Europe’s landmark surge leaves Furyk praying for a miracle
Bjorn’s men march on to set up four-point lead Americans begin inquest as selections backfire
If the Ryder Cup is to fail to return into Europe’s custody for the fourth time in five matches this evening, then America will have to stage its own version of the Miracle of Medinah. Yet on all known evidence provided here so far that seems a phenomenon too far. Call it “The Irrational at Le Golf National”.
On a record-breaking day for Thomas Bjorn’s team, Jim Furyk felt relieved that history, at least, gives the Americans some sort of chance. The US, themselves, came back from the same deficit to win in Brookline in notorious fashion in 1999 and, of course, Europe overhauled the fourpoint margin in 2012.
That Chicago resurrection has to be the blueprint for Furyk, simply because of the fact they are away – but then, blue might not be the US captain’s go-to colour at the moment.
Furyk had to watch Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari win their fourth match in a row and so become the first Europeans to do this in history.
Indeed, only Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins had ever before gone 4-0 as a pair before and that was back in 1979.
Nelson is the only player to win five in five in a Ryder Cup and that gives the incredible “Moliwood” pair something else to aim for. Fleetwood can already claim to have tied Thomas Pieters as Europe’s greatest debutant and the fact he can boast that he beat Tiger Woods three times out of three surely gives him the edge. Another 100 per cent Ryder Cup disaster for Woods.
Was it not supposed to be different this time? Was he not supposed to be the great individual – with his dramatic comeback win in Atlanta last Sunday – who had at last found the secret of how to play intense team matchplay with another human alongside him?
Staggeringly, this was his eighth losing Ryder Cup match in a row in the pairs. If it is possible, Woods seems more of a loner than ever.
“I lost three matches, and didn’t feel like I played poorly and that’s the frustrating thing about the Ryder Cup,” Woods said, not looking or sounding at all like his recent self. “I’m just pretty p----- off.”
He had every right to be, not least because in overall defeat he may have to witness his enemy Sergio Garcia be hailed as the greatest of all time.
The Spaniard is now officially the second best Ryder Cup player as, courtesy of his and Rory McIlroy’s 2&1 fourballs win over Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, he moved to 24½pts.
That is only half a point behind Sir Nick Faldo and if he sees off Rickie Fowler in today’s singles – which Furyk has predictably front-loaded – then Garcia will top the list. To think. Bjorn was roundly criticised for se- the 2017 Masters champion as a wild card.
But all these individual marks will ultimately be granted minor league status in the team room, compared to the collective performance, should Europe force their way over a line which many thought would be beyond them.
There was plenty of talk coming in of this US team – searching for their first win on away soil for 25 years – being the finest to have traversed the Atlantic since the 1981 crowd of major winners who mopped up at Walton Heath. But, in the event, not even the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Ray Floyd conjured a running burst of form in the style of Bjorn’s heroes.
From the last fourball on Friday morning – at which stage, do not forget, they were 3-0 down – until the third fourball yesterday, Europe won every match – eight in succession.
Only the 1967 Americans launched such a devastating tear and, with respect, this opposition is far more impressive. Furyk should get down on his knees and give thanks for Jordan Spilecting eth and, in particular, the inspired firsttimer Justin Thomas because they halted that tide of blue at lunchtime by beating Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm 2&1.
Yes, they stopped the rot, but Le Golf National still threatens to topple in on the Americans.
The American media have already started the inquest, shining the spotlight on Furyk’s pairings. Nobody blamed him for benching Phil Mickelson for the whole of yesterday, but still he persevered with some of his leftfield pairings for the morning fourballs, including Dustin Johnson and Fowler, beaten 3&2 by Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton and Woods and Reed, beaten 4&3 by “Moliwood”.
Casey shed tears when he and his rookie prevailed, having recorded his first win for Europe in 10 years. It must have felt like the old days of 2004 and 2006, when Casey was a youngster making his first two appearances and Europe routs – or “Eurouts” as they became known – were commonplace.
He revealed the last time he had cried was watching a film and so the video nasty promised to roll on for the Americans. Beaten 3-1 in their pre-
ferred fourballs, they went on to the foursomes, in which they were whitewashed 4-0 on Friday. Would Sunday even be necessary, bar the formalities?
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson caused something of a shock by defeating Garcia and Alex Noren 3 & 2 and those proud bearers of the US resilience, Spieth and Thomas, beat McIlroy and Poulter 4&3. That has handed the Americans the barest trace of a pulse and they will still flock here today in apprehension. What the majority would give for a Saturday replay.
As ever in the Ryder Cup, there were some bizarre moments. There were 19 balls lost in the water in the fourballs and, in the afternoon, Garcia and Noren managed to halve the third hole with a triple-bogey six.
There was ugly stuff, too. McIlroy suddenly swivelled on his ankles after holing a putt and yelled at someone in the crowd, with the final riposte “F--- off, come on!”.
It summed up America’s Saturday, it summed up their Ryder Cup to this point. They need a miracle. And Europe merely crave the mundane but the glorious.
Hitting back: Rory McIlroy makes his feelings clear to the fan who claimed he ‘can’t putt’; (above, from top) Paul Casey hides his face after breaking down in tears on winning his first Ryder Cup match in 10 years; Tiger Woods struggles and Justin Thomas leads the US fightback