Europe takes on Amer­ica on the fi­nal day at Hazel­tine

Malta Independent - - SPORTS -

The Amer­i­cans are mak­ing all the right moves in this Ryder Cup. Even Tiger Woods.

Europe was rid­ing the mo­men­tum as it inched within one point Satur­day at Hazel­tine. US cap­tain Davis Love III heard con­flict­ing ideas on the ra­dio and by text mes­sage from his assistant cap­tains, all of them weigh­ing in with the best lineup for the fi­nal ses­sion of team matches. The ques­tion was Pa­trick Reed and Jor­dan Spi­eth, the only Amer­i­cans who had yet to sit out.

“I fi­nally just said to Tiger, ‘Are we play­ing them or are we sit­ting them?’ He said, ‘No, you have to send them back out there,’” Love said.

Reed de­liv­ered an­other mo­ment sure to bur­nish his growing Ryder Cup rep­u­ta­tion.

He was at his bullish best in the an­chor match with Jor­dan Spi­eth, tak­ing over with great shots and chest-thump­ing cheers that set the tone for his team and put the Amer­i­cans on the verge — again — of win­ning back the cup.

“He’s Cap­tain Amer­ica for us,” Spi­eth said af­ter their 2-and-1 vic­tory over Hen­rik Sten­son and Justin Rose, se­cur­ing a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead.

The Amer­i­cans need only five points from 12 sin­gles matches to win the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008, and only the third time in the last two decades.

Their big­gest chal­lenge now might be his­tory.

They led 10-6 four years ago at Me­d­i­nah when Europe put to­gether a stag­ger­ing dis­play of putting and pro­duced the largest come­back by a vis­it­ing team in Ryder Cup his­tory. The Euro­peans re­fer to that as the “Mir­a­cle at Me­d­i­nah,” and they might need an­other one Sun­day.

The rau­cous and at times rude crowd at Hazel­tine won’t have to wait long to get fired up.

Lead­ing off the sin­gles is Reed against Rory McIl­roy, who along with Bel­gian rookie Thomas Pi­eters has done his part to keep Europe close. McIl­roy and Pi­eters were un­de­feated as a tan­dem, com­bin­ing to go 11-un­der par in 17 holes of a 3-and-1 vic­tory over Dustin John­son and Brooks Koepka, the lone Euro­pean point in four­balls.

McIl­roy shouted “C’MON!” with ev­ery putt, even star­ing at the crowd and dar­ing them to hurl in­sults, boo or throw any­thing else his way.

“It’s a tough environment for us to come and play in. We ex­pect that,” McIl­roy said. “It’s same for the US guys when they come to play in Europe. You have to keep your con­cen­tra­tion out there. It’s been a long day and some­times emo­tions run high . ... The more they shouted, the bet­ter we played.

“I hope they shout at us all day to­mor­row.”

Euro­pean cap­tain Dar­ren Clarke de­scribed the open­ing sin­gles match as “mouth­wa­ter­ing” for the crowd.

“I know for a fact that he can’t wait to get on that tee to­mor­row morn­ing,” Clarke said.

Most painful for Clarke was watch­ing his best friend and cap­tain’s pick, Lee West­wood, miss cru­cial short putts on the back nine to cost Europe a valu­able point.

West­wood and Mas­ters cham­pion Danny Wil­lett never trailed un­til they both made bo­gey on the par-3 17th. West­wood missed a 5-foot par putt to stay all square, and then with a chance to at least earn a halve, he badly missed a 2-foot birdie on the fi­nal hole to give J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore a 1-up vic­tory.

Phil Mick­el­son, in his 11th straight Ryder Cup, showed he can de­liver on the golf course as well as he can run a task force meet­ing. Lefty pro­duced timely wedges and key putts down the stretch as he and Matt Kuchar com­bined for nine birdies in a 2and-1 vic­tory over Ser­gio Gar­cia and Martin Kaymer.

The fi­nal hour turned solid red on the score­board, right when it looked like a putt or two in Europe’s fa­vor could have made it a one-point deficit in­stead of three.

Now, Europe needs an­other big come­back.

Rose and Sten­son had a fron­trow seat to an ex­hi­bi­tion by Reed, who whipped the crowd into even more of a frenzy than it al­ready showed. One down af­ter four holes, Reed played the next four holes in 5 un­der, in­clud­ing a wedge he holed from the sixth fair­way for ea­gle, win­ning them all for a 3-up lead.

Their vic­tory was even more im­por­tant con­sid­er­ing they let a sure point get away in four­somes Satur­day morn­ing, lead­ing 4 up with six holes to play un­til Gar­cia and Rafa Cabr­era Bello ral­lied to earn a halve. Europe only trailed by one point go­ing into the af­ter­noon.

Love said there was no need to bring up Me­d­i­nah in the team room Satur­day night. This whole process has been about look­ing for­ward and start­ing over.

Europe’s Rory McIl­roy in ac­tion

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