ROME, ITALY | Did you really think the second day of the Ryder Cup could not possibly be as captivating as the first when many Europe players, most notably Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy, played the golf of their lives to propel Europe into a lead of five points overnight, 6½-1½?
Did you really think that after failing to win any of the four foursomes and four four-balls matches on Friday (the Americans’ 1½ points were made up of three halved matches) that the proud U.S. team that had looked so impressive on paper would not fight back on the second day? It took until the afternoon four-balls before that happened, but then the U.S. gave real visible evidence of a dogged spirit and won that quartet of games by three matches to one.
Even so, this morning the Ryder Cup lies only inches from the grasp of Luke Donald, Europe’s captain. The scoreline with 12 singles to be played today at Marco Simone Golf Club is 10½-5½. Never before has Europe led by such a large margin. The previous record was 10-6 at The Country Club in Brookline in 1999. Europe needs four points to regain the trophy that they last held after victory in Paris in 2018 and continue the doleful run by the U.S. of not having won this event overseas since Tom Watson’s team did so at The Belfry in 1993.
“Certainly they grabbed some momentum at the end,” Donald said after play. “I’m not going to say they didn’t. But we are in a great position, five points ahead going into the singles at home. I like where we are. I like the feelings in the locker room.”
A puzzle at this, the 44th Ryder Cup, has been the poor form by the U.S. team. Or is that explained by the outstanding golf by the European team? Whichever explanation is settled on, it took until the afternoon four-balls of Saturday, which was the fourth series of four matches, before the U.S. won a series.
First, Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa defeated Hovland, and Ludvig Åberg, a partnership that had won its morning foursomes against Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka by the astonishing score of 9 and 7. Then Max Homa and Brian Harman, two heroes for the U.S., beat Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Højgaard, 2 and 1.
Justin Rose, at 43 the oldest player on either side, shepherded Bob MacIntyre, a debutant, to a 3-and-2 victory that they will remember for a long time over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas to stem the surging U.S. fightback. At times, Rose’s putting had to be seen to be believed. “He’s a fighter, all right” Anne Rose, his mother, said of the redoubtable play by her son.
On occasions, MacIntyre needed to do little more than stand and admire his partner’s sorcery on the greens. After victory on the 16th, the left-handed Scot clambered up the hill leading to the 17th tee and fell into the arms of his mother. “Oh, darling, darling,” she said through her tears. “Well done.”
It was left to Patrick Cantlay and Wyndham Clark to bring a little respectability to the point total of the U.S. Cantlay is fast assuming the role of pantomime villain to the home crowd. He has the build of a light-heavyweight boxer, the demeanour of a bank official, the steady tread of a church celebrant and an imperturbability that has to be seen to be believed. The spectators mocked him for not wearing a head covering of any sort. “Where’s your hat, Patrick?” they chanted and at times waved their own hats and visors, but if they thought that might put Cantlay off, they were mistaken.
The more the spectators shouted, the more he smiled to himself. In this, he was reminiscent of Brian Harman, his countryman and fellow team member and Open champion, on his way to winning the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool two months ago. “If you want to annoy me, be nice to me,” Harman said, shrugging off some obvious taunts. Cantlay is cut from the same cloth. Again and again he did what was necessary either to halve a hole against Europe’s two major champions or win one.
He and Clark were 1 down playing the 17th, only for Cantlay to hit a magnificent iron shot at the par-3 and sink the putt for a birdie to win the hole and then to birdie the par-5 18th as well. Result? Victory for the U.S. by one hole, never having led up to that point.
There had been rumours all afternoon that Cantlay was making a statement of protest against the perceived lack of satisfactory payment to the U.S. players by not wearing a cap and by generally being his own man in the American team. He did not wear one at Whistling Straits in the 2011 Ryder Cup nor at last year’s Presidents Cup. One explanation, regarded as risible, was that he didn’t want a visible tan line on his head when he reportedly gets married in Rome on Monday. Another is that he has a large head and might have had difficulty in finding a hat capable of fitting him.
A discordant note in an otherwise fiercely but friendly competitive day was struck as McIlroy and Fitzpatrick concluded their match against Cantlay and Clark. It seems that McIlroy took offence at Joe LaCava, Cantlay’s caddie, waving his hat unnecessarily close to McIlroy, and the two men almost got into a scuffle as McIlroy was about to leave the grounds.
“Obviously I was there on 18,” Donald said. “I saw it unfold when Patrick made that putt. Joe was waving his hat. Obviously there was some hat-waving going on throughout the day from the crowd. Talked to Rory. He politely asked Joe to move aside. He was in his line of vision. He stood there and didn’t move for a while and continued to wave the hat, so I think Rory was upset about that.”
After the first day’s play, Zach Johnson was asked what he thought had gone wrong for his team. After making an extraordinary statement of confidence in his own team, Johnson said: “I tip my cap to the Europeans. They played better.”
Overall, Europe has outplayed its opponent, but even as large of a lead as the hosts hold going into the last day is not secure until the last putt is holed. Today’s third and final day is going to be exciting.
Today’s singles matches
(all times EDT)
5:35 a.m. – Scottie Scheffler (U.S.) vs. Jon Rahm (Europe)
5:47 a.m. – Collin Morikawa (U.S.) vs. Viktor Hovland (Europe)
5:59 a.m. – Patrick Cantlay (U.S.) vs. Justin Rose (Europe)
6:11 a.m. – Sam Burns (U.S.) vs. Rory McIlroy (Europe)
6:23 a.m. – Max Homa (U.S.) vs. Matt Fitzpatrick (Europe)
6:35 a.m. – Brian Harman (U.S.) vs. Tyrrell Hatton (Europe)
6:47 a.m. – Brooks Koepka (U.S.) vs. Ludvig Åberg (Europe)
6:59 a.m. – Justin Thomas (U.S.) vs. Sepp Straka (Europe)
7:11 a.m. – Xander Schauffele (U.S.) vs. Nicolai Højgaard (Europe)
7:23 a.m. – Jordan Spieth (U.S.) vs. Shane Lowry (Europe)
7:35 a.m. – Rickie Fowler (U.S.) vs. Tommy Fleetwood (Europe)
7:47 a.m. – Wyndham Clark (U.S.) vs. Robert MacIntyre (Europe)
Fans wave their hats at Patrick Cantlay during the Saturday afternoon fourball matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup. (Patrick Smith, Getty Images)
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