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By Martyn Herman
PARIS, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Exactly a year after becoming a father for the first time, Tommy Fleetwood made his Ryder Cup debut look like child’s play as he posted two vital points alongside British Open champion Francesco Molinari at Le Golf National on Friday.
Europe, bidding to reclaim the trophy they lost at Hazeltine two years ago, ended the day 5-3 ahead with Fleetwood the toast of the team room, even if he made a quick dash away to help celebrate his son Frankie’s first birthday.
An hour or so out of the Ryder Cup bubble was the least Fleetwood deserved after playing a key role in turning the opening day Europe’s way.
“Tommy is on his way back to the hotel to spend an hour or so with his son, and that will be nice for him,” Europe captain Thomas Bjorn said. “That’s a pretty special thing for him and for (Fleetwood’s wife) Clare.”
The laid-back 27-year-old Englishman, one of five rookies in Bjorn’s side, gelled superbly with the Italian as they produced a stunning comeback win against Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed in the morning fourballs for a 3&1 victory that spared Europe a 4-0 drubbing in the opening session.
Later they outclassed Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas 5&4 to complete Europe’s first ever 4-0 sweep in the foursomes format.
The four Americans they faced down during the opening day’s action boasted a collective total of 19 majors. No wonder their partnership is already being dubbed “Mollywood”.
“I mean, you’ve got a former French Open champion and The Open Champion. They just love playing with each other. I think they just have a very special bond,” Bjorn, who will send them out together again in Saturday’s fourballs for a re-match with Woods and Reed, told reporters.
Fleetwood won the French Open on the same course last year but it has been stiffened for the Ryder Cup’s maiden appearance in France. Again he found the watery layout to his liking.
Molinari had never won a Ryder Cup point in his two previous appearances but the straggly-haired Fleetwood got his tally ticking straight away with some sizzling golf.
“I think we just combine really well,” Molinari, the first Italian to win a major when he held off the likes of Spieth and Woods at Carnoustie in July, said.
“He’s played amazing this morning and this afternoon.”
Fleetwood, who finished second at this year’s U.S. Open, thrived in the super-charged atmosphere generated by the thousands of fans who had descended on the sprawling course.
It was his birdie on the fourth that restored Europe’s early lead after Woods had thrown down the gauntlet with a majestic tee shot at the second to level the match.
When Reed chipped in at the 10th to put the U.S. duo two up it looked bad for Fleetwood and Molinari and Europe.
Molinari levelled the match with birdies at the 11th and 12th, but it was Fleetwood who tilted it Europe’s way with two magical swings of his putter.
First, from the water’s edge on the 15th, he holed a long birdie putt and then surpassed that effort with a 40-footer at the next to break the American’s resolve.
He celebrated wildly, chest-bumping his partner and delivering an upper-cut worthy of a heavyweight boxer.
The roars from the crowd would have rattled the windows at the nearby Versailles Palace.
The Americans were staggering and Molinari delivered the KO at the 17th with another sublime birdie putt.
Taking the momentum into the afternoon, the Anglo-Italian proved unstoppable as they demolished Spieth and Thomas — with Fleetwood’s putter again proving a lethal weapon.
His curling putt at the sixth put Europe three up and they were never in any danger of being overhauled. (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)