- Stranger things have happened in Ryder Cup history, but coming back from a four-point deficit against this European team will be no small feat for the U.S.
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — We never learn, do we? We never, ever learn. We look at all the American names near the top of the Official World Golf Rankings and think it portends U.S. dominance in the Ryder Cup. We think major victories mean Ryder Cup success. And Europeans just keep laughing and pointing to the scoreboard.
That scoreboard currently reads Europe 10, United States 6, and that’s not an official butt-kicking yet, but brace yourselves, America, because Europe’s foot is heading your way again. Europe has won eight of the last 11 Ryder Cups. America has its big-name task force and intelligence system and it knows what it’s doing now, but all that really did was make this a fair fight.
This was obvious as Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood won their fourth straight match. Fleetwood is a Ryder Cup rookie, but he understands exactly what it takes to win Ryder Cups matches, because he is European and they just know. Fleetwood and Molinari have been in captain Thomas Bjorn’s ear for months about playing together. (The nickname people keep throwing around is Moliwood, but as a nod to Molinari’s nickname of “Kiko,” I prefer Kiko and The Man. )
Maybe you’re surprised. Bjorn is not. As Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson tried to solidify Europe’s 10th point on the 17th green, Bjorn sat on a golf cart in the 17th fairway, watching on a big screen. Rose and Stenson led Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka (world No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, we point out with a shrug) by one hole. Rose grabbed his 52-degree wedge and tried to chip it close. His chipping has been the strength of his game all week, and he didn’t give enough thought to what might happen if he went past the hole. He left Stenson a daunting comeback.
Stenson drained it. Koepka missed a shorter one.
The crowd roared, but Bjorn barely moved. He gingerly walked up to the green and gave his hugs, but he was understated. Intentionally or not, the charismatic European captain sent a message: This is not over.
The Europeans know how this works, better than anybody. As Rose stood off to the side of the 17th green after he and Stenson won their match, he did not need to consult history. He lived it. He remembers the Ryder Cup at Medinah in 2012, when Europe came back from a 10–6 deficit and won.
“It was 10–4 at Medinah, we won the last two points on the course: 10–6,” Rose said, as he looked up at a screen. “These two points give them a shot tomorrow.”
Bjorn said later: “Greedy? No. I will never, ever get greedy against an American side at a Ryder Cup.”
It’s not over, but the Sunday pairings don’t give much reason for optimism. One of the worst golfers on the course this week, Phil Mickelson, must play the best, Molinari. Bubba Watson played well Saturday, but he will be a severe underdog to ball-striking machine Stenson.
U.S. Captain Jim Furyk will send out his hottest golfer, Justin Thomas, first, and follow with six guys who have played at least moderately well: Koepka, Johnson, Webb Simpson, Tiger Woods, Tony Finau and Jordan Spieth. The Americans need to follow the formula that worked for them in 1999 at The Country Club, and for Europe at Medinah, and no other time in history: Get hot early Sunday put pressure on the other team, and come back from a four-point deficit.
“We want to get off to a fast start tomorrow,” Furyk said. “That’s key, that’s imperative.”
So is making putts. The Americans missed shorter ones all day. There is no clear and definitive reason for that, but we can say this: there are no signs of dissent or unhappiness on the American team. Mickelson took his benching well. He supported his teammates and even let Thomas and Spieth rub his belly for good luck. Reed may be mad he had to sit, but he is probably madder that he deserved it. Koepka, who so often seems like a lone wolf on tour, meshed well with his partners Johnson and Finau.
That closeness and commitment we have been praising the U.S. for is legit. The problem is, the Europeans are at least as close, just as committed, and damn good. Beating that team would be one hell of an accomplishment—Sunday, and in any Ryder Cup.