GLENEAGLES, Scotland -- The story of day two at the 40th Ryder Cup was the same story of the last 25 years. After playing well Saturday morning, the Americans came unraveled in the afternoon, and now the U.S. team finds itself trailing 10-6 and eying its eighth loss in the last 10 tries.
Led by a different Englishman -- Justin Rose, not Ryder giant Ian Poulter -- the favored Europeans took control with an ugly 3.5-.5 win in the foursomes to go into Sunday needing only four points to retain the Cup.
“As I recall there’s been a little bit of history with 10-6 comebacks,” U.S. captain Tom Watson said. Europe flipped a 10-6 deficit at Medinah in 2012 and the U.S. did so at Brookline in 1999. The U.S. also nearly got out of a 9.5-6.5 jam at Celtic Manor in 2010, winning seven of 12 singles points.
“This job is far from finished,” European captain Paul McGinley said. “We’re in a great position, but we’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
For a while, anyway, it seemed as if Watson’s troops had a chance. The U.S. won Saturday morning’s four balls 2.5-1.5, leaving only a 6.5-5.5 deficit. The captains left no doubt as to the seriousness of their intentions as they benched a handful of players for both sessions Saturday: Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson and off-form captain’s pick Webb Simpson for Team USA; and struggling Ryder rookie Stephen Gallacher for Europe.
Mickelson lobbied hard to play Saturday afternoon, first in person and then with a text to Watson, assuring the captain that he and Bradley could help the team if he would just get them into the lineup Saturday afternoon.
Watson held firm. Then all went wrong for his lineup of players, who succumbed to fatigue, ill-timed mistakes, and one final lousy break on 18.
Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood put the first blue on the board, making six birdies to beat winless Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar 2 and 1. Meanwhile Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell were crushing Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker 5 and 4 in the anchor match. The Americans looked fried after playing 54 holes over the first three sessions.
“Our legs were fresh, and perhaps that was the difference,” McDowell said. “We ran into a team playing their fourth match.”
Walker hit a chunk-shank from the third fairway, a shot that, “not many people in this media center would be proud of,” McDowell said. He said he and Dubuisson were uplifted to realize one of their opponents was a dead man walking.
“That may have been a mistake, that pairing,” Watson admitted.
The U.S. thus was left to rely on Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan, who were taking on Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy; and Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, taking on U.S. Open champs Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose.
Alas, those matches, too, went mostly Europe’s way.
“It’s up to the actors to go out there and act,” Watson said. “And they haven’t acted well enough to get that standing ovation at the end.”
Furyk and Mahan watched their hopes all but evaporate as Mahan sprayed his drive at the 293-yard, par-4 14th hole -- the hole he’d eagled earlier in the day -- on the way to a 3-and-2 loss. Buffeted by a cold wind and consumed with the pressure of playing the Ryder Cup, the Americans were cracking. Mahan’s errant drive at 14 was a tired shot, and it stood in contrast to his inspired play in a rousing fourball victory earlier Saturday.
But he wasn’t alone. With Rose and Kaymer giving the Americans a gift by bogeying the par-5 16th hole, Reed shoved his 30-inch par putt right, an even bigger gift back to the Europeans. Spieth responded by hitting their tee shot to within 15 feet for birdie at the par-3 17th hole, and the putt was conceded as Rose and Kaymer made another bogey, giving the U.S. a 1 up lead with one hole to play. But they lost that lead, too, after a lousy break.
Visibly angry, Red piped his drive down the 18th fairway, but Spieth’s second shot came to rest in a dicey lie at the edge of the front-right greenside bunker. Reed had to aim away from the hole, and they could only manage a par as the Europeans got up and down from the same bunker for the halve. Rose -- who else? -- holed the birdie putt for Europe. With Poulter off his game, Rose has led Europe, winning 3.5 of a possible 4 points so far. He was one of the only bright spots for Europe as the U.S. rallied in the morning.
“We weathered the storm,” McGinley said.
In the morning four balls, Furyk and especially Mahan made putts from all over, shooting a best ball score of nine under to dust Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood 4 and 3. Reed and Spieth beat Thomas Bjorn and Kaymer 5 and 3. And in the anchor match, Fowler and Walker won a half-point against McIlroy and Poulter.
Fowler came up big for the U.S., holing a crucial bunker shot at 10, changing the momentum of the match, and rolling in a must-make, 10-foot putt to save par at 17. Each team birdied the 18th hole for the final margin.
Only in Saturday morning’s first match was Europe in control as red-hot Rose and Henrik Stenson clipped Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson 3 and 2 in a four ball that featured a record 21 birdies. “Of course we would have birdied 17 and 18, as well, if we had a chance,” Stenson quipped.
“We played great,” said Bubba Watson, who finally showed signs of life before sitting out in the afternoon. “They just played a lot better.”
It’s a familiar story for the Americans.