After the first two days of foursome and four-ball matches, the U.S. leads Europe 9.5 to 6.5 — I would say, things are looking good for Team America, but there are 12 points up for grabs on Sunday (and I was at Medinah four years ago). Fingers crossed, though. We really, really need this one! Let’s breakdown the matches…
—Stephanie Wei and Jon McCarthy
Match 1: Rory McIlroy (career singles record: 2-0-1) vs. Patrick Reed (career singles record: 1-0-0)
We asked and the captains delivered — Patrick Reed vs. Rory McIlroy will open Sunday’s singles matches tomorrow morning. I’m not completely kidding that “there will be blood.” There’s a good chance it will get somewhat ugly if the fans at Hazeltine behave anything like they have the past two days. McIlroy, of course, was a favorite target of hecklers on Saturday (which was like second-hand embarrassment to witness).
“Someone just said a few derogatory things I thought was out of line,” said McIlroy. “Tried to get him removed. I’m not sure if he was removed or not. Look, these things happen. It’s golf at the end of the day. You try to keep the utmost respect for who you’re playing and for who you’re supporting. You know, that particular guy, this is obviously in the very, very small minority, just took it a bit too far.”
But we know it is bound to be an epic faceoff between the best player on both teams so far this week. And it will likely be fiery. I would make a joke about shots being fired, but that would be out of line. Whoops, too late!
Note to American fans at Hazeltine: You’re actually pumping up Rory, so maybe tone it down a little for the sake of everyone.
“It fueled me a lot,” said McIlroy of the hecklers. “The more they shouted, the better we played. I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Reed was doing Reed things. There was a stretch where Reed was five-under through four holes. His faithful partner Jordan Spieth basically got to sit back and take a rest while he watched the clinic that Reed put on.
Match 2: Jordan Spieth (0-1-0) vs. Henrik Stenson (1-2-0)
Jordan Spieth basically had the afternoon off on Saturday during the Patrick Reed show but he won’t have Captain America to protect him on Sunday. Spieth’s been missing shots right all week but really doesn’t seem too worried about it. Quite likely, it’s impossible not to be bursting with confidence after two days of witnessing screams and evil grins from Reed.
“We were both screaming,” Spieth said about Reed’s 269-yard approach on 16 Saturday afternoon. “That’s how cool it was. I screamed, ‘Let’s go, Patrick’ and I don’t know what he screamed at that point. He did his signature whatever it was that he’s been doing, the let’s-go fist-pump.”
Ah yes, who doesn’t love Reed’s signature “whatever it is”?
Spieth needs to patch things together on Sunday but he’s been doing that all year and he’s proven capable of figuring it out and looking Spieth-ian on any given day. Stenson has had more moments than Spieth this week but they have come in fits and starts. Friday afternoon was his best session and for most of that round he looked like the Stenson that made history at Royal Troon.
Both players will have played in all five matches this week. Spieth and Stenson compete with a fire in their belly and tend to direct their emotions inward. But this is Ryder Cup Sunday.
Match 3: Thomas Pieters (rookie) vs. J.B. Holmes (1-0-0)
European Ryder Cup rookie Pieters partnered with McIlroy in three out of four matches and the dynamic duo were unbeatable. Pieters’ record so far is 3-1-0 and has played quite impressively, to say the least, especially alongside Europe’s biggest star.
Pieters, who was a captain’s pick, helped McIlroy dismantle Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson in Saturday morning foursomes, and then the pair were 11-under for 17 holes en route to defeating Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson in the afternoon.
Pieters had the hole of the day, driving the 311-yard, par-4 No. 5 and draining the eagle putt.
The 24-year-old long-hitting Belgian will be a force to be reckoned with in the Ryder Cup for years to come.
“I’m very happy I’m making a lot of putts, which obviously that’s what’s going to win you points and going to win matches,” said Pieters. “Hopefully I can continue that tomorrow. It’s pretty cool to have three points with Rory. I think we’ll have this team for a while longer.”
It’s hard to say how J.B. Holmes will fare against Pieters, as the American has only played in two four-ball matches. Partnered with Ryan Moore, Holmes made seven birdies en route to their defeat of Lee Westwood and Danny Willett. Holmes had the shot of the day with a great bunker shot to tap-in distance on the 16th, but then knocked his tee shot into the water hazard on the par-3 17th. Lucky for Holmes and Moore, Westwood missed yet another very short putt to hand the win and point to the Americans.
This faceoff between two bombers has the potential to be a fun match to watch. But golf fans around the world: Remember the name Thomas Pieters because you’ll be hearing it for a long time to come. “I told Ian Poulter back in 2012 that he was built for The Ryder Cup, and I think Patrick Reed is built for The Ryder Cup, too,” said U.S. Captain Davis Love III. “He’s got that attitude.
“Obviously that’s going to be a fun match to watch in two of the best players in the game going at it. But you just go down the list, there’s great match after great match after great match. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Match 4: Rickie Fowler (0-1-1) vs. Justin Rose (2-0-1)
Justin Rose famously took down Phil Mickelson at the Miracle at Medinah, was the leading point-getter at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and he’s never lost a singles match. Rickie Fowler, um, finally won a Ryder Cup match this week. His first. But, well, he’s good at getting halves, so there’s that. Both Fowler and Rose got off to slow starts this year but Rose turned his play around and made the season a success by winning a gold medal at the Olympics.
