Alternate-shot sweep helps lift Americans to 5-3 lead
Amid catcalls, Europe falters, then gains ground in best-ball matches
CHASKA, MINN. — The moment that crystallized the Friday morning matches in the Ryder Cup came beside the 18th green.
Phil Mickelson, the symbol of this new-age U.S. team, had slapped it around at Hazeltine National, hitting drives in places the members barely recognized. But partner Rickie Fowler had bailed him out, and the pair rallied for a 1-up victory over Euro-stud Rory McIlroy and rookie Andy Sullivan.
“I played a little tight,” Mickelson said. “My man here [Fowler] got the best out of me.”
The Americans won all four alternateshot matches, marking their first sweep of the first Ryder Cup session since 1975. Perfectly appropriate, considering how they had strolled past Arnold Palmer’s golf bag from the1975 Ryder Cup on the way to the first tee.
But then it flipped in the afternoon, with Europe winning three of four best-ball matches.
The moment that reflected the turnaround came with few people watching. Sullivan was sitting in a golf cart near the ninth tee, observing the whupping that McIlroy and University of Illinois alumnus Thomas Pieters were putting on Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Sullivan’s shoes were off. His feet, covered by dark socks, were propped up.
“The boys are making it very easy watching for me,” he told a fellow Europe supporter.
So the U.S. leads 5-3, which sounds pretty nice. But you might recall that the Yanks led by the same margin after Friday at Medinah in 2012. We all know how that turned out.
“We ran into a buzz saw [in the afternoon],” U.S. captain Davis Love III said. “Our guys still played well. I’m proud of them for fighting.”
Brandt Snedeker and Ryder Cup rookie Brooks Koepka combined for the Americans’ only afternoon victory, a 5-and-4 takedown of Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer. Willett took some grief for a column written by his brother, P.J., who satirically called American fans “a baying mob of imbeciles ... pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey.’ ”
A few wise guys among the 50,000-plus crowd indeed shouted “Baba booey” at Willett, whowas unfazed. He shot 2 under on the front while Kaymer scuffled.
The afternoon match everyone figured would go red (i.e. for the U.S.) was the Johnson-Kuchar combo. They toyed with Pieters and Lee Westwood in the morning, building a 5-up lead after eight holes.
But the magic left them after lunch. Not even the presence of Tiger Woods could help
Woods, one of Love’s five vice captains, was stone-faced while walking with Johnson and Kuchar — and while riding in a golf cart with recording artist Darius Rucker.
“C’mon, Tiger, leadership!” one fan shouted.
“Gotta get that Mach3!” another shouted to the bearded Woods.
With Woods observing, several of Johnson’s approach shots were dismal. And Kuchar couldn’t make a putt.
The hatless tandem of McIlroy and Pieters, meanwhile, enjoyed a five-hole stretch of alternating birdies.
“Nice hat, Rory!” a man shouted sarcastically.
Europe’s top gun replied with a thumbs-up. And after he sank a matchending eagle putt on No. 16, he turned to the raucous American fans and bowed. Twice.
“I just want to let people know how much it means to us,” said McIlroy, calling the atmosphere “incredible.”
The Euros have won six of the last seven Ryder Cups, and after a 161⁄ 111/2 drubbing in Scotland in 2014, Mickelson called out captain Tom Watson for not giving players enough input on issues of preparation and pairings.