SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France—What happened at Le Golf National Saturday morning can be explained a thousand ways but crystallized in three words. The first came from the gallery on the par-3 11th hole as U.S. Ryder Cup hero/antihero Patrick Reed went to search for his ball. By this point, Reed knew to look over in the rough. The best thing you could say about his day was that he didn’t have to replace many divots.
So Reed walked to his ball, which was greenside, and the European fans all mocked him in absolutely exquisite fashion: “Shhhhhhh!” Reed had lost any semblance of his Masters-winning game, and also the ability to reply. He pitched onto the green, and the crowd started again: “Shhhhhh!”
The other two words? One is Ser. The other: Gio. You can say them together, “Serrrr-giooooo!” or separately, in staccato fashion: “Ser! Gio!” The crowd here did both. And Garcia, who spent the whole year playing like his main concern was dusting off his Ryder Cup cape, was magnificent. He and Rory McIlroy beat Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka, 2 and 1.
The Europeans walked onto the course in burnt orange Saturday morning, and the Americans walked off wearing burnt red, white, and blue. This was ugly, and could have been uglier. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, facing about as much pressure as anybody could face in a Saturday morning match, birdied seven of their last 10 holes to beat Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm, 2 and 1.
And now Europe’s 5-3 lead has swelled to 8-4.
A Ryder Cup scoreboard is a still frame that tricks you into thinking it is the whole movie. The U.S. led 3-1 after the Friday morning session and an American rout feel likely. Europe swept the Friday afternoon matches and America appeared to be collapsing. Then Europe dominated Saturday morning, and it’s tempting to bury the U.S.
So let’s keep in mind: Europe’s 8-4 still frame is compelling, but it’s still just a still frame. In two of the last nine Ryder Cups, a team came from four points down on Sunday morning to win outright: the U.S. in 1999 and Europe in 2012.
Still, the Americans are in an ugly place, and it’s not just because of the score. There are two sessions left. The first, foursomes, historically favors the Europeans. And the second, singles, favors the deeper team. That, incredibly, also appears to be the Europeans.
The Americans are usually the deeper side, and this was supposed to be one of the deepest teams in Ryder Cup history. But look now. Reed is a mess. Phil Mickelson has been such a mess that he has only played one match, and that was probably too many. U.S. captain Jim Furky benched Mickelson for both Saturday sessions. Bubba Watson is hardly Mr. Reliable, and he is an odd choice for Saturday’s alternate-shot matches.
Furyk has made a few questionable choices. But there is only so much he can do. Furyk took Patrick Reed off the course Friday afternoon, and Reed apparently enjoyed it so much he kept hitting his drives there Saturday morning. Captain America apparently does not travel well.
This was unfortunate for Reed’s partner, a gentleman named Tiger Woods, who was basically left to win his fourball match against Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood by himself. For a while, it looked like Woods might actually do it. But then his tee shot on 11 was two feet short of perfect and rolled back down a hill, and Molinari’s tee shot there was perfect, and Woods hit one of those lousy drives on 12 that makes him refer to himself in the Third Cat: “Come on, Tiger!” Molinari and Fleetwood won, 4 and 3.
Woods gets Molinari again Saturday afternoon. That’s the same Molinari who beat him at the British, and who beat him and Reed in Friday morning fourball. At this point, Tiger probably doesn’t know if he should make some birdies or file for a restraining order.
This time, though, Woods gets to play with Bryson DeChambeau, who can’t possibly play worse than Reed has. (Uh, right?) Johnson and Koepka will play together, which they probably should have been doing in fourball, though Koepka and Tony Finau played OK in going 1-1 in the two morning sessions.
You can argue that the Americans can still turn this around, but right now, well …. Shhhhh.