Every American will have the home field advantage on Sunday but it’s worth noting that before Patrick Reed riding in on bald eagles and shooting bucks on the driving range, Fowler was as made-in-America as golf gets. Rose took the high road on Saturday when talking about the boisterous (Read: drunk and obnoxious) fans at Hazeltine.
“I’m going to skip that question I think,” Rose said. “Obviously it was loud; it was fun. 90 percent of it is fun, and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Fowler has played in just two sessions this week. Rose hasn’t missed one, playing in all four.
Match 5: Rafa Cabrera Bello (rookie) vs. Jimmy Walker (1-0)
Well, this match is a bit of a toss-up since both guys have only played two matches. Cabrera Bello, a rookie for the European squad, has partnered quite well with fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia, so it was a bit of a surprise that Captain Darren Clarke split the pair up in afternoon four-balls on Saturday and sat Cabrera Bello.
The Spanish duo trailed the seemingly unbeatable American pair of Spieth and Reed for most of the morning foursomes, but managed to turn it around the last couple of holes and win a half point.
“Like Sergio said, we really didn’t feel like we had many options at the beginning,” said Cabrera Bello. “They were just cruising. We were telling each other that we were playing good also; that we just have to keep doing our job; that they will eventually slow down, and that happened and we saw our window of opportunity. They made a few mistakes and we played good down the last few holes and we managed to tie.”
He’s having an amazing experience as a Ryder Cup rookie so far.
“Ever since we got here Monday…actually even before we got here just on the plane, I’ve really been loving the entire Ryder Cup experience,” said Cabrera Bello, who has contributed 1.5 points to the European squad “And playing here, normally I get chicken-skin on the last few holes if I’m in contention. Here I get it pretty much on every walk from green to the tee on every hole on every putt, and it’s extremely exciting.”
Jimmy Walker, who is playing in his second Ryder Cup, has won a match and lost another. He was partnered with Zach Johnson in Friday morning foursomes and they easily beat Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer 4&2, but the American pair lost in a tight match that went all the way to the 18th hole to Justin Rose and Chris Wood 1-up.
Walker played excellent in his first Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, even though his record might not reflect that. He did win his singles match against Lee Westwood 3&2 in 2014. Walker will certainly be well-rested, but so will Cabrera-Bello.
Match 6: Phil Mickelson (5-5-0) vs. Sergio Garcia (3-4-0)
This is the only match that, on paper, can challenge the intensity of the Reed-Rory match. Mickelson has an obsession with Ryder Cups but Ryder Cups have an obsession with Garcia.
With just two wins in two decades for Mickelson, success at this event is one of the only things he’s missing (besides that little tournament that falls on his birthday). For Garcia, it’s the opposite, he’s had a career full of major disappointments saved by being a cold-hearted, American-toying, god-like matador every two years at the Ryder Cup. On Saturday, Garcia answered chants of “YOU HAVE NO MAJOR!” by drilling a birdie putt on the 16th in the midst of a four-hole comeback.
Mickelson has more on the line than anybody this week. He was the one that sparked the philosophy overhaul of Team USA and is the unquestioned team leader.
With great power comes great responsibility. — Spiderman
Both players have been making otherworldly putts at times this week but both players are also capable of missing four-footers. If Europe gets off to a hot start, this has the possibility of being an all-timer between two aging legends. It might be time bring back Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf for this match.
Match 7: Lee Westwood (3-6-0) vs. Ryan Moore (rookie)
If you’ve seen Westwood play at all this week, then you can only cringe when he has a putter in his hands, especially if the putt is within five feet. He yipped a number of putts on Saturday afternoon and practically handed Moore and Holmes a point. It was brutal. Westwood also doesn’t have the best singles record in the world.
“Well, Lee played fantastic all day,” said Captain Clarke, who used one of his wildcard picks on his good mate. “I don’t know how much of the golf that you watched; he played fantastic all day. The shot that he hit out of the bunker, to hit it to where he did — to hit the shot that he did, to get it that close, and indeed the one that Danny hit out of the bunker to get it up there. You know, he gave himself every opportunity.
“It was a downhill, right-to-left putt that he would probably make nine times out of ten, but you add Ryder Cup pressure and he missed it. It happens in professional golf. But his golf all day was fantastic. He’s disappointed, but he’s ready to get out there and play again tomorrow.”
Clarke said there’s no need to worry about Westwood’s psyche.
“Lee’s fine,” he said. “He’s a veteran and he’s done this many, many times. He’s disappointed, and he’s disappointed more for the team than himself when he came off the golf course. He’s now back focused on what he needs to do tomorrow.”
Well, I wonder if Russell Knox is watching the matches this week…
Meanwhile, Moore, who was the fourth and final wildcard pick, finally started to make some big putts in the afternoon four-ball match.
“We obviously got down early,” he said. “We constantly were hitting putts that we both thought were doing to go in and they didn’t.
