GLENEAGLES, Scotland — It’s just one match, but if you want to read the tea leaves for the 40th Ryder Cup, then Match 3, which goes off at 3:05 a.m. Eastern time, is required viewing. Set your alarm, set your DVR, warm up your lucky rabbit’s foot, say a Hail Mary or five, because Match 3 is going to tell us whether the Americans have a chance or we can all just sit back and watch another installment of Ian Poulter Plays the Ryder Cup Hits.
Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth against Poulter and Scotland’s own Stephen Gallacher. It could be epic. It could be a blowout. Spieth is just 21. The only Ryder Cup he’s ever played in was the Junior Ryder Cup, a coed event, at Gleneagles in 2010. The U.S. won, if you care. He’s also played in the 2013 Presidents Cup (2-2-0), and 2011 Walker Cup (2-0-1), if you care.
Reed, 24, had a lot of international teammates at Augusta State and said they “played multiple times a year in a Ryder Cup kind of a format.” So, um, there’s that. And he went 6-0 in NCAA Championship matches.
To say the Euros are favored to win Match 3 doesn’t quite cover it.
“Absolutely buzzing,” Poulter said. “Playing with Stevie G., home course, in Scotland, first Ryder Cup, it’s going to be amazing.”
But here’s the thing: If you’re cheering for the U.S., you’ve got to love Match 3. If Reed and Spieth lose, no biggie. It’s just one point, and one the Yanks weren’t expected to get, anyway, what with Poulter draining birdies and breaking hearts and perfecting his Angry Bird look. But if they get a win out of this, it is, as Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo put it, a “game changer.”
“I feel like our job is to win a point,” Spieth said. “We can do that with those two guys. We’re going to really lower their team morale, I feel like. I think our match is very important in the morning.”
Does that quote give you goose bumps?
U.S. captain Tom Watson clearly sensed something in these guys, and since he had to roll the dice at some point this week, he must have figured he might as well do it early. This is Watson saying that if America is going to start winning again, it can’t keep putting the same old veteran players out there to do what they’ve done in the past. Spieth beat Tiger by nine over the first 36 holes at Torrey Pines to start this year. Reed won the Cadillac Championship at Doral and pronounced himself one of the top five players in the world. To use an analogy Watson might like, this is the captain letting the horses run.
“I told them today, I said, ‘I'm going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver,’” Watson said. “‘You're on your own. You get out there and you get it done.’ They are all in, and that’s — there was a great story told to me by Byron Nelson in his first Ryder Cup. He was paired up with somebody and they were playing — I wish I could remember the team he was playing against, but it was the top team.
“The day of the match,” Watson continued, “when the first round of the matches were announced like they are today, the morning papers said, ‘The Lambs are Thrown to the Wolves.’ And of course Byron beat the stars, and the headline the next day was, ‘The Lambs Eat the Wolves.’”
Reed and Spieth have plenty to chew on. Poulter’s win percentage is a ridiculous 80 percent, and Gleneagles is Gallacher’s home course. At the very least, Reed and Spieth will get the chance to play their own ball every shot as they get used to the Ryder Cup, but neither American player is thinking that way.
“I'm excited,” Reed said. “I can't wait to get out there and I couldn't have a better teammate. I've played a lot of golf with him, not only as a professional golfer, but junior and amateur golf. I think it's a comforting factor for us and I think we'll go out there and kill it.”
“Patrick and I have played together now for a few days,” Spieth added, “and we’re getting to peak at the right time.”
If Reed and Spieth take down Poulter and Gallacher, it’ll be Watson stealing home, scoring a Hail Mary touchdown and shooting the moon all at once. But it’s possible. The wacky, topsy-turvy Ryder Cup is where Phil Price beat Phil Mickelson in 2002, and cuddly Costantino Rocca beat Woods in 1997. Gallacher may be playing a home game but he’s still new to this at age 39. And Poulter may be ice in singles (4-0-0), but his four-ball record is 4-2-0. It’s the only Ryder Cup format in which he has lost more than once.
Tiger Woods, it turns out, has twice taken out Poulter in this format, first with Chris Riley in 2004 (they beat Poulter and Darren Clarke), and later with Steve Stricker in 2010 (they beat Poulter and Ross Fisher).
Reed and Spieth have played like Tiger, in spurts. They’ve talked a big game, both at Doral (Reed’s “top five in the world” line) and here at Gleneagles (Spieth bravely vowing to lower Euro morale).
Now the lambs just have to eat the wolves.