HAVEN, Wis. — It could have, should have been an up-and-down recovery shot for golf's ages.
American and world No. 13-ranked Jordan Spieth delivered the high-wire shot of the day at the end of his morning alternate-shot loss with partner Justin Thomas, who left him playing a ball that had fallen off a steep greenside drop-off alongside Lake Michigan on Whistling Straits' 17th hole.
Faced with a wall of grass that towered over him, Spieth jumped, trying to locate the pin.
He lifted one leg high to brace himself against the drop-off, leaned back and slashed a lofted shot within five feet of the pin while he stumbled 20 yards or more down the slope, nearly into the lake.
A moment later, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia closed out Spieth, Thomas and the match 3 and 1 before Thomas could putt.
"I'd like to say I don't think I exaggerated the fall," Spieth said. "You know how steep that is. Once I started moving, I was like, `I've got to keep moving until I find a flat spot.' It's one of those shots you practice as a kid for fun. The chances of it going there, you could roll 1,000 balls off the green and it's not going to stay where it was."
World No. 1-ranked Rahm won a point and a half Friday on a day when he was one of the relative few who put up European blue on Whistling Straits' leaderboards.
He and Garcia won a morning alternate-shot match 3 and 1 over Thomas and Spieth. They did so by making birdie on three of four holes after Garcia wasn't conceded a short putt Rahm thought he deserved at the par-4 sixth hole.
"It's all part of the Ryder Cup, right?" Rahm asked. "A lot of time people are going to try to play mind games. In my case, if I have a foot and a half to tie or win holes, I will make it, honestly. It's always a bonus to the see the ball go in the hole and I feel like it did put a bit of extra thought in our mind. I feel like that's when it got in gear."
U.S. captain Steve Stricker correctly predicted Europe would anchor stars Rahm and Rory McIlroy in either order in Friday morning's first and fourth pairings. He probably never dreamed McIlroy and Ryder Cup ace Ian Poulter would lose their first five holes and the match 5 and 3 to Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, who made four consecutive birdies to end it.
"A shame because we actually played quite well," Poulter said. "Geez, yeah, they played great."
McIlroy partnered with 2019 British Open champ Shane Lowry in an afternoon 4-and-3 loss to Tony Finau and Harris English while Poulter didn't play. McIlroy was left out of Europe's Saturday morning matches.
They say personalities attract in alternate-shot partnership and differing golf games complement in good four-ball pairings. Former Florida State golfers Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger might have proved as much in their morning 2-and-1 victory over Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.
"We have two different styles of games," Berger said. "I'm more methodical and he's more bomb-and-gouge. When you pair us together, we complement each other's games."
Call him a fan
A two-time major winner already, American Collin Morikawa also is a Ryder Cup rookie who hit his opening drive at the event's famed first tee left into a native area in the morning's second alternate-shot match.
"You know, to be honest I was more nervous at the Walker Cup, which is crazy," he said. "I've been able to play in a few big events so far in the last couple years, but I just loved it. It was so fun, every part of it. Obviously, I tugged it a little bit and wish I had hit the fairway. But shoot, it worked out."
From there, he and five-time Ryder Cupper Dustin Johnson made seven birdies on their way to a 3-and-2 victory over Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland.
— Johnson celebrated an afternoon 11th-hole birdie putt and 3-up lead over Paul Casey and Bernd Wiesberger with a fist pump. Meanwhile, basketball Hall of Famer and Ryder Cup lover Michael Jordan answered him greenside with a raised fist. Golden State superstar Steph Curry attended Friday as well.
— Stricker forwarded messages to his players from Tiger Woods and former U.S. Ryder Cup captains Thursday night before Friday's messages began. "We knew he was fist-pumping from the couch," Schauffele said. "Whether he was on crutches or not, he's as fired up as anybody back at home."©2021 StarTribune. Visit at startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.