GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler could only wipe tears from his eyes and shake his head in disbelief, as he was being consoled by his wife, Meredith, at Marco Simone Golf Club on Saturday morning.
After Scheffler and teammate Brooks Koepka, a five-time major championship winner, suffered the worst defeat in an 18-hole match in Ryder Cup history, 9 & 7 to Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg, the American team was trying to figure out how a weekend that started terribly became historically worse on Saturday.
The score of the American team’s first loss on Saturday was so stunning that Justin Thomas was seen on TV walking down a fairway and telling his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, “Nine and seven.”
The Americans trailed the Europeans 9 ½ – 2 ½ with four more four-ball (best ball) matches to be played Saturday afternoon, followed by 12 singles matches Sunday. The American team’s seven-point deficit matches the biggest after three sessions in the five-session format. U.S. squads led by seven after three sessions in 1967 and 1975.
After failing to capture a match on the opening day and falling behind the European team 6 ½ – 1 ½ on Friday, the Americans finally won in Saturday morning’s foursome (alternate shot) matches. Open Championship winner Brian Harman and Max Homa delivered the squad’s first full point with a 4 & 2 victory over Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Austria’s Sepp Straka.
Harman and Homa combined to make five birdies and two eagles, including one on the 16th that closed out that match, when Harman nearly drove the green and Homa chipped in from 39 feet.
“We needed something to go our way,” Homa said. “I felt like we were ready this morning. We were ready to come out and play some great golf which we did. Somebody had to start a spark, so I’m just glad it was us. We obviously are in a big hole, but we have the right guys to dig ourselves out of it.”
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and England’s Tommy Fleetwood delivered another point for the Europeans when they took down Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, 2 & 1, in the top match. At least the U.S. pair showed some fight. Spieth and Thomas dropped each of the first three holes but rallied to only 1 down on the 16th.
Spain’s Jon Rahm and England’s Tyrrell Hatton held off Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele 2 & 1 to win the final match of the morning. The American pair was 3 down after eight holes but rallied to tie the match No. 14. But then Schauffele missed birdie putts of 6 ½ feet on No. 16 and 3 ½ feet on No. 17, giving the Europeans another win. Europe went 7-1 in foursomes matches.
“Yesterday was an amazing day and we wanted to enjoy it because it’s not very often you go out on a full day in a Ryder Cup and don’t lose a full point,” McIlroy said. “We enjoyed last night but at the same time we knew the Americans were going to be hurting a bit and they obviously want to get off to a fast start this morning, and our objective is to just not let them do that.”
The story of Saturday morning was the domination of the European team’s new star pairing: Hovland, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, and Aberg, who competed at Texas Tech this past season and didn’t turn pro until June.
The European tandem won each of the first four holes against Koepka and Scheffler. They were 5 up after seven and then took each of the next four holes to end the match. The Americans didn’t win a hole. The U.S. pair carded a 5-over 40 on the front nine; the Europeans posted a 4-under 31. The match lasted just two hours, 19 minutes and didn’t make it to the 12th hole.
It was the largest margin of victory in an 18-hole match of any format at the Ryder Cup, which was first played in 1927. The previous most lopsided defeat in an 18-hole match was 8 & 7, which occurred twice in singles, most recently by current U.S. team vice-captain Fred Couples over Ian Woosnam in 1997.
The previous worst loss in a foursomes match was 7 & 6, which happened three times, most recently by Americans Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson over current European team captain Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in 2012.
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