News & Opinion

24-hour period marks American downfall

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – When the U.S. team of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas parred the 18th hole for a 1-up victory in morning four-balls Friday, it seemed to be the beginning of a dominating performance for an American side that hasn’t won a Ryder Cup in Europe in 25 years.

The U.S. took a two-point lead into the afternoon of the first day. Captain Jim Furyk couldn’t have asked for more, especially overseas.

Oddly, the U.S. had won the past two opening sessions in Europe: in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland and in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales, both by scores of 2½-1½.

Instead of the beginning of U.S. dominance, it would mark the beginning of the end of any realistic chance for the Americans to win the 42nd Ryder Cup (scores). The next 24 hours proved to be a nightmare for Team USA.

Trailing 3-1, the Europeans swept the Friday afternoon fourballs, led by Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, who won their second point of the day. It was the first time that a European team won all four Friday afternoon foursomes matches.

With the five consecutive points spanning the two sessions, Europe took a two-point lead going into Saturday’s morning four-balls.

“We played for eight points so far out of 28,” said Furyk, using captain’s logic after the afternoon whitewash. “The event's still pretty young. We've got one more team format tomorrow and then the singles. Eight out of 28 … pretty small percentage of this golf tournament been played.”

Furyk was correct, but the momentum was with Europe on Friday night, and the hosts followed it through Saturday morning. Europe won three consecutive matches in four-balls until Spieth and Thomas interrupted the hosts’ rout with a 2-and-1 victory against Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm.

Europe’s eight-point run, a record for consecutive points since the Ryder Cup expanded to include continental Europe in 1979, flipped a two-point U.S. lead into a four-point margin for Europe entering today’s singles.

That 24-hour period effectively ended America’s Ryder Cup hopes.

Only twice in Ryder Cup history have teams rallied from four points down entering the final day: 1999, when Ben Crenshaw’s Americans defeated Mark James’ Europeans, 14½-13½, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.; and 2012, when Jose Maria Olazabal’s Europeans stunned Davis Love III’s Americans, 14½-13½, at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club.

The tone for the Brookline comeback was set Saturday night when Crenshaw wagged his finger at the media and said, “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this.” His vision would come to life the next day as the Americans won six consecutive matches, including three against Europeans who were held out of the lineup until the final session. That U.S. team was loaded with big-event talent, with 10 of the 12 players being past or future major champions.

In 2012, fate similarly turned late Saturday as Poulter and Rory McIlroy dug out a point in their match to limit the U.S. lead to four. The Europeans won the first five points Sunday to swing the momentum. Europe capped the session by winning 2½ points in the final three matches.

Having watched two days of the Ryder Cup here, I find it hard to envision the Americans winning eight of 12 points today to retain the cup.

If they don’t, that 24-hour window from midday Friday to midday Saturday will be a big reason.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli