SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, FRANCE | Could Sunday be Phil Mickelson’s final Ryder Cup match?
It’s easy to think so.
He’s 48 years old and in line to be a future captain (think 2022 or 2024). Of more immediate concern is the fact that Mickelson is in search of his missing form.
Mickelson sat out both sessions Saturday and for good reason.
He and Bryson DeChambeau got steamrolled Friday afternoon and Mickelson hit it all over the lot. Captain Jim Furyk could not have liked telling Mickelson to stay on the sidelines but it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t afford to send him back out with no faith he could consistently hit fairways.
It’s not the first time it’s happened. Tom Watson kept Mickelson out of both Saturday sessions four years ago at Gleneagles. It’s easy to say Mickelson’s 21 Ryder Cup losses are the most of any player but remember he’s played in more matches than any player in history. His impact reaches beyond the golf course.
This Ryder Cup is a blowout when it comes to how the captain’s picks are playing.
On the European side, Ian Poulter, Sergio García, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey are a combined 6-3.
The American picks, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau, are 1-7.
Captain America has gone missing.
Patrick Reed has lost both matches he’s played – two four-ball matches with Tiger Woods – and too often he has looked like a man who has no idea where the ball is going.
In his Saturday match, Reed hit a tee shot out of bounds at No. 7 and semi-shanked an iron shot off the 13th tee into a hazard, leaving Woods to play one against two at times. Reed made just one birdie and was left out of foursomes play both afternoons.
Europe found an ideal course – Le Golf National – to accentuate its strengths in this Ryder Cup.
That’s one of the advantages of being the host. If you want a tight, unforgiving layout, it’s your prerogative. That’s why Hazeltine two years ago was perfect for the U.S. team.
The American side is stacked with bombers but their strength has been neutralized by the course design and their accuracy issues have been exposed here. With García, Casey, Poulter, Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe can fit its lineup to the setup better than the U.S. side.
Given the situation the U.S. faces going into Sunday singles, there’s no time to play safe. That makes the challenge of mounting a successful comeback even more daunting for the Americans.
Among the shrewd moves made by European captain Thomas Bjørn was putting Rory McIlroy with Poulter and García after his flat first match with Thorbjørn Olesen.
McIlroy looked adrift at the outset, like there was a hangover from his disappointing finish at the Tour Championship, but he came to life with Poulter on Friday afternoon.
It continued Saturday morning with García, when McIlroy holed a mile of putts to key his pairing’s four-ball victory against Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau.
McIlroy seemed to take emotional energy from Poulter and García and it was transformative, not just for him but for this Ryder Cup, even though he and Poulter were beaten Saturday afternoon.
Is there a more classic match-play moment than what happened at the par-3 second hole in the García/Alex Norén pairing’s foursomes match against Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson?
They halved the hole – with triple bogeys.
The Americans made their six with two water balls, the first hit by Watson, the second by Simpson. Watson finally got their third swing on the green and Simpson made a long putt that seemed meaningless at the moment.
That’s until Norén, who hit the Europeans’ initial tee shot in the water, chunked a chip shot from the front edge. That left García with a long putt he missed and the mess was complete – with no damage to either side.