Trailing Europe tries to build on Ryder Cup momentum
The United States lead Europe 5-3 entering Saturday’s four morning alternate shot foursomes and four afternoon four-ball matches at Hazeltine, where the biennial team golf event concludes with 12 singles matches on Sunday.
Europe have won three in a row, six of the past seven and eight of the last 10 Cup showdowns, but this US lineup features 12 of the world’s 31 top players while Europe has six newcomers.
The Americans, 1-7 in foursomes in 2014, swept four matches Friday for their best Ryder Cup start since 1975.
But Europe responded by going 3-1 in four-ball, winning a session in that discipline for the first time since 2010.
“It’s better to have a small deficit with momentum,” Europe captain Darren Clarke said. “Certainly we managed to wrestle some of that back to the European side.
“They showed a massive amount of heart and desire and the fight in them to get themselves right back into it.”
McIlroy and English rookie Andy Sullivan lost to Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler 1 up in foursomes, leading 2-up with four to play only to drop three holes in a row and halve the last.
But McIlroy found momentum in four-balls, joining Belgium’s Thomas Peters in beating US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar 3 and 2.
Now McIlroy returns with Pieters to face Mickelson and Fowler in Saturday’s first match.
“They wanted to get out and play, and it seemed to be my best fit to get them back out first,” Clarke said.
Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, who combined for a four-ball victory, face Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth in Saturday morning’s last match.
Garcia won his 16th career pairs match in Cup play while Cabrera Bello won in his first Cup match, 3 and 2 over Ryan Moore and J.B. Holmes.
It’s early to compare them with legendary Seve Ballesteros and long-time partner Jose Maria Olazabal, but Clarke wouldn’t mind some Spanish magic.
“They were certainly very impressive,” said Clarke. “We’ve had some wonderful Spanish partnerships in previous Ryder Cups and the two of them gelled so well, it would have been foolish of me to deny them that opportunity.”
While Pieters has impressed, Clarke calling him “the real deal,” his other captain’s picks have not fared well.
– Rookies ready –
Germany’s Martin Kaymer went 0-2 and will sit out Saturday morning and England’s Lee Westwood, in his 10th Cup, is struggling and working on his game.
Clarke changed up his foursomes pairings by breaking up Olympic champion Justin Rose and British Open champion Henrik Stenson, a combination unbeaten in 2014 that split two opening matches Friday with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed
Rose and fellow Englishman Chris Wood, a Ryder Cup rookie, will meet PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker and two-time major champion Zach Johnson while Stenson and England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, another newcomer and the Cup’s youngest player at 22, will meet Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, winners in four-ball.
“They didn’t get to play. They are almost like waiting for Christmas,” Clarke said of the rookies. “I didn’t want to hold them back anymore.”