CHASKA, Minn. – Thanks to winning the final three matches in Saturday afternoon’s Four-balls, the U.S. will take a 9.5 to 6.5 lead going into Sunday Singles at Hazeltine National.
The 3-point advantage doesn’t quite match the lead held by the Americans when Davis Love III captained the team for the first time four years ago. Of course, no one in red, white and blue wants a repeat of the final-day result, in which the Europeans stormed back in record fashion to retain the Ryder Cup.
Nonetheless, the Americans will happily take another crack at trying to hold the lead this time. They entered Saturday with a 5-3 lead but saw Europe close the deficit to one point after the Saturday morning Foursome session. The afternoon Four-ball session provided more fruitful for the U.S., which on Sunday will seek to end Europe’s string of three consecutive Ryder Cup wins.
Meanwhile, Europe can take comfort that overcoming such a deficit is not impossible, even on foreign soil. Four years ago, they trailed 10-6 after Day 2 but made some early noise and rode the momentum.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t sustain early momentum on Saturday afternoon, losing two matches in which they grabbed the first lead. Danny Willet and Lee Westwood were 1 up after 12 but lost to J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore, while Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose were 1 up through four holes before Patrick Reed caught fire to carry teammate Jordan Spieth to a 2 & 1 win.
“Certainly we were hoping for a lot better but Ryder Cup teams have come back from further fine,” said European captain Darren Clarke. “The guys will be disappointed that they didn’t do a little bit better this afternoon, but you know, it’s not over yet. …
“We’re going to have to work hard and play very, very well tomorrow. It’s been done from a worse position. We have a big task ahead of us, but the guys are capable of doing it.”
McILROY/PIETERS def. FOWLER/MICKELSON, 4 & 2
Holes won: Europe 7, U.S. 3
Holes led: Europe 15, U.S. 0
Recap: The match starting in scintillating fashion as Fowler made a great 25-foot birdie on the first and Pieters matched him from 20-feet, giving the crowd a shush sign in the process. Then McIlroy coaxed in a birdie putt on No. 2 to grab a lead they never relinquished. A shank from the bunker from Fowler on No. 4 led to another European win and a wild drive on No. 5 left Mickelson playing reverse right handed against a fence for another loss. McIlroy opened the door by missing a very short par putt on the ninth and then hit a wild drive off No. 10. Mickelson drained a 15-foot birdie to bring the deficit to just one hole but McIlroy returned to his best with a 20-footer on 11. A bogey on 12 from Europe made it close once more before a late surge from the visitors. A bogey on 14 from Team USA was followed by two closing birdies from the Europeans, allowing McIlroy to beat Mickelson in the Ryder Cup for the first time in four tries.
They said it: “When I saw the draw last night, I was like, ‘Yes, I get to have a go at him again.’ My record against him in the Ryder Cup isn’t what I would like it to be. So personally I maybe wanted it a little bit more for that reason. But just to go out first, put a point on the board for Team Europe, that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to start the session off in the right vein. As Thomas said, we’ve got very similar games and I think that helps in foursomes as well.” – Rory McIlroy
SNEDEKER/KOEPKA def. STENSON/FITZPATRICK, 3 & 2
Holes won: U.S. 5, Europe 2
Holes led: U.S. 14, Europe 0
Recap: The European team made a sloppy bogey on the first after Stenson overcooked the approach, giving USA an early advantage. They doubled it when the Swede couldn’t coax a short par putt in on No. 4. Rookie Fitzpatrick created his first big fist-pump moment with a 20-foot downhill birdie putt to win No. 7, and with a birdie on No. 11, the match was tied for the first time since the first tee. Team Europe could not take advantage of a Koepka shank on No. 12, allowing Snedeker to drill a 6-foot birdie on No. 13 to get the lead back. It was the start of a four-hole run of birdies for Team USA as they surged home for a crucial full point. The tandem, which was rested Friday morning, is now 2-0-0 together.
They said it: “It’s tough. It’s the hardest thing we have to deal with this week, not getting too over-amped and not getting too excited, and trying to get the crowd into it too much. But we did a great job of staying patient today. It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but we found a way to win. That’s all you’ve got to do. You never know how it’s going to look.
Brooks did an awesome job of staying patient and giving me looks out there. We both hit some great shots when we had to. So proud of this guy. This guy needs to know how good he is, and he’s starting to figure it out right now.” – Brandt Snedeker.
ROSE/WOOD, Europe def. WALKER/Z. JOHNSON, 1 up
Holes won: Europe 3, U.S. 2
Holes led: Europe 12, U.S. 0
Recap: For a while, it looked like neither team was going to win a hole in this match. But the Europeans finally broke through with a birdie at the seventh hole and never trailed again. Rookie Chris Wood made a short birdie putt at the 10th to give Europe a 2-up lead and the visitors added to that advantage when Johnson missed a 2-footer at the 13th. But the Americans made it interesting, making birdies at Nos. 14 and 16 to cut the lead to 1 down. The final two holes were halved with pars, though, so Europe gets the point.
