PARIS (Reuters) - American rookie Tony Finau got the first Ryder Cup staged in France under way on Friday as thousands of fans descended on the Le Golf National for the biennial clash of the continents.
The peace of the countryside near to historic Versaille was shattered as fans streamed in to find vantage points around the pristine Albatros course for the eagerly-awaited 42nd edition of one of sport’s most compelling team events.
Looming behind the first tee, the Ryder Cup’s biggest ever grandstand was packed to its near 7,000-capacity long before the players emerged across a footbridge to start their rounds at just past 8 a.m. local time.
Deafening chants of “Europe, Europe” echoed down the first fairway as Justin Rose and Spanish rookie Jon Rahm reached the tee to take on Finau and three-times major winner Brooks Koepka.
Defending champions United States are looking to win on European soil for the first time for 25 years and have resurgent 14-times major winner Tiger Woods to spearhead their challenge.
While the support was overwhelmingly in favour of the hosts, there was plenty of loud backing for the Americans too, with many of their countryman sporting stars and stripes outfits.
The atmosphere was more akin to a soccer match as the day’s fourballs began with a smattering of partisan pantomime boos greeting the announcement of the American team.
The banter was generally good-natured, however.
“It’s fantastic, so much energy so early in the morning,” Josh Hunking from Texas, watching his first Ryder Cup in Europe, said. “I’ve never heard Europeans make so much noise.”
It all proved too much for Finau, whose iron off the tee went way left, just avoiding water — Europe’s fans showing no mercy as they revelled in his understandably nervy start.
Koepka steadied the ship with a straighter drive but the day’s first hole went to Europe with Rose sinking a birdie to thunderous roars from the stacked crowds around the first green.
Finau, U.S. captain Jim Furyk’s final pick, joined the party with a chip-in eagle at the sixth to level match one.
The day’s second match featured Danish newcomer Thorbjorn Olesen playing alongside Rory McIlroy against world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
World number 45 Olesen, the lowest ranked of the 24 players taking part, looked dry-mouthed as he addressed his ball on the first tee and sent a nervy drive into water.
Whichever colours they were wearing, the arrival of Woods for his first Ryder Cup shot for six years, was the moment many had arrived so early to witness.
The 42-year-old responded with a drive that landed safely on the first fairway.
Woods, playing with self-styled “Captain America” Patrick Reed, was up against British Open champion Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, one of five rookies in the Europe team.
Following the quartet of morning fourballs, the afternoon will see four foursomes matches, in which team mates play alternate shots using the same ball.
The U.S. need a minimum of 14 points from the weekend’s matches to retain the trophy.
Around a quarter of a million tickets have been sold for the week with around 70,000 expected to follow the action on Friday.
The spectacular 7,234-yard layout offers superb viewing for fans with grassy banks flanking the fairways and most greens set in natural amphitheatres.
There are also 18 huge jumbotrons around the grounds to keep fans up-to-date with all the day’s twists and turns.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O'Brien