For the New World it could have been better. For the Old World it could have been worse. But at the end of the opening day of the 41st Ryder Cup matches at Hazeltine in Minnesota, the United States leads Europe by five matches to three.
Such bald statistics do not begin to tell the story of two sessions in which the sides enjoyed wildly contrasting fortunes. Taking advantage of some sloppy foursomes play by the Europeans in the morning, the home side racked up a 4-0 advantage by lunch.
It was the first opening session whitewash in the biennial contest since 1975 at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania, when the recently deceased Arnold Palmer was the US skipper. Perhaps more ominously for the visitors was the fact that no team has ever led by three-plus points after the first session and lost.
Still, records are made to be broken. And post-lunch the roles played by the two teams proved to be almost completely reversed. Where the Europeans had once been passive, now they were aggressive. Where the Americans had been assured, now they were diffident. Inspired by their three best players – Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose – captain Darren Clarke’s side made sure that the eventual destination of the famous trophy remains debatable and not the sure thing it would have been had the Americans reproduced the quality of their morning play.
“Unfortunately The European Team weren't quite firing on all cylinders this morning and the American Team rightly took advantage of that and played some wonderful golf,” said a clearly relieved Clarke. “And obviously they won the session in a commanding fashion.
“Historically, Europe probably have been stronger in foursomes and America have always been stronger in the four-balls. But today that was completely turned on its head.
“I’m massively proud of my guys. They were bitterly disappointed at lunch. They didn’t play the way we know they can this morning. Then they came out this afternoon way behind and put in a great performance. They showed a massive amount, in my opinion, of desire and the fight in them to get themselves right back into it again. I couldn’t be more proud of them.
“What has been impressive too, is how the rookies who haven’t played yet (Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick) have accepted what has gone on. That shows how strong we are.”
US captain Davis Love was, while accepting that the momentum of the matches had shifted, just as optimistic about his team’s chances going forward into a second day and eight more matches of foursomes and four-ball play.
“We got hot and we holed a lot of putts this morning, and seemed like they lipped a few out that were crucial,” he said. “Then the opposite was true this afternoon. They got on a roll with the putter and they seemed to make all the putts, and we had a couple matches where we just couldn't get them to go in.
“Still, I’m obviously happy to be up 5-3. It was a good start. It was a good day. I’m proud of our guys. They competed all day. Even the matches that we lost, it looked like they were all runaways, the guys kept competing right to the end. They did what they were asked to do, grind it out all day and I thought they did a really, really good job of that.”
Rare it is that just about everyone reached the end of a Ryder Cup day happy. And this one was no exception, despite the beaming countenances of the two captains. Sadly, the behaviour of the American crowd was an issue. Not for the first time in this event, the boorishness of a few threatened to spoil things for the majority.
Not unexpectedly in the wake of his brother Pete’s misguided attempt at satire earlier in the week, much of the vitriol and mindless abuse was aimed at the Masters champion, Danny Willett.
But he wasn’t alone in feeling the force of the crowd’s bias. As was obvious from the animated and clearly sarcastic reaction of McIlroy to the putt he holed for a match-winning eagle on the 16th green, the Irishman was making a point to a gallery that had hardly been sporting in its outlook and behaviour.
“It’s pretty hostile out there,” said the newly-crowned FedEx Cup champion. “But you don’t want to let the crowds get to you. I bowed to them at the end to say, ‘You’re welcome for the show.’ I wanted to put an exclamation point on the end of that session. I just wanted to let them know, when I hole a putt, what it means to me.”
Message received and understood.