SHEBOYGAN, Wis.—Tiger Woods isn’t at the Ryder Cup this week but Saturday night here at Whistling Straits feels like a lot of Saturday nights in the early 2000s when Tiger held the lead in major championships.
Five bucks says I can shorten that sentence to two words:
It’s over. (Now pay up.)
The American team keeps surprising with its grit and clutch putting and ability to finish off matches, all things it never used to excel at. The European team keeps surprising with its lack of clutch play, missed putts and inability to steal a point, all things that used to be habits.
It’s a new day in the Ryder Cup, unless this is an alternative universe or a lactose-induced nightmare in America’s Dairyland.
This seems like the real thing. The Americans lead going into Sunday’s singles, 11–5. No team has ever come back from a deficit worse than 10–6. The U.S. did it at Brookline in 1999 and the Euros pulled it off at Medinah in 2012.
But six points back? The Americans aren’t going to budge. Not even a dozen Jean Van de Velde’s could punt this Ryder Cup into a Carnoustie burn. Not even a dozen Michael Jordans can hit seven-point shots at the buzzer to pull this one out for Europe. To win this, the Euros will have to do something that’s never been done. Like climb Mt. Everest in a bikini.
The six-point lead going into singles is the Americans’ largest since 1975, when it didn’t play Europe, it played GB&I. (That’s Great Britain & Ireland, Packers fans, not Green Bay & Iola.)
Calling this American win on Saturday night is not like going out on a limb. It’s like predicting California will vote Democratic in a Presidential election. The Americans have too many players in great form and Europe has far too few.
The U.S. team has plenty of heroes. Let’s start with the new super-team that Captain Steve Stricker found—Dustin Johnson with anyone but preferably Collin Morikawa, the Open Championship winner. Johnson and Morikawa went 3–0, winning a foursomes match Friday and sweeping in foursomes and four-balls Saturday.
Did anyone forget Johnson was No. 1 in the world for a long spell? Now he’s No. 2 in the world and Morikawa is No. 3. Credit Stricker for creating the pairing but it wasn’t really that hard. Johnson hits it as long as anyone and reasonably straight, Morikawa is the game’s best iron player. Good luck beating that duo.
The U.S. had a foursomes problem before. Not anymore. Now Europe does.
Johnson had an unimpressive 7–8 Ryder Cup record thanks to a dismal 1–4 performance three years ago in France. He missed the 2014 Cup in Scotland because he took a sabbatical from golf for personal health reasons — read into that what you will. He’s 11–8 now and it would be an upset if anyone other than Rahm wants to face him in singles.
“Everything’s been working for Dustin,” said Morikawa, who is 3–0 in his first Ryder Cup. “You’re not going to go 4–0 and play 36, 36, playing bad golf. You’re going to hit a few bad shots but that’s what a partner is for.
“What makes DJ and I a great pairing is we play similar games and think the same and just keep moving the ball forward. DJ is an amazing player. I’ve said it all week and I’m going to keep saying it.”
Johnson and Morikawa were 3 up through three holes in their morning foursomes match with Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, expanded the lead to 4 up by the turn and survived a late rally by the Euros to win 2 & 1. Morikawa made three straight birdies starting at the sixth in the afternoon foursomes match against Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter and never lost that lead, winning 4 & 3.
If it’s possible to be a long-time No. 1 in the world with 24 wins, two of them majors, and be underrated, Johnson is your man. He is underrated because when he plays well, he makes it look so darned easy.
Stricker found another super-team for foursomes in Xander Schauffele, your Olympic gold medalist, and Patrick Cantlay, the Player of the Year. They swept a pair of foursomes matches. Combine them with Johnson and Morikawa and foursomes looks like an American strength for the foreseeable future.
Schauffele and Cantlay were all square through eight holes Saturday morning, then turned it on by winning three straight and taking control en route to a 2 & 1 win.
Let’s get back to Sunday’s singles outlook. The Europeans have to go 9–3 to salvage a 14–14 tie, which would be good enough to retain possession of the cup and after the disastrous past two days, would seem like a glorious victory.
The Euros have suffered a confidence crisis. The only players to win matches are Rahm and Garcia, Lowry and Hatton. The other eight guys are pitching shutouts. That’s the lineup that’s going to go 9-3 on Sunday? You may as well pick the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates lineup to knock a young Sandy Koufax out of the box in the fourth inning. It’s not happening and if it does, the Miracle at Brookline and the Miracle at Medinah will seem as ho-hum as a Sears catalogue.
What’s left Sunday is a loud party. Wisconsin fans may vent some of their frustrations at their beloved University of Wisconsin Badger getting trounced Saturday by Notre Dame. That game was originally scheduled to be played in Lambeau Field in Green Bay but moved to Chicago’s Soldier Field because of the Ryder Cup.
The only thing left to be discovered is who gets the honor of winning the point that clinches the Ryder Cup. That’s a big deal for Europeans, who count winning this event as a major. The names of Paul McGinley, Graeme McDowell, Francesco Molinari and Colin Montgomerie, among others, are legend.
Sunday it will be an American’s turn even if Johnson isn’t ready to risk saying so. He was a member of Davis Love’s 2012 team that held a 10–4 lead late Saturday and ended up losing the cup.
“You know, it’s not over,” Johnson said. “We’ve still got to go out and everybody needs to play well. We’ve still got to get, what—four points? Or three and a half? It’s not over.”
That’s exactly what Stricker wants every American player to believe going into Sunday, that every player needs to win his point. That focus and intensity is how Cups are won.
So it’s not over… but it’s over.