Day two of this meeting of Europe and the United States was defined by spectacular, and in certain cases record breaking, golf. For the golden trophy to join the US team on their Monday flight back across the Atlantic, day three must edge towards the realms of miraculous.
Parallels to Europe’s sensational comeback at Medinah in two years ago are inevitable but there is little foundation at all upon which to suggest lightning can strike on a back-to-back basis. Only a quite astonishing bout of complacency, or an American upturn in fortunes of similar level, can deny Europe’s class of 2014.
The European lead is four points, by 10 to six. For a second day running, foursomes was the platform for the hosts to pull away. Paul McGinley’s men prevailed in three out of four Saturday afternoon matches – the other was halved – meaning an ominous scenario for the USA; they must return eight and a half points from singles matches to reclaim the Ryder Cup.
There will be no shortage of focus on the US and their woes. Yet it would be churlish to ignore the work of McGinley, who has maintained a team spirit which generally translates into winning performances. At times in this Ryder Cup, the American side has clawed their way back into proceedings – they were only a point behind at Saturday’s interval – but the holders’ subsequent response has been wonderfully powerful. An aggregate of seven out of eight foursomes points from Europe equals the tournament record.
Europe already had their three foursomes points before Justin Rose, their man of this Ryder Cup so far, holed out confidently for a half on the 18th. Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood defeated Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy burst into life with a 3&2 success over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan.
“I’m still fresh,” warned McIlroy. “We want to get this done asap.”
And then there is Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell. For a second day in succession, they were omitted from the morning’s golf. For a second day in succession, the response was superb; the Frenchman and Northern Irishman thumped Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler 5&4. So much for the fear that the maverick Dubuisson might unravel in a team environment. His play has been terrific.
By lunchtime, an awe-struck Gleneagles gallery had watched one of the finest five-hour spells of Ryder Cup golf ever produced. At the forefront were Rose and Henrik Stenson, who defeated Bubba Watson and Kuchar 3&2; the pairings produced an aggregate of 21 birdies through 16 holes. Rose and Stenson were 12 under par as a better ball score. These figures are unprecedented since this event began. “It’s a shame because we would have birdied the 17th and 18th, as well,” said Stenson with a smile later.
The overall spectacle was marred only by the ludicrous and surely unprecedented number of people allowed to wander inside the Gleneagles ropes. Members of the public have paid premium ticket prices, only for their views to be obscured by all manner of chancers and hangers-on. The growth of the Ryder Cup is admirable in so many ways, but it times it looks like spiralling way out of control.
On matters more endearing, Rose and Stenson, who won three matches out of three, have suddenly earned their status as one of the finest Ryder Cup pairings in history. Kuchar and Watson had cause to scratch their heads on the 15th green, where they were an aggregate of nine under par but two down. Stenson sat out from the foursomes to rest a tight back, which he was later adamant will not inhibit him during the final day.
Whether because of the ferocious pace set by Rose and Stenson, the general Gleneagles atmosphere had been cranked by a couple of notches. Holed putts were met with fist-pumps and air leaps. Ian Poulter morphed back into He Man as an outrageous 30-yard chip over a bunker on the 15th in the fourball segment found the cup.
That moment triggered a fine comeback by the hitherto flat Poulter and McIlroy, who halved with Walker and Fowler. The Americans had a free putt to win a gripping contest on the last green, which Fowler inexplicably left short. By close of play, Fowler’s wait to claim a full Ryder Cup point had been extended even further.
Criticism towards Tom Watson is already seeping out, despite his lofty status in the annals of golfing history. Leaving Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed out for Friday’s foursomes looked a grave error, given the form – and fitness – of this vibrant duo. They returned to the fray on Saturday morning, where Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer were defeated 5&3. In the foursomes, Reed and Spieth were the only pairing to register anything by way of red on the board, with that half a point when in opposition to Kaymer and the outstanding Rose.
Watson has made other curious captaincy moves. Walker and Fowler will play in five matches. Their fatigue was clear during the mauling by Dubuisson and McDowell. Europe went ahead on the first and were never pulled back to all square thereafter.
Watson opted to leave out Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley entirely from Saturday’s play, a step which the captain’s detractors will seize upon. The pairing had, after all, played both sessions on Friday.
On face value, and despite his notoriously stern competitive edge, there is little to Watson which implies he can avert the inevitable now. Poor foursomes sessions in successive days doesn’t point towards a captain who can change tack as and when required. There is a shred of hope but no expectation.
McGinley is within a whisker of the ultimate glory, one he immediately dreamed of when approached to spearhead Europe’s Ryder Cup defence. The US team can only draw upon the comeback which so traumatised them in 2012 as a reference point; even that is a serious long shot, given the momentum swing had actually started with two European wins late on Saturday there. Only the margin of Europe’s latest success should be up for debate.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010