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US power into early Ryder Cup lead despite Woods defeat

Tiger Woods has been on the winning side just once in seven Ryder Cups

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France, Sep 28 – The United States made a strong start to the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on Friday as Jim Furyk’s men claimed a 3-1 lead after the opening session despite a defeat for Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed.

The away team are bidding to win the trophy for the first time on European soil since 1993, and made an excellent start.

Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau stunned Jon Rahm and Justin Rose 1-up in the opening match, taking the lead for the first time at the final hole.

Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler then raised hopes of a repeat of the 2016 first-morning whitewash for the holders by swatting aside Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen 4 and 2.

But after Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas edged out Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey in a thrilling match 1-up, British Open champion Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood produced a late surge to down a misfiring Woods and Reed 3 and 1.

The former world number one, playing in his first Ryder Cup since 2012, and the Masters champion were then left out by Furyk for the afternoon foursomes.

It is the Americans’ largest first-session lead in Europe since 1989.

Johnson and Fowler won the first point, easing past an out-of-sorts McIlroy and European rookie Olesen.

Dane Olesen struck his first Ryder Cup tee shot into the water, but spent much of the match carrying four-time major winner McIlroy, who was out of form, failing to make a single birdie or win a hole.

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McIlroy and Olesen both missed lengthy birdie tries on the 16th hole to end a one-sided match with a whimper.

– Beginner’s luck –

Europe led for the majority of the opening match, but collapsed late on as the US edged in front for the first time at the final hole.

Rose and Rahm took a 2-up lead after some sparkling play around the turn, but lost the momentum as Koepka and Finau drew level with two holes to play.

Rookie Finau, a captain’s pick by Furyk, saw his tee shot at the par-three 16th hit the wooden boards separating the green from the water, before spinning into the air and coming to rest three feet from the hole for a simple birdie.

“I like pulling those out when it really matters,” he smiled. “Sometimes you get a good kick. Sometimes you don’t.”

Spaniard Rahm bogeyed the 18th and FedEx Cup winner Rose found water to gift the Americans victory.

The visitors secured a third point as Spieth and Thomas held off a thrilling comeback from Casey and Hatton in a high-quality clash.

Spieth and Thomas, good friends off the course, raced into a 3-up advantage as the former poured in five birdies in the opening seven holes.

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The 25-year-old Thomas maintained that lead with birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, but Casey made four straight birdies before a pin-point Hatton approach made it all-square with five to play.

The Americans edged back ahead, though, and Hatton missed a 15-foot attempt to salvage half a point on the last green.

“It was great. We had a great start, too. Playing Ryder Cups over here are extremely fun,” said three-time major winner Spieth. “We were able to feed off each other.”

The home side started a possible fightback, though, with the heroics of Fleetwood sending the crowd into delirium with magnificent birdie putts on the 15th and 16th to grab a 2-up lead on Woods and Reed, having been 2-down after 10.

The big-name American pairing were off the pace throughout despite a strong start by Woods.

But the 14-time major champion lost his way on the back nine, with him and Reed both finding water and missing several fairways, leaving Molinari with a simple two-putt to get Europe on the board.

The Italian did even better than that, draining his birdie try to secure his first-ever full Ryder Cup point on his third appearance in style.

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