. trailed on holes Nos. 4-15 was massive.
6. That shot: The shot of the day (week? year?) came in a losing effort from Spieth on the 17th hole in his morning session with Thomas against Rahm and Garcia. Up against a massive embankment with the match pretty much over, he hit a leaning, miraculous shot to 6 feet, and his momentum nearly carried him into Lake Michigan. If anything, the shot was even better than it looked on TV. Spieth was out following the DeChambeau-Scheffler pairing in the afternoon, and the way he explained it, he had to start leaning before he actually hit the ball just to make proper contact. Truly one of the most astounding shots he (or anyone) has ever hit.
7. Steph and Phil: Ryder Cups are preposterous. Complete chaos combined with larger-than-life characters makes for the most bizarre, ridiculous scenes you can imagine. At one point in the DeChambeau-Scheffler vs. Rahm-Hatton match on Friday afternoon, Steph Curry and Mickelson were high-fiving DeChambeau drives and Mickelson was telling one fan who asked for advice on playing Kiawah Island next month, "It's not that hard." All of this as the U.S. started closing in on a possible 7-1 lead going into Saturday. Mickelson was laying out scenarios, Curry was genuinely dialed in to the action (other than when Ben Crenshaw took a photo with him), and oh, there's Michael Jordan and Ahmad Rashad smoking cigars, drinking wine and watching Johnson win his second match of the day. Like I said, preposterous.
8. Rory sits: For the first time in his career, McIlroy lost two Ryder Cup matches in the same day. As a result, for the first time in his career, McIlroy will sit out a session. After playing 26 straight to begin his career, Harrington will not send him out for Saturday morning foursomes. McIlroy has not been as high energy as he was back in 2016 when he owned most of the first few days, and his golf is clearly not where he's accustomed to it being. That's a big problem for a European team that was expected to lean on its stars.
9. Path to victory? Could Europe still win this event? Absolutely. If 2012 at Medinah when the U.S. had a 10-6 lead on Saturday evening taught us anything, it's that no number is insurmountable for the Europeans. The flip side of that for the Americans is that no lead is too big to throw away. However, what's the path forward for Europe? How do they go from two points to 14 points in two days?
With McIlroy sitting, Europe has one elite pairing going on Saturday morning in Rahm and Garcia and a lot of … question marks. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick are getting rolled back out. Rookies Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger will go again. Casey and Hatton are together. I keep staring at the pairings, and all I see is three more points going toward the Americans. At that point, it really would be about over (and it probably is anyway).
Underpinning the rout on Friday is that this U.S. seems to actually embrace (and maybe even love) this event, this stage, this crowd and (maybe?) even each other. That has not always been the case over the last 20 years, but a generational turnover from superstars of yesteryear to six rookies who will dominate the PGA Tour for the next decade is helpful.
That doesn't guarantee the Ryder Cup is coming back home to the United States on Sunday night, but it's certainly put the the Americans on the edge of that reality.
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