Ryder Cup History Shows Europe's 10-6 Lead Not Insurmountable

Ryder Cup History Shows Europe’s 10-6 Lead Not Insurmountable

Justin Leonard after making the winning putt at the 1999 Ryder Cup. The U.S. team trailed 10-6 entering Sunday singles in 1999, just like they will Sunday at Gleneagles.
PGA of America

GLENEAGLES, Scotland — To halve and halve not: Random concessions from the Ryder Cup…

Ten-six? Ten-six? That score sounds familiar.

Oh, that’s right. That was the score going into the singles final two years ago when it appeared the Americans might finally win a second Ryder Cup in the 21st century. You know how that one ended — not well. Davis Love’s squad won only three singles matches on Sunday and suffered a ringing, stinging defeat.

Come to think of it, 10-6 was the score after Saturday’s play at Brookline in 1999 when Ben Crenshaw’s front-loaded lineup rallied to snatch a controversial win from the Europeans. It was controversial because most of the American team’s entourage ran onto the green after Justin Leonard holed a stunning putt and it was poor form because Jose Maria Olazabal still had a putt to have the hole.

So history shows that 10-6 doesn’t mean 10-4, police jargon for over and out. This Ryder Cup isn’t over. But if you’ve been watching this one, you know it probably is over. After the Euros stomped on an American rally by taking three-and-a-half of four points in a demoralizing afternoon session, it felt over.

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The Europeans have a stronger lineup, head to toe, and they’ve got the home crowd on their side. Which didn’t matter two years ago when the Euros won in Chicago. The five best players in the world, despite what the world rankings say, are arguably Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.

Who do the Americans have to match those five players? Well, Jim Furyk is ranked No. 4 but he hasn’t won in three years. Bubba Watson is probably the real top American. Phil Mickelson is a legend but he made this team on the basis of two good weeks — last year’s British Open and this year’s PGA — in the last 15 months. After that, the Americans are too closely bunched to even rank.

Look at how the singles will stack up. Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler endured three grueling matches that went to the 18th, then gamely went out for a fourth and got smoked. They’ve got to be drained. Ditto for Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who played a doubleheader Saturday, along with Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar.

The Europeans have the same issue with Rory, Kaymer, Rose, Westwood and Donaldson so maybe fatigue will be a mitigating factor.

The problem with trailing 10-6 is that the players have to play almost perfect golf on Sunday. A couple of opponents will have hot rounds and will be unbeatable. The team that trails has to get all the others.

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And to pressure the leaders, the team that trails has to win matches early. The Europeans in 2012 went out and won the first five schedules singles matches. That changed the atmosphere and ratcheted up the tension on the Americans, who suddenly felt the pressure of blowing a big lead.

That’s a game-changer and pretty much the only chance the Americans have.

They’ve got to copy the Euro formula and win four or five of the first six matches. The players on the back end of the draw have to feel the momentum swing the other way and the pressure and the outcome of the Ryder Cup shifting onto their backs.

Is it possible? We’ve seen it happen twice in the last 15 years.

Is it likely? Twelve Americans hold the key to that answer.

Meanwhile, you missed history if you missed Saturday morning here…

The American duo of Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar threw nine birdies at their European opponents in Saturday’s four-ball session. The lost the match, 3 and 2.

That’s not a misprint. Watson and Kuchar saw a light in the tunnel that turned out to be a speeding locomotive in the form of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. The Americans were actually 2 up early in the match but Rose was more magical than Harry Potter on the greens, holing putts from long, medium and short range, and Stenson backed him up on the few occasions he was needed.

The Euros were 12 under par through 16 holes and finished with 10 consecutive birdies. That total is a record not likely to be broken because if you’re that far under par, the match usually ends much sooner.

“Of course, we would have birdied 17 and 18 as well if we had a chance,” Stenson joked. “To make 10 birdies in a row doesn’t come around very often. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime.”

Starting at the seventh, the European duo reeled off 10 straight birdies. But Watson and Kuchar gamely chased the Euros with a remarkable  performance of their own. This match featured 21 birdies, one day after there were 28 birdies and two eagles total in all four of Friday morning’s windier four-ball session.

“I made birdies, just not enough of them,” Watson said ruefully later. “We probably would have beat all the other teams today, just not the one we played. We were hanging with them but 10 in a row, from 7 to 16, all birdies. I don’t see too much we could do different. It was amazing. “

The match ended anticlimactically at the par-5 16th after Rose pitched out of some thick greenside rough to within tap-in range and was conceded a birdie. Then Watson and Kuchar, who each missed the green short, failed in attempts to chip-in to earn a halve and extend the match one more hole…

Did somebody mention history? Saturday was the first day of Ryder Cup play in 21 years in which neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods played in a match. Mickelson rode the bench for Day 2 of this Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, a decision by captain Tom Watson, and Woods, of course, isn’t here.

Wouldn’t you have loved to be there when Watson told Phil and Keegan Bradley that they weren’t going out to play foursomes Saturday afternoon? Uh, everyone who’s playing foursomes should head out to the range. Not so fast, Phil…

The Invisible Man Award is shared by Stephen Gallacher and Webb Simpson, two players who teed it up in Friday morning’s four-ball matches and haven’t played since. They’ll return for Sunday’s singles…

Ian Poulter gets all the attention for being a Ryder Cup assassin but has any modern European player been a bigger thorn in the Americans’ side than Lee Westwood? He and Jamie Donaldson won a pair of foursome matches here, lifting Westwood’s all-time Ryder Cup mark to 20-13-6. Nick Faldo, with 23, and Bernhard Langer, 21, are the only Euros who have won more matches than Westwood, who was a captain’s pick this time…

Food for thought: How many players here are playing in their last Ryder Cup and don’t know it? Some of the more interesting nominees would be Mickelson and Furyk, who rank among the top 15 in the world despite being in their mid-40s; Westwood; Gallacher and Donaldson…

Third-guessing: The easiest pick in Friday afternoon’s foursomes lineup was Europe’s Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson over Americans Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. The Americans were playing their fourth straight match and had suffered through three excruciating halves while the Euros had the morning off and were well-rested. The Euros won, 5 and 3.

Don’t bother questioning Watson’s decision to send them out instead of Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who rested in the morning. McDowell and Dubuisson shot a five-under 67 with no bogeys, a score that’s going to overwhelm almost any opponent…

Is it too early to start thinking about the next American Ryder Cup captain? The PGA of America believed they went outside the box to bring in the 65-year-old Watson. Who’s next? Mickelson and Jim Furyk probably expect to play their way onto the team in two years so they’re out. David Toms, a former PGA champ who is well-liked, would be a possibility, too. The most obvious choice would be the only man who captained a U.S. victory in this century, 2008 captain Paul Azinger, who restructured the whole qualifying system to make the team more competitive…

They said it: Ian Poulter after being asked to describe Rory McIlroy as a Ryder Cup partner: “Well, when he hits it 350 down the middle, he’s kind of useful.”… Former Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie on the Sky Sports telecast describing some colorfully attired spectators: “Those are either the Minnesota Vikings or the Vikings from Denmark.”… More Monty, on the Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed pairing, taking a not-so-subtle a dig at American captain Tom Watson: “How these guys were left out in the afternoon Friday, nobody knows.”… Graeme McDowell on France’s Victor Dubuisson, who was G-Mac’s partner in a pair of foursomes wins: “I’m telling you right now, folks, this kid is the next superstar in Europe. This kid is really, really good.”

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