SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — The goal for Europe became clear as a tense afternoon played out along Lake Michigan on Saturday: get the score to 10-6 going into final-day singles.
That is a magic number for Europe, and memories both good and bad would be sure to come flooding back depending on which side of that outcome you lived on several years back when the United States’ Ryder Cup team was stunned by a final-day comeback that matched the best in the event’s history.
It didn’t happen.
And an unlikely, almost surreal day of singles is necessary for Europe to retain the Ryder Cup.
The Europeans need nine points to retain the Cup. Or, the Americans need to win just 3½ points to win for just the second time in six Ryder Cups. There has been no singles session in which a team did not win at least that many points.
“That was an important one,” U.S. captain Steve Stricker said. “If they blank us, they’re right back in the game. I think getting two points and splitting the session is a good outcome for us.”
The six-point lead is the largest through two days since the U.S. led Great Britain & Ireland by nine in 1975. And it is the largest since the format was changed to include continental Europe in 1979.
The U.S. took the morning foursomes session 3-1 to take a 9-3 lead into the afternoon.
But the scoreboard showed a lot of blue throughout the afternoon, and there certainly was the possibility that at least three of the matches could be claimed by Europe to get to that 10-6 number.
That tandem was the inspiration for the rest of the European crew, and Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton responded with a tense 1-up victory over Tony Finau and Harris English, achieved only when Lowry rolled in a 10-footer for par at the 18th.
That kept the dream alive for a few fleeting moments. Soon, Johnson and Morikawa closed out Poulter and McIlroy 4 and 3.
It has been a frustrating Ryder Cup for McIlroy, who in two four-ball sessions managed one eagle and no birdies. He is 0-3, and Poulter is 0-2. That tandem famously won the final four-ball match on the course in 2012 at Medinah, with Poulter pouring in a birdie putt on the final hole, eyes bugging out and shaking his teammates into belief.
The Europeans won the final two four-ball matches that day to bring the score to 10-6. Retaining the Cup still looked hopeless, but Europe staged the epic comeback to win 14½ to 13½. In 1999, the U.S. team overcame the same final-day deficit and won by the same score at The Country Club.
“We were up against it again,” McIlroy said. “Look, DJ and Collin are a good team and they played very, very well. Even though we tried to throw a bit at them at the back nine, they always seemed to answer it. Collin closed the match out with two really good birdies on 14 and 15.
“Obviously disappointing. Disappointing not to contribute a point for the team yet. So hopefully just go out tomorrow and try my best to get a point, and hopefully we can rally and at last give them something to maybe sweat about tomorrow in the middle of the afternoon.”
The day was not without its feistiness, often a staple of Ryder Cups. There was a heated rules issue in the morning session when Koepka verbally called out two officials who would not give him relief.
There were three instances where players — Justin Thomas, Lowry and DeChambeau — mocked their opponent by showing with the length of the putter how close their ball was to the hole without it being conceded.
And there was plenty of banter from the boisterous galleries, who got louder and a bit more brazen as the day wore on.
There was some excellent golf, too, even in blustery, difficult conditions.
Rahm made five birdies on his own ball to lead his team to victory and improved his record this week to 3-0-1.
DeChambeau and Scheffler’s victory meant that every player on the U.S. team has won at least one match.
Lowry birdied five of the first 10 holes as well as the 16th to give the Europeans a narrow advantage, but he couldn’t shake Finau and English — who combined for six birdies — until the end.
Morikawa, playing in his first Ryder Cup and now 3-0, made an eagle and four birdies. Johnson birdied the first two holes of the match to help set the tone.
The U.S. led 6-2 after Friday’s sessions and then went 3-1 on Saturday morning.
Rahm, who has won 3 1/2 of Europe’s 5 points, teamed with Garcia to defeat Koepka and Daniel Berger 3 and 1.
But the Americans won the rest of the matches: Johnson and Morikawa 2 and 1 over Paul Casey and Hatton; Thomas and Jordan Spieth 1 up over Lowry and Hatton; and Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay 2 and 1 over Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.
One of Stricker’s goals has been to make sure his players are rested, given the long days and difficulty of the course, in some challenging weather. But he couldn’t resist leaning on Johnson, who in his fifth Ryder Cup is having his best one.
He went 1-4 three years ago in Paris and now has turned that around to 4-0. He is the only American who will play all five.
“Had good partners,” Johnson said. “Played with Collin three matches and with Xander one match. I like the golf course. Obviously the conditions yesterday afternoon, today, really all day this morning and this afternoon were really difficult. I felt like just played really solid.
“We all talk and share our experiences, especially guys who have played in them. And I’ve talked to the guys who haven’t played before. Even though it’s Collin’s first Ryder Cup, doesn’t really seem like it because he’s a great player and he’s had a lot of success early and he’s played really well in a lot of big tournaments. Even though it’s his first Ryder Cup, doesn’t really seem like that.”
Morikawa is one of six Ryder Cup rookies on the team who have gone 11-2-2.