They said it: “I put us in a bigger hole than we needed, certainly, on 13 … that was just not quality at all.” — Zach Johnson
“It doesn’t feel like it’s any different any other year. This is exactly what happens every two years. You just see waves of momentum both directions. The tide turns, that kind of thing. It’s beautiful. I’m gutted right now because of that match. Had opportunities.” — Zach Johnson.
SPIETH/REED, USA and GARCIA/CABRERA BELLO, Europe, Halved
Holes won: U.S. 4, Europe 4
Holes led: U.S. 15, Europe 0
Recap: This was the match everyone thought was going to be close. And it was — but not until a monumental rally by the two Spaniards over the last six holes. Spieth and Reed took the lead early, making birdie on four of their first six holes to go 3 up. A European bogey at the 11th hole increased the advantage to an even more comfortable 4 up – but it also served to energize Garcia and Cabrera Bello. The Americans, who were playing in their third match in about 36 hours, then started hitting a few loose shots and three straight bogeys enabled Europe to pull to 2 down. Birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 then squared the match and set the stage for a dramatic conclusion. The Americans missed the 18th green, but Spieth chipped on and Reed made the 5-footer to save par. Then it was up to Garcia, who made his 3-footer to halve the match. Had the Europeans won, the match would have been tied overall. With the halve, it’s now a one-point deficit.
They said it: “I knew I had it. Just kind of one of those things that every time I have a pressure putt in that kind of situation, I think of all the times practicing those on the putting green. Just try to get as (many) positive thoughts I can possibly (have) in my mind on putts like that, because really without having that on the line, it’s just a normal putt. They are never the easiest, so you have to figure out some way to make them easy.” — Patrick Reed on the final putt
“We played a fantastic round. We were something like 6-under through 12 holes in alternate shot on this course, which is a ridiculous number. And they played great.” —Jordan Spieth
“It’s the Ryder Cup, it’s as simple as that. It was tough out there. I mean, they played so good, so well. I felt like we played really, really good foursomes. We were very consistent, giving ourselves chances, making birdies, but they had an amazing start. We just kept telling each other: Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it, keep putting pressure and hopefully at some point they will slow down a little bit and we managed to do that, so very happy.” — Sergio Garcia
“I had to take a lot of breaths on 17 and 18 because the emotions were so high. To be able to get it back to square and see that we actually had a chance of winning the match — I mean, all credit to my partner. First Ryder Cup and he reminds me of a little Spanish guy a few years ago. I’m so happy for him.” — Sergio Garcia
“Normally I get chicken-skin on the last few holes if I’m in contention. Here I get it pretty much on every walk from green to the tee on every hole, on every putt, and it’s extremely exciting.” — Rafa Cabrera Bello
McILROY/PIETERS, Europe def. KOEPKA/D. JOHNSON, U.S. 3 & 1
Holes won: Europe 7, U.S. 4
Holes led: Europe 16, U.S. 0
Recap: The European duo ran its record to 3-0 with this victory but Koepka and Johnson didn’t go down without a fight, twice cutting a 4-down margin to 2 on the back nine. McIlroy got things going when he won the second hole with a birdie. Pieters then holed a shot from the fairway for an eagle to open a 2-up lead and his par at the eighth was good enough for another win. McIlroy, taking the brunt of the jeers from the partisan crowd, turned it on at the turn, making consecutive birdies to put Europe 4 up at No. 10. But Dustin Johnson answered with two birdie winners of his own to narrow the gap to 2 down through 12. That was short-lived, though, as Pieters answered with consecutive birdies to regain the 4-up advantage and bring the match dormie. First Johnson, then Koepka came up with wins to extend the match but Pieters finished things off with a short birdie at No. 17.
They said it: “It fueled me a lot. The more they shouted, the better we played. I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow.” — Rory McIlroy … “It’s not three points for me, three points for us. I do get some support from your crowd. The heckling, it just pumps us up. So hopefully the same for tomorrow.” — Thomas Pieters, who played collegiately at Illinois.
“I didn’t putt very well today and I know DJ didn’t hit it his best. They played really good. Hats off to them. They were impressive to watch. Both of them were in it every hole.” — Brooks Koepka
HOLMES/MOORE, USA def. WILLETT/WESTWOOD, EUROPE 1 up
Holes won: U.S. 3, Europe 2
Holes led: U.S. 2, Europe 5
Recap: Neither team led more than 1 up in this match, and the Americans didn’t grab their advantage until Lee Westwood missed a short putt for par at the 17th. Westwood was also the culprit at No. 18 when he had a 3-footer for birdie to win the hole and a half point for the Europeans. Again, he missed and the Americans got the full point instead. To be fair, Westwood did come up with lengthy birdies at Nos. 7 and 10 to give Europe 1-up leads. But Holmes answered in each case with wins to square the match at Nos. 9 and 13. Holmes, who was a member of the 2008 U.S. Team that last won the Ryder Cup, made seven birdies in the match.
