Oct 1, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Team USA captain Davis Love III greets Team USA vice-captain Tiger Woods on the 18th hole during the afternoon four-ball matches in the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
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After nearly losing their lead on the Europeans, Team USA battled back in the afternoon to maintain the advantage heading into Sunday at the Ryder Cup.
Start strong, finish strong. After a clean sweep in the opening session of play, Team USA won three of four matches on Saturday afternoon to take a three-point lead into Sunday at the Ryder Cup. The Americans have an excellent opportunity to win this event for the first time in eight years.
Still, nothing’s decided — the stars and stripes held an even bigger lead through four sessions of the 2012 Ryder Cup and still managed to lose. As great as team match play is, there are almost as many points available during Sunday singles, the 12-match session that closes the event.
For now, the Americans are in the driver’s seat, and that’s largely because of their superb bookend performances. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from Team USA’s Saturday performance at the Ryder Cup.
Oct 1, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Patrick Reed of the United States plays his shot from the 11th tee during the afternoon four-ball matches in the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Reed Proves His Worth on a Wild Day
For the marquee pairing of Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, it was a day of highs and lows. They got off to a hot start against the all-Spanish duo of Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello in the morning, taking the lead on the second hole and stretching it to four by the time they arrived at the 12th tee. However, the two young guns were hurt by shaky play down the stretch and lost four of the final five holes to halve the match.
With that collapse, Love could have been forgiven for trying something different in afternoon four-ball, but he didn’t. Even with that vote of confidence, Reed and Spieth got off to a slow start in their match against Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, but it was only a matter of time before the pendulum swung the other way. Reed made four straight birdies or better on the second half of the front nine, opening up a three-hole lead at the turn. The Europeans tried to rebound, but a couple more Reed birdies on the back provided the necessary padding to close out the match.
While his scorecard wasn’t without its blemishes, Reed still turned in a strong performance; notably, he had to carry Spieth, who wasn’t hitting it all that well. If the U.S. wants to close it out tomorrow, they’ll need him to show up once again.
Sep 30, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Dustin Johnson of the United States and Matt Kuchar of the United States in the afternoon four-ball matches during the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Dustin Johnson is Human After All
No golfer has played better in 2016 than Dustin Johnson. The American picked up three wins, including the U.S. Open and the relatively recent BMW Championship, and in 21 events, he only missed out on the top 30 on two occasions.
This week, however, Johnson has looked every bit like the mortal he once was. After starting his week with a dominant alternate shot win on Friday morning, Johnson was steamrolled in his subsequent matches, falling both times to the long-bombing pairing of Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters. While the U.S. has a lead heading into Sunday, it would definitely be a big bonus if their top-ranked player can show up with guns blazing to start Sunday singles.
Oct 1, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Thomas Pieters of Belgium reacts after making a birdie putt on the first green during the morning foursome matches in the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Pieters is a Giant Killer
Speaking of Pieters, the young Belgian is due for some special recognition — even in a USA-centric slideshow. Poised to become the first European Ryder Cup rookie to play in all five sessions since 1999, Pieters has been a consistent bugaboo for the United States, scoring three points off of them through the first two days.
While it certainly helps to have Rory McIlroy as a playing partner, you can’t help but be impressed by Pieters’ performances against some prominent names. He’s knocked off Dustin Johnson not once, but twice, and his Saturday morning win over Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler did away with two of the most towering figures in American golf. While his Ryder Cup career has only just begun, he’s already established a reputation as a bona fide giant killer — no American envies J.B. Holmes, his Sunday singles opponent.
Oct 1, 2016; Chaska, MN, USA; Brooks Koepka of the United States reacts to a putt on the 15th green during the morning foursome matches in the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka Form an Inspired Pairing
Neither one was in great form heading into the week, but Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka turned out to be one of Team USA’s most dynamic duos through the first four sessions. After trouncing Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett on Friday afternoon, they kept it going by securing the only American win on Saturday morning over Henrik Stenson and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Snedeker and Koepka took the lead from the get-go, winning the first hole to put the pressure on their opponents. While Stenson and Fitzpatrick tied it up on the 11th, a run of three birdies over holes 13 through 16 put it out of reach for the Europeans. The American duo looked strong throughout, with Koepka’s booming drives and Snedeker’s lights-out putting working in harmony.
While Snedeker rode the pine in the afternoon, Koepka teamed up with Dustin Johnson and was promptly bested by McIlroy and Pieters. Maybe, just maybe, the two have discovered a kind of chemistry that can make them a productive pairing for years to come.
Team USA will face the ultimate test on Sunday. The owners of a significant lead after the first four sessions, they will need to show up for singles play and hold their position in front of the home crowd.
Doesn’t sound so difficult? It’s exactly the situation they faced four years ago at Medinah, where they were blown out of the water on Sunday by a feisty European squad. It seems the U.S. circled this Ryder Cup as an opportunity to make up for that famous collapse — the home-course advantage, the Midwestern location, the task force and Love’s re-appointment as captain all serve as evidence of this. Now, with the circumstances recreated so perfectly, they have their opportunity.
At any rate, Sunday will provide clarity. Is this the Ryder Cup where the USA puts its troubles in the rearview mirror and wins for the first time since 2008, or is it just the latest installment in American delusion? It’s all in the hands of the 24 players, along with their captains who decided the order for Sunday singles.