Al­ter­nate-shot sweep helps lift Amer­i­cans to 5-3 lead

Amid cat­calls, Europe fal­ters, then gains ground in best-ball matches

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Teddy Green­stein

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.

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