PARIS (Reuters) - Tiger Woods made a subdued start to his first Ryder Cup in six years as he and partner Patrick Reed squandered a two-hole lead and lost lose three and one to Europeans Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood at Le Golf National on Friday.
With eight holes remaining of the day’s fourth four-balls match, the 42-year-old seemed poised to mark his return with a precious point for captain Jim Furyk.
But he ran out of steam, and rookie Fleetwood and Open champion Molinari roared back to steal the show with a scintillating finish — earning hosts Europe their only point on a morning dominated by the United States.
Woods, whose Ryder Cup record is mediocre for a 14-times major champion, will not feature again until Saturday, after being left out of the afternoon foursomes.
It was only the second time Woods has not played a Ryder Cup session as a team member — he missed the 2014 and 2016 teams as he recovered from back surgeries. He is now battling back from his fourth operation, a spinal fusion procedure in 2017.
Woods made no mention of any physical problems after his loss — his ninth defeat in 14 Ryder Cup fourballs matches — although his walking appeared labored at times.
“I know I was really playing well, and unfortunately once we got to 2-up through 11 holes, we never made another birdie,” Woods, appearing at his eighth Ryder Cup, told reporters.
“We were putting it on them, and then on the back nine, it flipped. They put it on us, and we couldn’t answer.”
The former king of golf had arrived at the course close to historic Versaille on a high after ending a five-year title drought by winning the Tour Championships in Atlanta last week.
American fans, and many wearing European colors, roared him to the first tee on a fresh morning and he delivered his opening shot straight down the fairway.
Europe snatched the opening hole of the day’s fourth fourballs match, though, before a majestic tee shot by Woods to the par-three second helped level the match.
With Woods playing steadily, the United States won the ninth hole and when Reed chipped in at the 10th to put them two up it seemed Woods would mark his return with a U.S. point.
But consecutive birdies by British Open champion Molinari leveled it up, and with Woods struggling to recapture his earlier form Europe roared to victory to give Europe their sole point of the first session.
Rookie Fleetwood rolled in a birdie on the 15th, and after a flat-looking Woods hit his tee shot into the water at the 16th, Fleetwood drained a 35-footer to put Europe two ahead.
Molinari finished the job on the 17th, leaving Woods with plenty to contemplate on his afternoon off.
“My game is fine,” he said. “My putting feels solid. I’ll be ready come tomorrow whenever (the) captain puts me out.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Larry King