They said it: “Any putt is hard in those circumstances — to make a putt and try to square up a match on the 18th hole. … Obviously, we tried to birdie the hole and not make it an issue.” — Ryan Moore on Westwood’s final putt. “Once I missed my birdie chance and Ryan didn’t make his chip, I thought (Westwood) would make his putt so I was definitely surprised when it didn’t go in. But it was in the shadows and it was downhill, so it definitely wasn’t a gimme.” — J.B. Holmes
“I think we both hit pretty good putts down the stretch. Obviously the last two, they are pretty tricky where the flag is and it’s just a shame with two great golf shots in there and put the pressure on and couldn’t capitalize.” — Danny Willett
MICKELSON/KUCHAR, USA def. KAYMER/GARCIA, Europe 2 & 1
Holes won: U.S. 5, Europe 3
Holes led: U.S. 15, Europe 0
Recap: While there were those who wondered about putting the sometimes erratic Mickelson out in Four-balls, he responded with five birdies, including three in the final four holes to seal the U.S. win. His first came at the third hole and put the Americans 1 up and the U.S. won the next with a Kaymer bogey. Garcia cut into the lead with a birdie on the seventh hole but Mickelson put the U.S. 2 up again with one of his own at the 10th. Not to be outdone, the Spaniard responded with a birdie at the 12th to bring Europe 1 down. Kuchar made the highlight reels at the 13th, though, draining a 50-footer to get back to 2 up – the teammates celebrating the improbable putt with a shoulder shimmy. Mickelson extended the lead with a birdie at No. 14, then halved the 15th with another as Kaymer converted a clutch 15-footer. Garcia, who had staged a valiant comeback with countryman Rafa Cabrera Bello in Foursomes, again refused to give up, extending the match with a birdie at the 16th but when Mickelson matched him at the 17th the 2 & 1 win was assured.
They said it: “The deal was to have fun and we’re going to play well if we’re having fun out there. It was awesome… To watch him down the stretch hit great shot after great shot, it was a thrill for me to be a part of.” — Matt Kuchar … “I had a blast with Matt. … It was just what I needed to get me relaxed, to get me laughing, to get me enjoying the golf. In my back nine he brought out my best.” — Phil Mickelson
“I just missed too many putts. … But we fought hard. Hit some great shots and we had some good birdies coming in. Unfortunately for us, they came up with the goods here on 17 and we couldn’t get it to 18.” — Sergio Garcia
REED/SPIETH, USA def. ROSE/STENSON, EUROPE 2 & 1
Holes won: U.S. 6, Europe 4
Holes led: U.S. 12, Europe 4
Recap: This was the third time the two teams had met this week and the Americans prevailed to bring their record against two Olympic medalists to 2-1. Stenson got things rolling for the Europeans with a birdie on the first hole. Reed seized control of the match, though, with a sizzling four-hole stretch starting at No. 5 that he played in 5 under. With those three birdies and the eagle he holed out from the sixth fairway, Reed brought the U.S. from 1 down to 3 up. Stenson, who won the Open Championship this summer, and Rose, who won gold in Rio, traded birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 to whittle the U.S. lead to 1 up. But Reed – who else? — answered with birdies on the next two holes to get back to 3 up and dormie. Stenson extended the match when he chipped in for eagle at the 16th but matching pars at No. 17 gave the Americans the point.
They said it: “It was a lot easier to make some of those putts and hit those shots because I have a teammate that has a short putt for par or has a chance, to where I can be more aggressive.” – Patrick Reed … “I’m in the bunker and I look at Jordan and I say, what do you want me to do here? He goes you can hit it over the bunkers. I hit it to a perfect yardage and knocked it in and just went nuts.” — Patrick Reed on his eagle. … “It was really, really fun to be a part of. I know he has that in him. We’ve all seen it before. He’s Captain America for us.” — Jordan Spieth
“He just played incredible golf. He was inspired. He kind of punished us every time he had a wedge in his hands, he got it up-and-down.” — Justin Rose … “I hit a monster drive up on 16 and Patrick just hit a fabulous second shot. It wasn’t just his wedges; his irons or rescue or whatever he was hitting there, middle of the green. I knew I needed to make an eagle to keep it going and managed to chip it in at the right time.” — Henrik Stenson on his chip-in eagle at 16 to extend the match.