Europe had been swept in the four foursome matches Friday morning, and then came back to life to win three four-ball matches in the afternoon. This put the visitors in arrears, 5-3, and also allowed Europe captain Darren Clarke to discuss momentum.
This caused a reporter to ask Clarke if he would have preferred being in the lead or to be taking momentum into Saturday’s matches.
“In the position we were at lunchtime, I would definitely say it’s better to have a small deficit with some momentum,” Clarke said.
There was going to be a much quicker turnaround at lunchtime for Clarke and Europe on Saturday, as the morning matches took longer in front of the 50,000 rowdy patrons at Hazeltine National.
Once again, it appeared that momentum would be missing for Clarke’s squad as they woofed down their cheese toasties at lunchtime. Europe was headed for a point with Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters, it was in trouble with Henrik Stenson and rookie Matt Fitzpatrick, it was wavering with Justin Rose and rookie Chris Wood, and it was dead in the water with the Spanish Armada, Sergio Garcia and rookie Rafa Cabrera Bello.
The quality of play of both sides in the morning round was spotty at best, and a 2-2 standoff was looking like the optimum for the underdog Euros.
Clarke had put the Spaniards together on Friday afternoon and they defeated Ryan Moore and J.B. Holmes. Then came Saturday morning, and through 11 holes, they were taking a 4-down drubbing from Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
That was about the time Clarke was sketching out his pairs for the afternoon matches and the desire to have the Spaniards together apparently had waned. The captain decided to put Garcia back with Martin Kaymer, with whom he had lost on Friday morning.
Clarke also benched Cabrera Bello for Saturday’s afternoon matches. And why not? They were swallowing the dust of Spieth and Reed, clearly the No. 1 pair in the view of U.S. captain Davis Love III.
The Spainards were about go to 5-down on the 12th, when Reed chipped in for his team’s sixth birdie. Cabrera Bello had to make a 15-footer for a birdie to keep the score at 4-down.
“They kept throwing darts at us,” Garcia said. “We made an amazing birdie on 12 to halve the hole, thanks to my partner’s putt. And then we just saw a little window they gave and we grabbed the moment.”
Spieth and Reed were 6-under on their ball through 12 holes, and then they opened the window with three straight bogeys.
“They made a couple of mistakes, and we played solid and got a couple of holes back,” Cabrera Bello said. “Then, we had a really strong finish. The match ended up all square. It felt like we stole a half of point from them.”
Rose and Wood also had hung tough to get a win. The stolen half gave Europe a 2 ½ - 1 ½ advantage for the morning.
Cabrera Bello mentioned the shoulder-to-shoulder idea that Clarke has sold to his squad. The captain dramatized that by having Paul O’Connell, a retired Irish rugby star, to speak to his team.
Shoulder-to-shoulder is what it’s all about in rugby, we’re told.
This question was offered to Cabrera Bello: “I know you’re shoulder-to-shoulder, but what really gave you the momentum” to make this comeback?
“The shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s a real belief we have,” he said. “We constantly kept telling ourselves that our chance would come.
“When they hit a bad shot on 13, we made a good par there and got it to 3. But 3-down, 3 is still a number that they have control of the match. I think after their mistake on 15, that kind of put us within reach of scaring them [2-down].
“Sergio’s putt on 16 was key … to get us 1-down with two to play. At that stage, anything can happen.”
It was a comeback that came as shock to most everyone, including Clarke, apparently. That all-important lunchtime momentum for the Euros might have been lost when Clarke didn’t put the Spaniards together again.
For sure, there was no one else to handle Reed and Spieth in the afternoon, once Reed got his “nobody’s better than me” mojo going.
He was 5 under in a four-hole stretch and Reed and Spieth took care of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson 2-and-1. Garcia lost again with Kaymer, and the Euros wound up with one miserable little point in the afternoon.
That makes it 9 ½ - 6 ½ for the home team, and Europe needing 7½ points out of 12 in Sunday’s singles to retain the precious hardware.
What that means is Hazeltine will be remembered as the place where the Ryder Cup returned to American golf after an eight-year absence.