As Graeme McDowell rolled in his putt on the 16th green clinching the match for team Europe, day one of the 40th Ryder Cup was officially in the books.
Team Europe claims a five to three lead and has all of the momentum winning three and a half of the four possible points in the afternoon, which included a late rally from Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia that turned a seemingly sure win for the US into a half point.
Coming into the day, there were many questions regarding captain Tom Watson’s bold strategy. Was sending out all three Ryder Cup rookies in the morning the right move? Should you really bench Jim Furyk the number four-ranked golfer in the world?
But seeing as Tom Watson is Tom Watson, and also the last US Ryder Cup captain to win in Europe, it seemed like the five-time British Open champion knew more than he was letting on.
Following the morning fourball matches, Watson’s high-risk play was yielding dividends as all three rookies performed brilliantly. The high stakes bet Watson made throwing Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed into “the ocean without a life preserver”, facing off against Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter, paid handsomely as the two won in an overwhelming fashion with a stunning five and four victory.
Jimmie Walker staged a late charge salvaging a halve in his match, and Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley pulled out a victory on the 18th green, winning what was referred to as the “main event” of the morning matches. All of a sudden, team USA was up a full point, which was as good of a result as they could have hoped for.
But then as the afternoon got underway, Watson decided to abandon the same strategy that had produced such favourable morning results. Whether he had wanted to give everyone a chance to play, or stick to pairings he had committed to earlier, the captain decided to play what he thought was the safe move in the afternoon.
He benched the two rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed even though they were his hottest team. Not only did this new dynamic duo lay waste to Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher, but they also went six under as a unit, feeding off each other fist pump after fist pump.
Then Watson decided to keep Mickleson and Bradley out for the afternoon foursome matches. Although the two did squeak out a clutch victory in the morning, they were both wild missing numerous fairways.
Missing fairways is not such a big problem in the fourball format (because your teammate can bail you out), but when you are playing alternate shot, the team plays one ball meaning that players inherit their teammates errant shots.
During the live broadcast, announcer Johnny Miller talked about Watson’s strategy. He even said that Watson had told him earlier in the week that picking pairings is hard to do in advance because you have to see how things evolve.
Unfortunately, Watson forgot to listen to his own advice. He clearly did not watch the situation progress. Although easier said than done, the captain needs to rely on his instincts and avoid second-guessing himself. Living on the edge is a must for Watson if he hopes to take down this very formidable European Ryder Cup team.