Europe builds a 5-point lead in Ryder Cup. Cantlay gives the Americans hope
Europe has a five-point lead and history on its side in the Ryder Cup. No team has ever come back from that large a deficit going into the singles session. The Americans have not won on the road before a flag-waving crowd in 30 years.
The tension Saturday evening told a different story.
Patrick Cantlay, with no cap but plenty of mettle, birdied his last three holes to hand Rory McIlroy his first loss at Marco Simone. The last putt was 45 feet and it fired up the rest of the American team -- maybe too much.
McIlroy took exception with Cantlay's caddie, Joe LaCava, getting in on the celebration as McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick had two birdie looks to halve the match. Later, McIlroy had to be held back near the clubhouse as the bickering over behaviour continued.
"He politely asked Joe to move aside. He was in his line of vision," European captain Luke Donald said. "He stood there and didn't move for a while and continued to wave the hat. So I think Rory was upset about that."
U.S. captain Zach Johnson wrote it off as Ryder Cup passion. Whatever it was, the moment brought a spark to a Ryder Cup that otherwise has been ruled by the Europeans.
They won the foursomes session in the morning handily, backed by the most lopsided match in Ryder Cup history that brought Scottie Scheffler to tears. And even with Cantlay's gutsy finish, Europe still had a 10 1/2-5 1/2 lead going into the 12 singles on Sunday.
Cantlay gave them a glimmer of hope.
"If there's any tournament in the world that's about momentum, it's this one," Johnson said.
Momentum still has a monster mountain to climb at Marco Simone.
"Listen, we are in a great position, five points ahead going into the singles at home," Donald said. "I like where we are. I like the feelings in the locker room."
Scheffler will face Jon Rahm in the opening match Sunday, a rematch of Whistling Straits in 2021 when Scheffler started with four straight birdies and won easily. They have been the two players who have exchanged turns at No. 1 in the world this year.
Europe needs to win only four points from those 12 matches to regain the cup. Johnson wasn't about to reprise Ben Crenshaw's famous, "I have a good feeling about this" speech on the eve of the final day at Brookline in 1999 when the Americans rallied from a 10-6 deficit.
"We've got 12 guys. We've got 12 points. I believe every guy on my team can win a point," he said. "I'll just leave it at that."
Cantlay was the prime target for thousands of European fans who waved their caps at him because he is the only American without one. And perhaps it was in response to an unsubstantiated Sky Sports report that he refused to wear the cap out of protest because he wants to be paid. The report also claimed Cantlay had fractured the team room.
Cantlay said he didn't wear one because it wasn't the right fit -- just like at Whistling Straits, when he also went without a cap.
As for team unity? The Americans gathered around the 18th green, and when that 45-foot putt dropped and Cantlay slammed his fist, his teammates waved their caps at him.
That included LaCava, who exchanged words with Shane Lowry on the green. McIlroy was seen to be visibly angry outside the clubhouse as Jim "Bones" Mackay, the caddie for Justin Thomas, tried to intervene.
"A few scenes there on 18 and just fuel for the fire tomorrow," McIlroy said.
But the big picture remains blue and bold.
Europe overwhelmed the Americans again in foursomes, no example greater than Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg. They needed only 11 holes -- 2 hours, 20 minutes -- to beat Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
The 9-and-7 victory was the largest in Ryder Cup history over 18 holes. Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, was seen wiping away tears as he watched the afternoon fourballs.
"We're meeting two strong guys, No. 1 in the world and five-time major champ, so we tried to not give them anything," Hovland said. "And we played really, really solid. Obviously, we didn't meet a sharp Scottie and Brooks, but we played some really nice golf today."
Max Homa and British Open champion Brian Harman, the spark of this U.S. team, won the only foursomes match in the morning. They went out again in the afternoon, and Homa delivered five birdies, an eagle and the match-clinching par over Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard.
Europe keeps getting the best from its top players -- Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton took down Cantlay and Schauffele in foursomes to go 2-0-1 in team play. McIlroy has contributed three points. Justin Rose, at 43 the oldest player in these matches, picked up a win and a halve while shepherding around Scottish rookie Robert MacIntyre.
As for the Americans? Homa, in his Ryder Cup debut, is the only player to have gone all four matches so far. Thomas and Jordan Spieth fell hopelessly behind early in foursomes and couldn't catch up, and they were run over late in fourballs by Rose and MacIntyre.
"It is a massive hole, don't get me wrong," Homa said. "But I believe in every single one of these people to put a point on the board. So hopefully, we'll go out there tomorrow and just go crazy."
Rickie Fowler sat out both sessions Saturday. Xander Schauffele lost all three of his matches, and again missed pivotal putts in foursomes that could have turned the match.
Koepka played once and and it felt like he lost twice.
He was on the losing end of the record performance by Hovland and Aberg, and then Rahm showed him to be petty during a press conference.
Koepka had accused Rahm of acting childishly by smacking a board and said, "We're adults." No one knew the reference until Rahm explained it was after he missed a crucial 10-foot putt on Friday evening. The show of anger -- mild by his reputation -- sparked him.
"I let off some frustration, hitting the board sideways," Rahm said. "I kept walking, never stopped, that was it. If Brooks thinks that's childish, it is what it is. He's entitled to think what he thinks. I don't know what else to say."
Europe has done all its talking with points on the board. It was nearly payback from two years ago in Whistling Straits, when the Americans built an 11-5 lead on its way to a record romp over Europe at 19-9.
That's where it was headed until Cantlay's big putt.
"Hopefully have a ray of light and we can build on this session and try and pull off a big victory tomorrow," Cantlay said.
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