Americans take largest lead against Europe in Ryder Cup
The pressure and drama so typical of the Ryder Cup finally arrived on Saturday, with one big difference. The suspense was whether Europe could try to make a game of it.
The Americans held their own over the final hour as Dustin Johnson completed a perfect week of team play and Scottie Scheffler delivered the biggest putt of his young career.
That staked them to an 11-5 lead, their largest ever against Europe and their biggest in the Ryder Cup since 1975.
No one has ever come back from more than a four-point deficit in Ryder Cup history. That's the order facing Europe, which has yet to win a session at Whistling Straits.
The Europeans tried, getting another big win from Jon Rahm and a clutch moment from Shane Lowry, who holed a 10-foot par putt on the 18th green and was pumping his arms so furiously in celebration that he finally dropped his putter on the ground.
So much was as stake. So little was gained.
"We're not in a good position and it's going to take a beyond monumental effort," said Ian Poulter, who has failed to deliver a point in two matches. "So we need a couple of miracles."
"We're out there fighting as hard as we can," Lowry said.
The Americans routed Europe again in foursomes Saturday morning -- a third straight 3-1 margin -- to build a 9-3 lead. And while Europe was ahead in three of the afternoon fourballs, Scheffler's 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole and his nifty up-and-down for birdie on the next hole carried him and Bryson DeChambeau to victory in the final match on the course.
Next up is the final session of 12 singles matches, historically an American strength. They need to reach 14 1/2 points to win back that gold trophy.
"I think we have a lot of guys on this team that really hate losing, and so individual matches tomorrow, I think guys are going to be fired up and ready to play," Scheffler said. "Hopefully, finish this thing off."
The U.S. team led 12 1/2-3 1/2 going into Sunday in 1975 when it played against only Britain and Ireland. Dating to the modern era of 1979, when continental Europe joined the party, its largest lead was 10 1/2 -5 1/2 in 1981 at Walton Heath.
The six-point lead ties the modern record Europe set in 2004 at Oakland Hills in a record rout.
Rahm was unbeaten in team play. The world's No. 1 player, looking every bit the part, teamed with Ryder Cup record-setter Sergio Garcia to win foursomes in the morning and then hold out to beat Brooks Koepka and cold-putting Jordan Spieth in fourballs.
Right when it looked as though the Americans might square the match, Rahm made a 30-foot birdie on the 16th hole and Spieth missed from 12 feet -- the sixth time in fourballs he missed from that range or closer, including one that mysteriously circled the entire cup and came out.
Even so, the climb is steeper than some of the wild dunes dotting the landscape of this rugged terrain along the Lake Michigan shores.
The top five players in the world have gone 15-0-2 in team play at this Ryder Cup. The problem for Europe is four of those players are Americans.
Johnson became the first American since Larry Nelson in 1979 to go 4-0 in team play. He went out twice with Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion who drove the sixth green and delivered plenty of big putts of his own in the afternoon fourballs.
Johnson was the only American to play all four matches. A 9-3 lead through three sessions made it easy for U.S. captain Steve Stricker to rest Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, who won another foursomes match, and Justin Thomas, who delivered another clutch shot into the par-5 16th to set up a foursome win with Spieth.
The goal for the Americans after their best opening day in 46 years was to wipe the slate clean and play as though the Ryder Cup was just starting.
For a time, it started to feel as if this Ryder Cup was over.
Johnson and Morikawa never trailed in either of their two matches. Schauffele and Cantlay flipped their match during a six-hole stretch in the middle of their round. Spieth and Thomas rallied from an early 3-down deficit.
Already the leading points-scorer in Ryder Cup history, Garcia won both his matches with Rahm, the latest European version of a Spanish Armada. He now has won 25 matches, breaking the record held by Nick Faldo.
"What we did is not enough, not (with) the situation we are in," Garcia said after his morning foursomes match.
It felt better in the afternoon, a board finally filled with mostly European blue. But when it ended, Europe had not made up any ground from the morning.