What the European Ryder Cup team needs now is a task force.
But what the 12-strong Old World side assembled here at Hazeltine needs is a miracle that would rank alongside the memorable comeback from a four-point deficit at Medinah four years ago. With only the singles to play, the Europeans trail their American counterparts by 9 1/2 points to 6 1/2. In other words, the home side needs five points from the 12 still available to claim the trophy for only the second time in this century and for only the third time in the last 11 contests.
They are looking good to do just that. Especially Patrick Reed. In tandem with a clearly tiring Jordan Spieth, the 26-year old Texan made six birdies and an eagle over the 17-holes it took for the American pair to see off Open champion Henrik Stenson and Olympic champion Justin Rose. If the home team is looking for a ‘Man of the Match,’ they need look no further than Reed, no matter how he fares in the singles.
“I might look calm, but I’m elated,” said American skipper Davis Love. “Our guys played great. Everybody has played and everyone has scored a point. And we’re ahead. We’re in good position.
“The team is more like a family. We have bonded, something we have been criticised for not doing in the past. But there is a long way to go. We have to stay focused for one more day.
“My big decision was whether to play Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed one more time this afternoon. But Tiger Woods – who has been with them all week – pleaded for them to play and they did. I hated to play them that much, but we’ll put them to bed and be ready for tomorrow.”
In contrast, the European side had little to celebrate. Only the unbeaten pair of Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters won during an afternoon that ended with Lee Westwood missing a succession of vital short putts. A four-footer for par and half slipping by on the penultimate green was bad enough and left the Englishman and compatriot Danny Willett dormie one down.
No matter – or so it seemed – when Westwood nailed his approach to the final hole, the ball finishing no more than 30-inches from the cup. With that for the hole and a hugely important half-point, the ten-time Ryder Cup veteran barely touched the edge of the cup. It was impossible not to feel sympathy for a man who has played with such distinction in this biennial classic since his debut in 1997. But the fear that this may have been one Ryder Cup too many for the 43-year old has been confirmed.
As you might expect and as he has to do, European skipper Darren Clarke was in defiant mood in the aftermath of such a deflating afternoon, one that would have looked a lot better from his point of view had his close pal, Westwood, made those last two putts.
“We have to believe in ourselves and go out and play tomorrow,” said the former Open champion. “Teams have come back from further behind than we are now. So the guys will go out and do their best in the singles. They won’t need me to lift them up. They will be keen to do well. So I’m not deflated, more a little disappointed. You’ve got to hole the putts when you get a chance and the American guys did that today.”
Inevitably, there will also be second-guessing of Clarke’s decision to split the partnership of Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello after the Spanish pair came back from four down with six to play to secure an unlikely half with Spieth and Reed on Saturday morning.
There will also be those who will question the omission of Chris Wood from the afternoon play after the giant Englishman – at six foot six, the tallest member of either team – partnered Rose to a morning foursomes victory over former Open and Masters champion Zach Johnson and USPGA champion Jimmy Walker. Instead, Clarke went with Westwood and a struggling Kaymer, two of five Europeans who will enter the singles looking for their first point of the week. Just one more indication that Sunday is likely to be another long day for the cup holders.
HOW THE TEAMS LINE UP FOR THE SUNDAY SINGLES