With some outstanding golf on Saturday evening, Team USA will enter the singles of the 2016 Ryder Cup in a commanding position.
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Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
After the Europeans had closed the gap in the foursomes on Saturday morning, a big win in either direction in the fourballs was always going to prove pivotal heading into the final 12 matches of the Sunday singles.
That’s exactly what the Americans managed to deliver too, as having failed to win a session since completing a sweep in the opening four matches of the tournament, a 3-1 victory on Saturday evening placed the US team in a commanding position heading into the final day.
Of course, the Americans have been here before and watched it all slip away in the Ryder Cup, but this time it feels different.
At Medinah when the Europeans completed a dramatic final day comeback to steal the Cup out of the hosts’ grasp, they had a late Saturday momentum swing in their direction to thank.
At Hazeltine back in the present, the key difference comes with the fact that it was the Americans who seized the initiative at the close of team play on Saturday.
Do the Europeans have what it takes to come back again? Are the Americans better prepared to close it out on this occasion? Before we make any decisions on that, let’s look back at how the USA hit the front in the fourballs.
With hindsight, Darren Clarke will feel that he threw away two matches on Friday by having McIlroy and Pieters paired separately on losing teams, as in the time since they’ve cruised to three imperious victories.
With some shaky play from McIlroy in this match, particularly on the back nine, there was no shortage of pressure left on the shoulders of Europe’s 24-year-old wildcard pick. Pieters was certainly up to the challenge, though, winning five holes for Europe on his own ball.
After a rest in the morning session, it was no real surprise to see Dustin Johnson return to action for the US, but with Brooks Koepka having gone 2-0 alongside Brandt Snedeker before this match, Love’s decision to split that pair up proved to be misguided.
JB Holmes/Ryan Moore def. Lee Westwood/Danny Willett 1 Up
A vital win from Holmes and Moore, that in all honesty can only really be described as a brutal loss for Westwood and Willett. There are matches that are won by one team or the other, but this one was certainly lost by the Europeans.
In a tight match that remained in the balance throughout the day, the lead occasionally swung back and forth between the two sides. As in all matches that close, it looked destined to come down to who could make their fair share of putts.
Although the Europeans demonstrated superior ball-striking down the stretch, it was the Americans who found a way to get the ball in the hole. Having missed a three footer to halve the hole on 17, Lee Westwood missed one for a win from the same distance on the 18th. Westwood may have played better overall than he did on Friday, but his abysmal short putting could be the deciding factor in the entire event on Sunday night.
Phil Mickelson/Matt Kuchar def. Sergio Garcia/Martin Kaymer 2 & 1
As Phil Mickelson struggled in large spells during foursomes play on both Friday and Saturday, the big question had to be why he wasn’t being saved for fourballs. Finally, on Saturday evening he got a chance to play in that format, and he came up with a big performance.
Kuchar got off to a fast start after sitting out the early session of the day, but as the round advanced it was Mickelson who produced the vast majority of key approaches, and the putts needed to finish them off.
The loss meant that Martin Kaymer will enter the Sunday singles having lost all three of his matches, and considering the play of Garcia and Cabrera Bello in Friday’s fourballs and in heroically salvaging a half point in the morning foursomes, breaking them up proved to be a monumental error on the captain’s part.
Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Reed/Jordan Spieth def. Henrik Stenson/Justin Rose 2 & 1
Considering how the final few holes of the morning session would have seemed to impact the morale of Reed and Spieth, asking them to come back and defeat Europe’s star pairing in the anchor match in the afternoon seemed like a big ask.
While for the second day in a row Jordan Spieth looked a little fatigued down the stretch, Patrick Reed put together an incredible round of golf, including a hole out for eagle and countless high-pressure putts.
Stenson and Rose played relatively well throughout the round, with a lengthy putt from Rose and a chip-in eagle from Stenson both offering hope at different points of the back nine, but Reed wasn’t to be denied on this occasion.
Heading into the singles with a three-point advantage, are the Americans going to steal the Ryder Cup away from European hands or could the Europeans give a performance reminiscent of the Miracle of Medinah? Let us know in the comments below.