SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – (Staff Report) – The “super pairing” of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood completed a perfect record in group play Saturday to lead Europe to a dominating 10-6 lead at the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris. Europe needs only 4 1/2 points out of Sunday’s 12 singles matches to win back the Cup and extend the United States’ 25-year drought on foreign soil for at least another four years.
The Italian-English duo became the first European pairing to go 4-0-0 in a single Ryder Cup, and in the process sent Tiger Woods to his seventh consecutive loss in group play.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” said Molinari. “All the records are for nothing if we don’t win the Cup back tomorrow. There’s a job to be done still, and we’re going to do it.”
The United States will need to win eight of the 12 singles matches Sunday to retain the Cup they won at Hazeltine in Minnesota two years ago.
“Obviously, we would like to be in the lead. But I like really this team,” said Jordan Spieth. “If we have any team that’s down four, this one can do it.”
After the Americans opened Friday’s fourball with three consecutive victories, Europe finally got on the board with Molinari and Fleetwood rallying to take down Woods and Patrick Reed. That provided the spark that began a streak of eight consecutive points for the Euros, capped by Molinari and Fleetwood dominating the Woods-Reed pairing again 4&3 in Saturday morning’s fourballs.
U.S. captain Jim Furyk attempted to recapture the momentum by sending out the same pairings from the first session, but the Europeans kept their foot on the gas with victories by Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy (2&1) over Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka, and Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton (3&2) over the disappointing Dustin Johnson-Rickie Fowler pairing.
Then came the buzzsaw of Molinari-Fleetwood, who improved to 3-0-0 with their second win over Woods and Reed.
Spieth and Justin Thomas finally stopped the bleeding with a 2&1 win over Jon Rahm and Ian Poulter. But the U.S. entered the afternoon foursomes trailing 8-4 and needing to mount a rally to put some pressure back on the Europeans entering Sunday.
With three of the matches seeing multiple-hole leads at the turn, and the U.S. leading comfortably in two, the onus was on Johnson and Koepka to come from behind against Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. The Americans cut the lead to one after Koepka stuck his approach to concession range on No. 15, but Johnson was unable to even the match with a birdie opportunity on the next hole.
Johnson then yanked his drive well left on No. 17 while Rose split the fairway, and Johnson compounded the issue with a poor chip. Moments after Molinari and Fleetwood closed out their match to give Europe a 9-4 lead, Stenson drained a clutch par putt and Koepka was unable to force the match to the 18th hole when his par attempt slid right of the cup.
That improved Rose and Stenson’s Ryder Cup record together to 6-2, and gave the Euros their 10th point in 11 matches.
Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson got the U.S. on the board in the afternoon with a 3&2 win over Garcia and Alex Noren.
“We stepped back and looked at it, and you’re trying to tell yourself that you’re not playing bad golf, and we didn’t,” said Watson, who lost to McIlroy and Poulter on Friday afternoon. “I didn’t see that we did anything wrong, they just made the putts. So we switched things up today.”
The Americans then gained a critical point with Spieth draining a birdie on No. 15 playing with his buddy Thomas to close out the European anchor team of McIlroy and Poulter. In the process, Spieth and Thomas became just the fourth American pair to win three points over the first two days of a Ryder Cup since 1979.
“I think most important right now is that we’re playing some pretty good golf,” said Thomas. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing with one of your best friends or one of your worst enemies. If you don’t play well, you’re not going to win matches.
“It was awesome.”
Being the anchor pairing for the United States and knowing Europe had already won two afternoon matches ahead of them, Spieth and Thomas knew the pressure was on.
“Our match was big. We knew that we needed a win to stay four points down going into singles, and we did,” said Spieth, who added that the U.S. needed ‘to figure out’ the team format. “And I feel like our team in singles is very solid. I think if we were able to play all 12 guys against their 12 guys, this would be a different scenario.”
Spieth pounded his chest four times after his clinching putt dropped to close out the day, and he admitted it was in response to a similar show of emotion by Poulter earlier in the day.
“You know, Ian being a Ryder Cup guru and to have him twice today, he pounded his chest on us earlier today. So I was waiting for the right moment,” said Spieth. “And I think to win the match this afternoon felt like the right time.
“Clearly, we’re down four points, so in the scheme of things we shouldn’t necessarily be celebrating. But for us to get that point, and the way that we played today and the battle we had with those guys both matches … it was emotional, and it was awesome.
“It feels like you’re competing on a Sunday of a major every single hole during a Ryder Cup.”
Europe will still enter Sunday with a commanding lead, but at least the Americans know that the Molinari-Fleetwood locomotive will be split up.
“You don’t know what to expect,” Fleetwood said of his first Ryder Cup. “You can prepare and plan for it, but on both sides this year there are a good set of rookies. Fran has led me so well, he deserves so much credit. It’s been such an honor to play alongside him, to be honest.”
There is history on both sides of teams rallying from similar deficits entering singles. The United States did it at Brookline, Mass. in 1999 while the Europeans staged a comeback from a 10-6 hole in winning the “Miracle at Medinah” in Illinois in 2012.
“It’s nothing crazy,” said Thomas. “As cliche as it is, we just need to win a lot of matches.
“We just need to, I think, stay within ourselves and not go outside of our comfort zone and try to force anything. Whatever is meant to be is going to happen.”
NOTES: The largest lead entering Sunday’s singles matches was six points by Europe in 1979. … Phil Mickelson sat out both sessions for the United States on Saturday.
–Field Level Media