An inspired, United States will head into the final day of the 2017 Ryder Cup three points clear, leading the European side 9.5 to 6.5.
Europe will have to ‘dig deep’ and find a way to muster an epic comeback, much like the one four years ago at Medinah if they want to stand a chance of continuing their recent Ryder Cup dominance. All that stands between America and winning the Ryder Cup, for the first time since 2008, is just five points from Sunday’s singles matches.
When dawn broke on Hazeltine National Darren Clarke’s side already had a job on their hands, already trailing the Americans 5-3 after the first day of play.
The Europeans sent out their ‘big-gun’ pairing of Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters – both had found their feet after the first day of play and both were eager to get out and get some blue on the board early.
That is exactly what they did, by beating the American ‘big-hitting’ duo of Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson 3&1. This result briefly tied the scores a 6.5-6.5, with still three-afternoon fourball matches out on the course.
There is no doubt that McIlroy and Pieters have been Europe’s strongest pairing, in the morning foursomes,they led from the second hole onwards after starting their round with consecutive birdies against Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson.
Similarly, they held nothing back against Koepka and Johnson. McIlroy made an early birdie on the par-4 second whilst the Americans made fives pars in a row. Thomas Pieters than landed another fatal blow by driving the short par-4 fifth in one and holing the eagle putt. Back-to-back birdies from the Europeans on 8 and 9 had them four up heading down the stretch.
Dustin Johnson, then got his putter hot by making birdie at the 11th and 12th, by they were fantastically matched by Pieters on the 13th and 14th. Brooks Koepka had a birdie putt on the 17th to extend the match, with the Europeans lead cut down to two up, but the effort was short. A brilliant point claimed by Europes two main men.
However, America regained their grip on the proceedings after JB Holmes and Ryan Moore defeated Lee Westwood and Danny Willett 1UP. Westwood had a three-footer on the 18th to grab a half but in a horrible turn of events he pushed it and missed.
The English duo had held the lead on Holmes/Moore throughout the match, taking a 1UP lead with only six to play after making a collective effort of seven birdies. But, this lead was wasted away after both Willett and Westwood made soft bogey’s on the 17th to go 1DN and the American’s held on to that and closed out the match 1UP.
In the third match of the afternoon Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson completely out-played Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, in a match full of huge putts and plenty of birdies.
Both pairings birdied the first two holes to stay AS thru two, then Phil Mickelson drained a birdie putt on the third to go 1UP which was matched by Kuchar on the fourth to go 2UP thru four.
Garcia found his putting stroke on the 7th to rake in a long birdie effort and bring down the American deficit to just 1UP at the turn. Mickelson once again proved his worth and holed an unlikely putt from 25 feet, then on the 10th Matt Kuchar drained a monumental 50-foot putt on the 13th – which led to the most interesting celebration of the day.
Twitter: RT @HarveyJamison: Phil and Kuch just went full dad dance at Hazeltine! Yes they did the shimmy… #RyderCup https://t.co/fAQNlP3VCs (@HarveyJamison)
The veterans struck again on the 14th to strike another blow against Garcia, with playing partner Martin Kaymer not really showing up and still suffering from Friday’s bad play. This was until the 15th where he made an unlikely birdie to halve the hole. The match did extend but Mickelson did not shudder and made a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match 2&1.
It was now the turn of Team USA’s front men, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. It was Rory McIlroy who had battled all day to show as much passion as he cold muster around Hazeltine and likewise for the Americans it would be Patrick Reed who would spark up the Minnesota fans during the final round of the Saturday fourballs.
Stenson and Rose got off to a great start by making birdie on the 1st to keep a 1UP lead over the course of four holes until Patrick Reed happened.
In morning foursomes session Reed and Spieth gave away a four-hole lead against the Spanish duo of Garcia and Cabrera-Bello to only secure a half point. However, any feeling that this partnership was struggling was dismissed as Reed went birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie, five under thru holes five and eight.
The highlight of Reed’s magnificent stretch was his hole-out for eagle on the par-5 6th. Reed nipped the ball of the turf, from the middle of the fairway, pitching it around 15-feet behind the hole then spinning it back straight to the heart of the cup. Looking like it would just miss on the right, it looped the hole and dropped. Then all of America went wild.
Stenson and Rose tried to get back to AS with birdies at 12 and 13 but the match was put to bed after Reed, once again, made back-to-back birdies on 14 and 1. The final blow came on the 17th where after halving the hole in pars, America claimed their third point from the afternoon fourballs, defeating Rose and Stenson 2&1.
This position is familiar with both sides. 2012 and 2016 American captain Davis Love III was in a leading role back in Medinah and witnessed one of the greatest comebacks in sport. America is pumped up and Europe eager to some points on the board early.
Patrick Reed, after defeating Rose and Stenson 2&1:
“We had a huge lead early in the first match and let it slip and I was not going to let that happen again. I live for this kind of stuff – let’s go some more. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Team USA need 14.5 points to win the Cup and Europe need14 points to retain the cup. Both teams will go out this needing to play the golf of their lives this afternoon.
Darren Clarke has put all his trust in his player and believes that they can do it, by going front-loading the singles matches. Key players; Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Pieters, Justin Rose and Rafa Cabrera-Bello will head out early for Europe knowing that blue in desperately needed to start an inspired comeback.
Players such as, Masters Champion, Danny Willett know what must be done:
“It doesn’t change the job in hand. The job is to win all 12 tomorrow. No one is on 14.5 yet.”
Darren Clarke has done all he can do, now it’s over to the 12 Europeans on the course at Hazeltine:
“We’re going to have to work hard tomorrow. It’s been done before from a worse position. We need to believe in ourselves. There is a precedent.”
If we thought that the Saturday and Sunday sessions were good, goodness knows what in store for in the Sunday singles. Darren’s boys fighting for their pride and Davis Love and his team are battling for redemption.