Americans take 3-point lead at Ryder Cup
CHASKA, MINN. >> Patrick Reed took over his match with putting and passion, and the rest of the Americans followed suit Saturday afternoon in a pivotal fourballs session that left them on the verge — again — of winning back the Ryder Cup.
Reed and his bullish attitude was at his best, starting with a wedge he holed out for eagle. That was the centerpiece of a four-hole stretch that carried he and Jordan Spieth to a 2-and-1 victory in the final match of another raucous and at times rude afternoon at Hazeltine.
The Americans had a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead over Europe. They need to win only five of 12 singles matches to reclaim the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008, and only the third time over the last two decades.
Europe trudged off the course with only recent history on its side.
It trailed by a slightly larger margin, 10-6, four years ago at Medinah with Davis Love III at the helm of the U.S. team and then put together a staggering display of putting to produce the largest comeback by a visiting team in Ryder Cup history.
"We're going to have to play tomorrow, as we've done before from a worse deficit," European captain Darren Clarke said.
Most painful for Clarke was watching his best friend and captain's pick, Lee Westwood, miss crucial short putts on the back nine in the only match that reached the 18th hole. Westwood and Masters champion Danny Willett never trailed until they both made bogey on the par-3 17th.
Westwood missed a 5-foot par putt to stay all square, and then with a chance to earn a half-point for Europe, he badly missed a 2-foot birdie on the final hole to give J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore a 1-up victory.
Phil Mickelson, in his 11th straight Ryder Cup, showed he can deliver on the golf course as well as he can run a task force meeting. Lefty produced timely wedges and key putts down the stretch as he and Matt Kuchar combined for nine birdies in a 2-and-1 victory over Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.
The final hour turned solid red on the scoreboard, enough to overcome the undefeated tandem of Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters. They won all three matches, and they were never more dynamic than fourballs when they were 11-under par through 17 holes. Pieters drove the par-4 fifth green and made eagle, and McIlroy stared down the hostile American crowd with every birdie that left Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka no chance.
"It's a tough environment for us to come and play in. We expect that," McIlroy said. "It's same for the U.S. guys when they come to play in Europe. You have to keep your concentration out there. It's been a long day and sometimes emotions run high. ... The more they shouted, the better we played.
"I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow."
Europe will need all the help it can get. Ian Poulter, who sparked Europe to its "Miracle at Medinah" in 2012, is only at Hazeltine as an assistant captain. McIlroy and Pieters have shouldered a big load, and they need contributions on Sunday from a team that features six rookies.
"We're one closer than we were at Medinah," Rose said. "It's going to be a monumental challenge tomorrow. We're going to put out our lineup and we're going to look at each other man-to-man tomorrow. It's going to be eyeball-to-eyeball on the first tee, no partners, no friends out there on the golf course. Just go out and try to put a point on the board. That's everybody's mission."
Rose and Stenson had a front-row seat to an exhibition by Reed, who whipped the crowd into even more of a frenzy than it already showed. One down after four holes, Reed played the next four holes in 5 under, winning them all for a 3-up lead.
Spieth, who started the year at No. 1 in the world, was along for the ride
"I know he has that in him," Spieth said. "We've all seen it before. He's Captain America for us."
Their victory was even more important considering they let a sure point get away in foursomes Saturday morning, leading 4 up with six holes to play until Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello rallied to earn a halve. There were a few nervous moments when Rose and Stenson cut the deficit to 1 down after 13 holes, only for Reed — who else? — to pour in back-to-back birdies for the match to go dormie.
Reed and Spieth are the only Americans who have yet to sit out, going away from Love's model at Medinah to make sure everyone was rested.
Europe has five players who will play every match — McIlroy, Pieters, Garcia, Stenson and Rose. It likely will need points from all of them, and a few more.
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