Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter were left to rue a disastrous start to their Friday foursomes match at the 43rd Ryder Cup as they were steamrollered by the in-form American pairing of Cantlay and Schauffele at Whistling Straits.
Selected by Pádraig Harrington as the anchor pairing to bring a closing point to the morning session, McIlroy and captain’s pick Poulter had 11 Ryder Cup appearances between them famously combining nine years ago in a come-from-behind win to take down Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson and turn the tide in the final match of Saturday evening fourballs to spark Europe’s 'Miracle at Medinah' victory.
A repeat in 2021 was not to be, the Europeans giving themselves too much to do after the USA double act of FedEx Cup champion Cantlay and Olympic gold medallist Schauffele proved too strong, racing into a 5Up lead in the first five holes as the Anglo-Irish pair failed to to fire.
“Yeah, the start wasn't great,” McIlroy admitted afterwards. “I don't know if anyone could have beat Xander and Patrick today. They played really good, four birdies in a row. Geez, yeah, they played great. They were a great pairing today, and all you can do is praise them for the way they played.”
Yet the Europeans also contributed to their downfall, beginning at the first when McIlroy sent in a poor wedge approach from 58 yards that came up 30 feet short in the fringe on the way to a par while the Americans birdied with Cantlay’s five-foot putt.
McIlroy’s woes continued at the par-5 second hole as well, missing the fairway off the tee, sailing a bunker shot long over the green then missing a seven-footer for par that would have halved the hole.
Schauffele sank a nine-foot bridie putt on the par-3 third, McIlroy putting the Europeans in trouble again with another drive left into the thicker rough, from which Poulter missed the green wide right. McIlroy’s pitch went 17 feet past the hole and Poulter’s par try to halve slid by the cup to go 4 down.
When Schauffele drained from 37 feet at the par-5 fifth, McIlroy needed a birdie from eight feet just to halve only for another missed putt to send the veteran pairing 5 down.
The Europeans failed to close the gap until the 10th hole which McIlroy sealed with a short birdie putt and when the Americans suffered their first misstep at the 11th with a bogey, the margin was cut to three holes and there was a hint of another miracle.
This US pairing was in too good a spot to allow that, however and Cantlay and Schauffele birdied four consecutive holes from 12-15 to close out their 5-and-3 victory and help deliver a 3-1 opening session win for the home team.
Cantlay said: “Making birdie on the first, dream start and Xander hit a great shot in there and the way we won 2 was big for momentum and birdie 3, best start I could imagine, and Xander rolled in that putt on 5 and then we were rolling. A start like that, I'm really glad we kept our nerve and kept our foot down.”