The results on a pretty and blustery day by Lake Michigan continued to answer an old and arcane riddle: What do you do when your country spends a young century floundering to 2-7 in a two-team ruckus? You do what captain Steve Stricker did, which is bring along a bunch of absurd young talents who also weren’t present for the floundering. The tenderfoot Americans, with six rookies, eight guys yet to reach 30 and minimal scar tissue, won three of four foursomes in the morning to get to 9-3 and two of four fourball rounds in the afternoon to reach 11-5.
That meant the droves of American fans can travel the two-lane roads to spend Sunday in competitive leisure, yelling hello to players’ other halves while maybe even having an extra drink during 12 singles matches, of which Europe needs to win nine to retain the cup. Captain Padraig Harrington will yearn for momentum by starting with Rory McIlroy against Xander Schauffele, followed by Shane Lowry against Patrick Cantlay, then Jon Rahm against Scottie Scheffler.
The U.S. team of 24-year-old Collin Morikawa and 37-year-old Dustin Johnson kept going through opponents like a fine combine over the farmland here, collecting two more wins to make it three by throttling Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, 2 and 1, in the morning and walloping Ian Poulter and McIlroy, 4 and 3, in the afternoon.
“For me, just drive him in the fairway,” Johnson said of the world’s best iron player, Morikawa, during the alternate-shot foursomes, “and I know I’m going to get a nice look at a birdie.”
“Yeah, we were up against it again,” McIlroy said.
Those California chums, the 27-year-old Schauffele and the 29-year-old Cantlay, kept thriving, getting a second win by besting Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick, 2 and 1, in the morning.
“I think we trust each other,” said Schauffele, the Olympic gold medalist. “No weird faces. No apologies. We know we’re trying our hardest on each shot.”
“Yeah, this team is deep,” Stricker said.
The not-so-old old guy, Johnson, excelled. That pup Scheffler and that bull Bryson DeChambeau got a point in the afternoon after trailing three times, winning Nos. 14 through 17 to win, 3 and 1, over Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas got a victory in the morning, 2 up over Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger. By Saturday evening, the whole American dozen had scored.
“The lead that we have created is huge,” DeChambeau said.
“It’s just a big momentum swing,” Scheffler said, “from our match going 1 down and going into 14 and the potential of it being 10-6 again like it was at Medinah [in 2012, when Europe stormed back to win]. For us to be able to flip that match [Saturday afternoon] was huge.”
On the other side, Europe had enough disarray that McIlroy sat out the morning after an erratic Friday, his first such benching across six Ryder Cups. Points came stubbornly enough that Lowry looked beyond elated after his 11-footer on No. 18 led to a bear hug of playing partner Hatton and a 1-up afternoon win over Friday winners Tony Finau and Harris English. Otherwise, it seemed Harrington’s only solution would have been to play Rahm and Sergio Garcia in every match, which is both impossible and disallowed. Rahm has notched 3½ points, including three in the Rahm-Garcia team.
“But we’re still not out of it,” Lowry said in a minority viewpoint. “I read a quote last night — I was looking at stuff on my phone, and for some reason it popped up — and it was like, if you’ve got a 1 percent chance, you have to have 100 percent faith.”
On two bygone occasions, teams trailing 10-6 spent Ryder Cup Sundays barreling back for storied triumphs: the United States in 1999 near Boston, and Europe in 2012 near Chicago (the Medinah). Nobody has ever done so from 11-5, and only one team faced that: the United States in 2004 near Detroit, where the drubbing got worse (18½-9½).
There had come a time midmorning when the Europeans menaced mildly, with two leads and one tie amid the four foursomes, but that time ebbed. Soon Rahm and Garcia exulted briefly, as on Friday, while their teammates suffered utterly, as on Friday. Call it a fashion.
While Rahm and Garcia finished off Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, 3 and 1, and later would beat Koepka and Spieth, 2 and 1, carnage held sway elsewhere. “I mean, this afternoon he was unbelievable,” Garcia, the Ryder Cup’s all-time points leader, said of Rahm, the world’s No. 1 player. “I was the number one spectator watching a great guy do great thing after great thing after great thing.”
While the Spaniards did what they do, a vital 10th American point seemed inevitable all afternoon. That’s because the American team in the fourth match, Johnson and Morikawa, surged to a 3-up lead against Poulter and McIlroy by winning Nos. 6, 7 and 8 while conjuring Harding Park in San Francisco in August 2020.
They did that, of course, through Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship back then by unforgettably driving 293 yards to the green on the par-4 No. 16, then making a seven-foot eagle. Here, as the reigning British Open champion, he drove 335 yards to the green on the par-4 No. 6, then made a 12-foot eagle. He looked, as ever, cool.
“That’s how I feel,” he said.
It got things going against the hapless veterans, and soon Morikawa made a seven-foot birdie on the par-3 No. 7, the hapless veterans made two bogeys on No. 8, and the Europeans took on a familiar view: uphill.
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