Ryder Cup Day 2 Wrap Up
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
DARREN CLARKE'S European team will need to invoke the spirit of Medinah if they are to win the Ryder Cup for a fourth successive time at Hazeltine today. Despite stellar golf played by Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters, the Americans go into the 12 singles matches leading 9.5-6.5. And in Patrick Reed, they may have finally found the man around whom they can build a team for the long-term.
It is hard to believe that McIlroy once described the Ryder Cup as a glorified exhibition match. But that was before he played in it and he definitely gets it now. His play throughout day two was simply sensational as he partnered Thomas Pieters to victory in both the foursomes and fourballs, destroying the big American hope Dustin Johnson in the process, and for the second time in a week. It wasn't just the booming drives, the incredible iron shots or the procession of putts that he holed - it was all of that, along with the way McIlroy celebrated each and every gain. This events matters to him. It really matters.
Europe expects McIlroy to deliver, of course, but there were other heroes, and some of came in pretty unlikely shapes as Darren Clarke's side erased the memory of Friday morning's foursomes whitewash in style at Hazeltine before stumbling in the afternoon fourballs.
Trailing 5-3 going into the Saturday morning foursomes, by lunchtime they had reduced the deficit to a single point thanks to a sensational performance from Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters, a gritty victory by Justin Rose and Chris Wood and a stunning fighting from Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-bello - they were four down with six to play against the star American pairing of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, but won four of the next five holes and finished all square.
The big surprise was that Clarke left Cabrera-Bello and Wood out of the fourballs as Europe continued their quest for an unprecedented fourth successive victory.
McIlroy and Pieters provided the early-morning fireworks with birdies on the first two holes on their way to a 4&2 win over Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, before Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka enjoyed their second win together, this time over Henrik Stenson and Matt Fitzpatrick. Rose and Wood held their nerve to beat Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson on the 18th, before Garcia and Cabrera-Bello produced their heroics.
Spieth and Reed were five under par for the first seven holes and moved four up when Garcia missed from two feet on the 11th, but the American pair bogeyed the 13th, 14th and 15th to open the door. European birdies on the 16th and 17th got the match back to all square for the first time since the opening hole and Garcia held his nerve to hole from two feet for par on the last.
“I felt like we played really good foursomes,” Garcia said. “We were so consistent and making birdies but they had an amazing start. We tried to keep at it and keep putting pressure on and hopefully at some point they would slow down a little bit. I had to take a lot of breaths on 17 and 18 because emotions were so high when we saw we had a chance of winning the match. All credit to my partner.”
McIlroy and Pieters cruised into a three-hole lead and looked certain to go further ahead before Mickelson holed from 50 feet across the eighth green, and when McIlroy missed from three feet on the next and hit a wild drive on the 10th, the momentum was threatening to swing back in the favour of the American pair. Pieters conjured up a superb escape from deep in the trees only for Mickelson to make birdie anyway and get back to just one down, but a birdie on the 11th settled European nerves and two more on 15 and 16 secured the win. McIlroy had lost his previous three Ryder Cup matches against Mickelson and admitted: “When I saw the draw last night I was like ‘Yes, I get to have a go at him again’. I maybe wanted it a little bit more for that reason. Darren put a lot of faith in us in foursomes as we’d not really practised together. We flipped for it on the first tee to see who would hit on which hole.”
Stenson and Fitzpatrick had fought back from an early two-hole deficit to get back on level terms after 11, but could only halve the 12th in bogey fives after Koepka’s shanked approach hit a tree and stopped short of the water. The American pair made the most of that stroke of luck and birdied the next four holes to win 3&2, with any faint European hopes ending when Fitzpatrick found water with his approach to the 16th.
With Rose then doing the same in match three and losing to an American birdie, a comfortable three-hole lead had been reduced to one, but rock-solid pars on the 17th and 18th sealed a hard-fought success. Wood said: “Sleeping overnight there were some nerves but when you know you are playing with such a solid guy alongside you there’s nothing to worry about.”
In the afternoon fourballs McIlroy and Pieters combined brilliantly once again, beating Johnson and Brooks Koepka ina match that featured the four men who routinely smash the ball more than 300 yards from the tee. The difference between the Americans and the Euroipean pair was on the greens. If McIlroy didn't hole a crucial putt then Pieters did and they quickly found themselves four up with four to play. Pieters had a long putt to win on the 15th but it slid narrowly past the hole and Johnson reduced the deficit to three with a fine birdie. It got worse at the 16th when McIlroy found his ball covered in mud and, unable to control the flight, hit his second at the par five into the lake. Pieters had missed the fairway and needed three to reach the green. Koepka birdied the hole and suddenly the Europeans were just two up with two to play and needing to find a way to stop the rot, and quickly. They did so on the par-three 17th, closing out the match 3&1 after another birdie by Pieters.
The scores were all squared up at 6.5-6.5, for now at least.
Stenson and Rose simply ran out of steam on an afternoon when their opponents, Spieth and Reed, produced a succession of memorable shots. Reed birdied the fifth, holed his approach for an eagle at the sixth and also birdied the seventh and eighth as the Americans went three up. Reed loved every moment of it, working an already raucous gallery into a frenzy as one fantastic shot followed another. But the Europeans refused to give up and when Rose rolled in a long birdie putt at the 13th they were only one down. But the Americans, inspired by Reed, went three up with three to play and when Stenson chipped in for for an eagle at the 16th it merely delayed the inevitable. In the end, they lost 2&1.
The other two matches saw Lee Westwood and Masters champion Danny Willett take on JB Holmes and Ryan Moore and Martin Kaymer and Garcia facing Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.
Westwood had struggled badly in his opening-day foursomes match with Pieters, but this was more like it as he had at last holed some putts and hit some quality approach shots after Willett had kept them in the game with birdies at the second, third and fourth holes. It was a nip-and-tuck affair and they were all square when they came to the 14th. Westwood struck a glorious approach to four feet but then missed a putt that would have taken the Europeans one up. And when both Westwood and Willett failed to par the 17th, they went to last hole one down. Westwood had a chance to redeem himself when he hit the shot of the day at the last, an iron to 30 inches. But guess what? He missed the putt.
Kaymer has been out of sorts all week and it was simply too much to ask Garcia to take on Holmes and Moore on his own, although he did his level best to make a game of it and recorded six birdies, the American's won 2&1.
So it all comes down to the singles, with Clarke knowing that his men need a fast start if they are to have any chance of an unlikely victory.
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