HAVEN, Wis. — Golf is a game of decorum.
Except in the Ryder Cup where pressure, patriotism or pride often leads players to engage frisky gamesmanship, clash with rulings, and stoke fans if they have an emotional advantage.
This year’s Ryder Cup, however, was shaping up to be an exception to the usual peevishness. The American team was steadily winning the three-day event, while the European side looked beaten and lifeless. In the final hour, there were four intense episodes that involved players from both sides.
Brooks Koepka profanely and defiantly challenged the decision of two officials who refused to give him a free fall. After Rahm’s shot into Lake Michigan, his American teammate Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm’s caddie had an animated dispute about the best place to drop. Bryson DeChambeau and Shane Lowry each gestured with their putters in protest after short putts were not conceded, although DeChambeau’s putt was far lengthier.
What looked like an American rout turned into a tight, taut competition. After the United States had won three of the four team matches Saturday morning, a six point lead in the event, the European team surged back in afternoon and was capable of winning all four matches.
But as the sun was setting along Lake Michigan in central Wisconsin, the Americans rallied to earn two victories that gave them a commanding 11-5 lead heading into Sunday’s 12 singles matches, which are each worth one point. To win the Ryder Cup for only the second consecutive year, the Americans would have to win just three and a-half points on Sunday.
Steve Stricker, the American captain, smiled broadly Saturday evening as he assessed his team’s chances.
“Those afternoon session matches were so important. If they blank us, they’re right back in it,” Stricker said of the European team. “But getting a split and two more points was really big. Right now, it’s about getting our guys some rest; we’ll get back to the hotel, eat and get into bed.”
Justin Thomas, the emotional leader of the United States team, would not predict victory but said, “All of us have the faith now.”
Sergio García, Thomas’s counterpart on the European side — at least when it comes to his leadership style — was not bowed.
“Everybody knows one thing: We’ll be out there until the end and we’re not going to give up,” García said of his team. “It’s going to be difficult, but I assure you we’ll give our best.”
The Saturday afternoon drama was heightened by strong winds that whipped across Whistling Straits. This Pete Dye-designed track is dangerous even in benign weather conditions. Some players wore woolen winter caps, while others had short sleeves. The matches were played in four-ball format. Each player plays his own ball, and the team with the lowest score wins.
Three of the four matches were intensely contested, while one was not. The undefeated American team consisting of Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa won comfortably 4-and-3 against Rory McIlroy & Ian Poulter. McIlroy, who played in six Ryder Cups and Poulter (a veteran and firebrand for Europeans since 2004), has a record of 0-2. McIlroy has been on both the losing side in each of his three matches.
The heavyweight showdown was between Spieth and his partner Koepka and the Spanish pairing of García and Rahm, the world’s top-ranked player who has been spectacular at this Ryder Cup. The Rahm-García pairing came into the match against Spieth and Koepka undefeated in their two previous matches. They didn’t trail after 16 holes. Spieth, usually so reliable when facing pivotal putts, missed a handful of makeable birdie or par attempts that could have wrested the lead from Rahm and García, who won, 2 and 1.
Like Rahm and García, their teammates Shane Lowry of Ireland and Tyrrell Hatton of England held the lead or were tied with the Americans Tony Finau and Harris English through 17 holes. Still, with the European team’s hopes of a comeback on Sunday all but hanging in the balance, Lowry faced a 10-foot uphill par putt to win the match. Lowry won the match with a steady and rhythmic stroke.
DeChambeau, who was playing with Scottie Schffler, against Tommy Fleetwood of England, and Viktor Hovland from Norway, was the most unpredictable and volatile. While the lead was traded back and forth, after 14 holes the match was tied — until Scheffler sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the 15th green to give his team a one-hole edge. Scheffler and DeChambeau won 3 and 1.
The Americans, who won five of eight matches on Friday, turned in another commanding performance in Saturday morning’s foursomes matches, in which players alternate hitting the same golf ball on a hole. Johnson-Morikawa won the match against Paul Casey and Hatton, and then closed the match with a 2-and-1 win. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, poised opponents of Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, won the match with a string if steady pars.
Thomas and Spieth were paired in a losing effort Friday but were reunited with more productive results when they defeated Bernd Wiesberger (Hovland) in a match that was decided by a tie. Bernd Wiesberger held the lead in the first 13 holes. However, the Thomas-Spieth combination won four of the last five holes to secure a 2-up win.
Source: NY Times