Europeans cut into U.S. lead after foursomes

Europeans cut into U.S. lead after foursomes

Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson lost a big lead in their match.
Robert Beck/SI

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood watched their teammates cut into a commanding U.S. lead at the Ryder Cup on Saturday, then returned to the course to try to bring the Europeans even closer.

The visitors closed a three-point deficit to 7-5 by winning two matches and halving another during the morning session at Valhalla Golf Club.

Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry gave the Americans their only outright win before lunch, beating Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson 3-and-1 in an alternate-shot match.

European captain Nick Faldo was criticized for his decision to bench Garcia and Westwood, the two longest-serving members of their team. But the move seemed to work out just fine, and both players were fresh for afternoon best-ball.

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“It’s a bumpy road at times, isn’t it?” Faldo said. “You come off the road a bit, and we’re back on the road again now.”

The U.S. took a stunning loss when Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim, its most talented duo, squandered a 4-up lead after six holes.

Henrik Stenson and unheralded Englishman Oliver Wilson, the only player to sit out both sessions Friday, closed out the match 2-and-1 when Wilson rolled in a 30-foot birdie at the 17th. Mickelson had a chance to extend it to 18, but his 20-footer rolled wide of the cup.

Watching with his hands on his knees, Kim’s head dropped as the ball slid by. The Americans knew they had let a big one slip away, surely raising doubts for a team that’s lost three in a row and five out of six in this series.

“Momentum is absolutely everything in this Ryder Cup,” Europe’s Graeme McDowell said. “It was huge for us to get some numbers on the board for the blues. Everyone is digging really deep. We’re over here to win this trophy.”

Ian Poulter and Justin Rose kept up their solid play, giving the Europeans the first point of the day. They defeated Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell 4-and-3, wrapping it up at No. 15 when the erratic American duo posted their fourth bogey of a round that also included a double bogey.

Cink lost two balls, burying his tee shot in a hazard at No. 2 and chunking one into the water at No. 7.

Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan, who won their two matches Friday, had a chance to give the Americans a full point when Leonard rolled in an 18-foot birdie at the 17th for his team’s first lead of the round. But Mahan’s tee shot at the par-5 final hole skidded through a bunker left of the fairway and wound up on a steep up-slope.

Leonard could have salvaged the match with another clutch putt, but his 12-footer wouldn’t drop. McDowell, paired with Miguel Angel Jimenez, calmly sank his birdie from 5 feet to gain a crucial half point for the Europeans.

“It was a good half,” Leonard said. “I would love to have made that putt at 18, but both sides played well.”

Not so for Mickelson and Kim. They fell apart after a dynamic start, failing to make a birdie beyond the fifth hole on a course designed for going low. The Europeans squared the match at No. 12 after Kim drove into a thick pile of leaves far right of the fairway and Mickelson failed to get it out.

The U.S. pair wasted a chance to regain the lead with a three-putt bogey at No. 14, then got into all sorts of trouble again at the 15th. Mickelson’s wayward driver missed the fairway, and Kim tried an unnecessarily bold shot around a tree, the ball striking a European official right of the fairway and plopping into a creek.

Fortunately for the Americans, Furyk and Perry led from start to finish in their match to prevent the Europeans from getting closer. Harrington and Karlsson bogeyed the first and never caught up, trailing by as many four holes before the U.S. closed it out with a conceded birdie at No. 17.

“We’ve still got the lead,” Mahan said.

In the early going of best-ball, every match was tight. Westwood and Soren Hansen were all-square with Americans Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes after five holes, while Perry and Furyk were also tied with Poulter and his new partner, McDowell, through four.

Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker, who struggled mightily in the only U.S. loss of the first day, were 1-up on Garcia and Paul Casey through five holes. The new American pairing of Mickelson and Mahan was 1-up on Stenson and Karlsson after three.

The Europeans sat out Rose, who won two matches with Poulter, and Harrington, winner of the last two majors but just 0-2-1 at this Ryder Cup. Leonard and Kim got the afternoon off for the Americans.

The Americans’ big lead after the opening day prompted Faldo to rest Westwood, who had appeared in 27 straight matches, and Garcia, snapping his streak of 22 in a row.

“It’s a brutal week mentally and physically,” Faldo said. “I thought fresh legs today were important.”

Westwood had blisters on his hands but never asked to rest. He halved his two matches Friday, stretching his unbeaten streak to 12 straight matches – tying Arnold Palmer for the longest in Ryder Cup history.

“I wanted to play,” said Westwood, who watched the morning matches from a cart. “I’ve never missed a match. This is the Ryder Cup. I would play with my arm hanging off. A couple of blisters are not going to stop me. But Faldo is the captain. He wanted some fresh legs for this afternoon. At the end of a day, it’s a team. We have to play as a team.”

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