SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Sergio Garcia blew a kiss to the crowd. Jon Rahm couldn't stop smiling. It was all part of a high-fiving, back-slapping, magic-filled morning for the Ryder Cup's latest iteration of the Spanish Armada.
Oh, how easy it is to find great chemistry when all those putts keep going in.
Rahm made 99 feet worth of birdie putts over the front nine Friday, and Garcia rammed home a 24-footer for birdie on No. 15 to all but end their 3-and-1 victory over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the opening match of the Ryder Cup.
The win in foursomes marked Garcia's 23rd victory over his storied Ryder Cup career, matching Nick Faldo for the record.
“All I had to do was hopefully make a few putts and not get in his way,” Rahm said.
If captain Padraig Harrington's mission was to send an early message by stirring memories of Europe's most inspiring Spaniard, the late Seve Ballesteros, then he hit the mark.
But if the electricity Rahm and Garcia generated was expected to resonate across the course for the Europeans, well, that didn't work. As it turned out, the Spaniards accounted for Europe's lone win all day. Rahm teamed up with Tyrell Hatton in the afternoon to salvage a tie in fourball, as Europe closed Day 1 with a 6-2 deficit.
“A lot of good things can still happen,” Garcia said.
A lot of good things did happen in their match.
This marked the first pairing at the Ryder Cup between these two Spaniards — putting them in the same company with Ballesteros, Manuel Pinero, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, all of whom have formed versions of the Spanish Armada dating to the '80s.
Garcia is making his 10th appearance at the event he loves most, and Rahm brought his No. 1 world ranking into his second Ryder Cup.
The magic started shortly after Garcia dug out his approach shot from the native area to the front of the par-4 fourth green. Rahm read a 58-footer over a hill and through a swale. It went in for a birdie, Rahm pumped his fist and the Europeans had their first lead of the day.
Rahm made back-to-back birdie putts — from 12 feet on No. 7 and 15 feet on No. 8 — to expand the lead to 3 up. The four players, all major-championship winners, combined for six birdies over the front nine. Spieth and Thomas made four birdies over the 17 holes.
“If we could wager anything on who's going to make more putts, we'd wager us,” said Spieth, who dropped to 3-2 lifetime when paired with Thomas at the Ryder Cup. “But we caught a lot of lips and they made about 150 feet in putts. We just caught a buzz saw.”
If there was any doubt in this match, it ended on the 15th green when Garcia slammed home his long-range putt to give the Spaniards a three-hole lead with three to go. He celebrated by blowing a kiss to the crowd.
“It's always amazing,” Garcia said. “We went out there and did what we had to do against a very difficult American couple.”
That couple kept fighting.
After Thomas' tee shot on the par-3 17th caromed off a mound and skittered below the green into the native area fronting Lake Michigan, Spieth found his footing on a huge downward slope and blasted a wedge sky high. He lost his balance on the follow through and practically jogged into Lake Michigan before regaining his footing.
The ball dropped onto the green, but the Americans were still away. Thomas couldn't convert the 6-foot putt, and moments later, the teams were shaking hands.
“It was a situation where the first one in wins (the hole) and we just got a really tough break there,” Spieth said.
The worst break — getting paired up against the new Spanish Armada, which was about the only thing Europe had going for it on an otherwise dismal day.
“I felt like ... once we got into gear, we played nearly flawless golf,” Rahm said.
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