Europe will go into Sunday’s singles matches needing only four and a half points from a possible 12 to regain the Ryder Cup after dominating a sun-kissed Saturday at Le Golf National.
Leading 5-3 overnight, Europe came out charging on another crisp, clear-blue French morning to take three points from four in the morning’s fourballs and establish an 8-4 lead, just 24 hours after being 3-0 down.
Inspired by the brilliant partnership between Open champion Francesco Molinari and debutant Tommy Fleetwood, Thomas Bjorn’s men then secured two of the four points on offer in the afternoon to hold a 10-6 lead.
Molinari and Fleetwood’s 54 foursomes victory over Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau meant they have now won all four of their matches together – a European record – here on the outskirts of Paris, while Woods was once again a slow-moving imitation of the renaissance man who won the Tour Championship in such spectacular fashion a week ago.
US skipper Jim Furyk was grateful for the performance of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who took the solitary American point in the morning as they beat Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm 21, then came back to comfortably defeat Poulter and Rory McIlroy 43 in the afternoon.
But once again too many US players were too loose off the tee and too aggressive with their approaches, Furyk at times left looking on in blank-faced disbelief as his team of star names and major winners failed to cope with the challenging but never vindictive course set-up.
The US came into this Ryder Cup as favourites, hunting their first win on foreign soil in 25 years. But with 14½ points required to win back the trophy, European captain Bjorn knows his team now have a wonderful chance.
Only twice in the previous 41 stagings of this biennial event have a team come from four points down coming into the final day singles to win – the US at Brookline in 1999 and Europe at Medinah six years ago.
‘Moliwood’ magic drives Europe on
This is Fleetwood’s first Ryder Cup, while Molinari’s track record in the competition was unexceptional – just half a point won in 2010 and the same again in 2012.
But in partnership the Lancastrian and the Italian have been indomitable, driving each other on, their games complementing each other, their successes ramping up the noise levels across this undulating course.
Bjorn said: “They were phenomenal. It was something that came a while ago. They spend a lot of time together and get on really well off the golf course.
“And they really want to be on the golf course together, they have fun together, they work hard and they are very serious with their golf. It has been tremendous to watch them play.”
Going into the back nine Woods and DeChambeau were five down, failing to register a single birdie until Woods belatedly discovered his putting touch on the 10th and 11th.
But Molinari’s approach on the 12th gave Fleetwood the chance to slam the door shut, and the Englishman popped his putt away from eight feet to move four up with six to play.
Molinari sealed the victory with another rock-solid putt and Fleetwood became the first rookie in history to win all four of his first matches.
Rose and Stenson hold on for valuable point
Rose and Stenson have been a go-to combination for Europe for years, and once again they delivered under the most intense pressure.
They were two up on the 11th tee and again on the 15th before Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka put on the squeeze, three-time major winner Koepka parachuting his approach to a foot to halve the deficit.
Stenson then had to sink a tight six-footer on the 16th to hold that narrow lead, and he holed another sweet clutch putt on 17 to rescue Rose’s misjudged pitch. “They were a couple of big putts and awesome to make,” said the Swede.
Koepka cracked, shoving his own par putt right, and suddenly the scoreboard was showing 10-4 Europe.
To have any chance at all, the US needed Spieth and Thomas to bag their third point from four, and the old friends delivered as Poulter and McIlroy could only fire intermittently.
The Europeans made pars on the first two holes to go two up but then double-bogeyed the fourth, and the young Americans won six of the next 10 holes to take an iron grip on the match.
The foursome pairing of Garcia and Alex Noren also failed to sparkle for Bjorn, Webb Simpson’s putting and Bubba Watson’s touch around the greens earning the US a 32 victory.
McIlroy and Garcia spark European morning charge
Such was the European dominance of the morning that at one point they had taken eight points on the bounce, and it began with Garcia and McIlroy in the first match, handing out a 21 defeat to Koepka and Tony Finau.
Bjorn had opted to stick two of his most experienced men out first, looking to continue that momentum from Friday afternoon, and birdies apiece on three and four had them two up early on.
The Europeans were four up after 13 holes, a scoreline nobody has ever lost a match from, and Garcia was not about to let it happen now. His brilliant putt from the back of the 17th green rattled in, Koepka could not match him and the point was Europe’s.
An inspired Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton saw off the threat of Rickie Fowler and world number one Johnson 32.
It has been 10 years since Casey last played in this competition, his fifth birdie of the day put them three up with four to play and his emotions as the match was sealed reflected what it means to him to be back.
Molinari and Fleetwood secured the third European point 43 as Woods only occasionally sparkled and Patrick Reed fell apart.
Reed, the pugnacious talisman across his first two Ryder Cups, was having a horrible time off the tee, and was grateful for Woods’ long birdie putt on seven that brought the contest back to a single hole.
But Fleetwood’s birdie on 15 left a disconsolate-looking Woods with a long putt to keep the match alive, and when it slid by to the left, another home point was on the board.
Had it not been for Spieth – the only one of the US stars playing close to his usual esteemed standards – it could have been worse still.
The three-time major champion dragged Thomas in his wake until his partner came to the party in the final few holes, holing the match-winning six-footer on the 17th as they secured the solitary American point of the morning fourballs.
‘We’re trying to make some magic’ – what they said
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn: “We have to keep going hard, keep going with what we’ve got – I’ve seen too many times what the singles does.
“We need every single man on the golf course to do their bit, and we’ve got to get out there and really play hard and be determined to win this back.
“It’s a completely different game tomorrow and that means a lot of refocusing and getting back into that team room and recovering. We used a lot of energy these days. We go again tomorrow. Try and focus on what’s ahead.”
United States captain Jim Furyk: “We want to get out to a fast start tomorrow. That’s key, it’s imperative. Everyone knows it. Any time a team’s come back, now twice in this event from four points behind, it’s been a fast start and a solid middle to late part of the line-up.
“We have 12 important matches but you’d like to get off to that fast start like you saw at Brookline, like you saw at Medinah, and when that momentum gets going one way, it puts a lot of pressure on those middle matches.
“We set up our line-up accordingly and put the guys out in the fashion that we felt like, you know, we’re trying to make some magic tomorrow.”
United States’ Tiger Woods: “I didn’t feel like I played poorly. That’s the frustrating thing about match play. We’ve got some work to do tomorrow.
“Hopefully we can get off to a quick start and get up in some of these matches, and turn the tide a little bit.”