“Towards the end we were like let’s make them work for this. Let’s try to get back one hole at a time. Fortunately, I hit a couple great putts that snuck in there and made it interesting.”
Moore, who was a match play specialist as an amateur, has enjoyed his first Ryder Cup experience so far.
“It’s unbelievable out there playing today,” he said. “Definitely the most nervous I think I’ve ever been on the first tee. It was fun. It’s a fun atmosphere, fun environment to play in. It makes you want to step up and make those putts. Fortunately I was able to make a couple to extend the match today.”
Given what we’ve seen from Westwood on the greens, Moore should be able to take him down relatively easily.
Match 8: Brandt Snedeker (0-1-0) vs. Andy Sullivan (Rookie)
Brandt Snedeker looked so good in the morning on Saturday it was a shock he was left on the bench for Ryan Moore, J.B. Holmes, or even Phil in the afternoon. Remember five years ago when everyone at your golf club was trying to imitate his pop-gun putting style? Well, they might try to again if he putts on Sunday like he did on Saturday. His alternate shot partner on Saturday Brooks Koepka was impressed.
“It’s easy when you’ve got somebody who putts it as good as Brandt does,” he said. “The fairways were overrated today. I don’t think we hit — I think we hit maybe three.”
Andy Sullivan? Hmmm. He’s 30-year-old Ryder Cup rookie who played once this week alongside the shield known as Rory McIlroy. The only thing I remember about Sullivan this week is that it was his putter that the American fan used to make that putt for 100 bucks in the practice round on Thursday. And the fan heckled Sullivan for having such a short putter. If either of these players are your favourites, hopefully you are here at Hazeltine because you won’t see much of them on TV until the match is on the line.
Match 9: Chris Wood (rookie) vs. Dustin Johnson (2-0-0)
Wood, one of the six European Ryder Cup rookies, has only played in one match. He partnered with Justin Rose in the Saturday morning foursomes, where they outlasted Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson 1-up for a hard-fought point. Wood will definiely be feeling a mix of excitement and nerves come 12:32pm Sunday.
DJ will be a tough match. He has obliterated his opponent in his previous two starts in Ryder Cup singles in 2010 and 2012, where he defeated Martin Kaymer 6&4 and Nicolas Colsaerts 3&2, respectively. Unfortunately, DJ was on his “leave of absence” for the 2014 Ryder Cup, which is a shame because we really could have used his help, but that’s in the past. Strangely enough, DJ hasn’t contributed as much as I would’ve expected this week, with only one point on the board.
My money is on DJ to easily take home this point with ease. But um, it’s probably the angle, but this is a bit over the top…
Match 10: Brooks Koepka (Rookie) vs. Danny Willett (Rookie)
This match should be a good one. Koepka has looked like anything but a Ryder Cup rookie. The two biggest revelations for any casual golf fan (none of which will be reading this) were Koepka and Europe’s Thomas Pieters. Both behemoths look as though they will be a big part of their respective Ryder Cup teams for years to come.
According to Snedeker, even Koepka doesn’t understand what he’s got.
“So proud of this guy,” Snedeker said. “This guy needs to know how good he is and he’s starting to figure it out right now.”
According to Danny Willett’s brother, Koepka would probably fall into the Lego man American category, although Willett likely would prefer to face a pudgy red-face on Sunday. Willett has been through the ringer this week and the Masters champ really turned his game up on the back nine on Saturday afternoon versus Ryan Moore and J.B. Holmes. He carried Westwood around the back nine at Hazeltine before Westwood’s putter became just too much to compensate for. Willett will feel as though he’s got plenty to prove on Sunday and will be tough to beat.
Match 11: Martin Kaymer (2-1-0) vs. Matt Kuchar (1-2-0)
Martin Kaymer is one of golf’s most enigmatic players. You never know which Kaymer is going to show up; the one who can be the best golfer in the world or the one who looks utterly lost on the golf course. Kaymer might not look lost on the golf course this week but he has looked lost on the greens. Two and three foot misses by the 43-year-old Westwood under heavy pressure are easier to understand than trying to explain how Kaymer missed 10-footers by a foot-and-a-half this week.
Kuchar looked great with his pal Phil on Saturday but if Ryder Cup Sunday gets this deep there is always a chance pressure gets to the affable American. It wouldn’t be the first time. That said, Kaymer has been godawful, but the man has two majors and has clinched the Ryder Cup before.
That’s why they play the matches.
Match 12: Zach Johnson (2-1-10 vs. Matthew Fitzpatrick (Rookie)
If this match matters there will be some pretty angry drunks at Hazeltine tomorrow evening. The final match of the day features Gritty McGritterson Zach Johnson — who you will hear tomorrow is both unbelievably gritty AND a fantastic wedge player. He even grits his teeth on the course and looks a like a mini-Terminator. Luckily, Matt Fitzpatrick has never heard of the Terminator. The 22-year-old Englishman didn’t play until Saturday when he and Stenson were soundly beaten by Koepka and Snedeker. If the Ryder Cup comes down to this match let’s hope Fitzpatrick isn’t wearing white pants.
And that’s that. See you tomorrow. Go Canada!