Captain Hal Sutton had a magician perform in his U.S. team room Friday night to lighten the somber mood, but no amount of hocus-pocus or Sutton's passionate speechmaking made much of a difference at the end of the second day of the 35th Ryder Cup matches at Oakland Hills Country Club.
Trailing by five points after the first eight matches Friday, the Americans showed some signs of life in the Saturday morning best-ball session, winning two matches and tying another.
The highly partisan crowd finally came alive, with chants of "USA, USA" echoing through the grounds and great roars accompanying some inspired work from the likes of Tiger Woods, Chris Riley and Davis Love III, among others.
But by early evening, the Europeans were on the verge of making the Cup disappear back to the Continent for another two years by taking three of the four afternoon alternate-shot contests and building what must be considered a virtually insurmountable 11-5 lead entering Sunday's 12 singles matches. No American team has ever trailed by more points after two days; Europe has won three of the last four Ryder Cups and six of the last nine.
"I believe in my heart that they can" come back and win, Sutton said of his American team. "Whether they will or not is a whole other story. I can tell you one thing about match play: Once it swings in one direction, it swings for a while, so we'll see."
There was no mystery to his batting order for Sunday. Sutton's singles lineup went strictly in order of Ryder Cup points earned over the last three years, starting off with Woods, followed by Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III and ending with his two captain's picks, Jay Haas and Stewart Cink.
"That was as good as any way I could think of to do it," Sutton said.
In 1999, the United States, with Sutton playing on the team, staged the greatest final-day comeback in history by overcoming a 10-6 deficit at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., to prevail by a point. But Europe's task will be far easier Sunday, needing only three points to reach their magic number of 14.
Only Phil Mickelson, a two-time loser Friday playing with Woods, and his partner David Toms, were able to earn an American victory in the afternoon, a 4-and-3 decision over Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet. But Woods, so dominant playing with Riley in the morning, and Love lost two holes with bogeys in the middle of the back nine and fell to Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, 4 and 3.
Woods's loss was his third in four matches this week and left him with a 6-11-2 record in the Ryder Cup. Sutton also left himself open to severe second-guessing when he used 50-year-old Jay Haas twice Saturday, leaving many to wonder why a fresher Kenny Perry, who didn't play at all, or Stewart Cink, a morning winner, didn't go out in the afternoon. Haas and DiMarco were no match in alternate shot for Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, who won 5 and 4.
If there was a turning point Saturday, it came in the third group to go off in the morning. Two European Cup rookies, Englishmen Paul Casey and David Howell, rallied to win the final two holes, turning a 1-down deficit after 16 holes into a 1-up victory over Chad Campbell and Jim Furyk. Casey made a brilliant two-putt from 50 feet at the treacherous, hogbacked 18th green, sinking a three-footer for par to earn the point many said later was vital to keep the Americans at bay.
"I tell you what: That's the biggest part of the day," Westwood said. "It made a massive difference. I think we all owe David Howell and Paul Casey a beer."
It did not start that way. Sutton had told his players to loosen up, and the Americans took early leads in several matches, a far different start than Friday, when U.S. pairs never led in any of the four morning matches.
On Saturday, Woods teamed with his friend Riley and smoked Clarke and Ian Poulter, 4 and 3, never trailing in a match that turned when Riley's back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes gave his team a four-up lead.
Cink and Love finally stopped the Colin Montgomerie-Harrington juggernaut with a 3-and-2 victory in which they also were never behind.
Love, who struggled putting Friday, had three birdies in a stretch of four early holes to put his team 3-up through six holes, and the Americans never faltered.
The loss was Montgomerie's first in his last nine Cup matches dating from 1999, including wins with Harrington in their two Friday matches.
Sutton had told his team it needed five points out of Saturday's eight matches, and it was halfway there in the morning, but could have been closer.
Haas and DiMarco walked to the tee at the 494-yard monster par 4 finishing hole tied with Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Off the tee, Haas was the only player in the group to find the fairway, a definite advantage. DiMarco and Garcia were both in fairway bunkers with no chance to get to the hole in two, and Westwood was in deep rough down the left side.
Westwood's second shot went into deep grass to the left of the green, and Haas's second came up short of the putting surface, leaving a tough chip. DiMarco and Garcia were both in the fringe on their third shots and essentially were out of the hole. Haas's 70-foot chip from the front left him with a 15-footer for par, which he missed, and he and Westwood halved the hole -- and the match -- with bogeys.
Campbell and Furyk also had a fine chance to secure a precious point after Campbell's 30-foot birdie putt at the 16th gave the U.S. a 1-up lead with two to play against Casey and Howell, who sat out all day Friday.
But Howell hit a gorgeous tee shot at the 200-yard 17th that left him with a 10-footer for birdie to square the match again, and Casey's two-putt at 18 left the Europeans with an 8-4 lead going into the afternoon.
"Paul Casey and David Howell worked magnificently," Langer said. "They came in with their A-games. Their win was vital. They played some of the best golf you'll ever see from two partners making their debuts together in the Ryder Cup."
Said Westwood, "Morale-wise [for the U.S.], it was a crushing blow."