Only one of the four Americans in this week’s field managed to post a score under par – Matt Kuchar, who opened with a 2-under 69 – and collectively Team USA was 5 over par to begin their Olympic week.
The good news for the Americans is there is no team competition at this year’s Games. The bad news is if they hope to contend for any medals on Sunday they’ll need a dramatic change of fortune over the next three days.
Rickie Fowler four-putted his first green for a double bogey-7 to set an ominous tone for the United States on his way to a 4-over 75, which left him tied for 56th in the 60-player field.
“Rough start, frustrating with the putter. I feel like I had everything good to go and struggled with the pace of the greens, and I feel like I was hitting a lot of good putts,” said Fowler, who added that the greens for Round 1 were faster than they had been in practice rounds.
Bubba Watson endured similar putting woes with two three-putts on a windy first day and finished with a 2-over 73; while Patrick Reed rallied after a poor start with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 for a 1-over 72 that left him tied for 34th place.
The lone reason for optimism for the U.S. team is that officials went with the standard 72 holes of stroke play and all four Americans contended they hadn’t played their way out of the event.
“I couldn't have hit the ball worse and couldn't putt worse,” Reed said. “There's still time. It's not a sprint; it's a marathon. If we post some low numbers, we might be able to climb up that board.”
Although Love likely wouldn’t give much weight to just a single round, three of the four Americans this week in Rio are currently outside of qualifying for the U.S. Ryder Cup team with only Reed, holding the final spot at No. 8, assured a trip to Hazeltine for this year’s matches.
While 18 holes of stroke play can’t compare to the unique pressure of the Ryder Cup, for the American team – which is the only country with more than two players in the Olympics – the event had taken on a team persona.
“We're pulling for our own team, right, and so when we look up, or I looked up and I saw Matt Kuchar and I was watching him, he makes a putt. I'm like, yes, no, wait, he's trying to beat me,” Watson said.
They may be wearing the same uniforms, but essentially these Games are as self-absorbed as any other event they play, and all four seemed to embrace the every-man-for-themselves philosophy after a difficult start in Rio.
On Tuesday, Fowler suggested the U.S. team could sweep the podium this week and take gold, silver and bronze, which was more a nod to how many players the Americans have in Rio than it was a boastful prediction. On Thursday, a more subdued Fowler acknowledged an American sweep, which the U.S. women accomplished when golf was first played in the Olympics in 1900, had become much more difficult.
“Unfortunately not the start I was looking for. I know the other boys other than [Kuchar], they are not too satisfied, either,” Fowler said.