May 20, 2024

GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — A trio of Patrick Cantlay birdies has given America hope. The Europeans head into the final day of the Ryder Cup knowing they need four points from the singles to preserve their 30-year record, but Saturday’s afternoon session has given the U.S. something to build on with the tournament tantalizingly poised with Europe leading 10 ½ – 5 ½.

After the morning, it looked like it was going to be a European procession as they won three of the four morning matches, including a record win for Ludvig Aberg and Viktor Hovland over Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler. But reputation and rankings meant nothing at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, and Europe started where they left off on Friday by taking a 9 ½ – 2 1/2 lead into the afternoon’s play with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood all shining.

But then the American comeback began, winning three of their four fourball matches with the duo of Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa securing their first victory, quickly followed by the double act of Max Homa and Brian Harman. Cantlay’s brilliant finish turned U.S. defeat into victory in the final three holes of Saturday’s play to give Sunday a more edgy feel than would’ve felt possible after the morning’s foursomes.

Instead of Cantlay fielding questions on his brilliant finish, the post-session attention was on reports of a split in the America camp whether or not his decision not to wear a cap was a protest of some sort. Cantlay looked bemused, while Harman said how much he loved his teammates and Zach Johnson revealed the team had been battling illness while in Rome.

Then came more drama with an angry Rory McIlroy having to be restrained in the parking lot after the controversial finish to his match where he and sideline spectators Justin Rose and Lowry were furious with Cantlay’s caddy Joe LaCava.

“When Patrick made the putt, Joe waved his hat,” Europe captain Luke Donald explained. “Rory politely asked Joe to move aside as he was in his line of vision, he stood and didn’t move for a while and continued to wave the hat and Rory was upset about that.”

In short, it’s bubbling up nicely ahead of what should be a box office Sunday.

What is working for Team Europe?

The stats-based approach Europe has taken — with Edoardo Molinari leading the line — has worked well in three of the four sessions. The afternoon session on Saturday was the first time the machine malfunctioned as the players looked tired and shots that previously would’ve holed were finding ways to miss.

There’s a great team unity and they’ve also built up the rookies well — focusing on making sure they’re included in every aspect of the experience and aiding that in the pairings. Take Justin Rose and Bob MacIntyre: Rose gave MacIntyre a pep-talk mid-round on Sunday afternoon, telling him to step on the accelerator for a 20-minute period, and it was that little burst which got the job done. Rose is able to draw on previous Ryder Cup experience to guide the rookie through.

But they have to ensure those rookies have a chance to rest and recuperate. They’ll be nervous heading into Sunday, and the rest of the team will need to bring their experience to help them through the nail-biting final day of the Ryder Cup.

They also need to focus. Europe have to cool the frustration that took place in the parking lot.

“Ryder Cups are always passionate — we’ve seen that over the past,” Donald said.

“Again I will address all 12 of my guys tomorrow, I’ll give them the right messaging and they’ll be ready to play.”

If Team U.S. has any chance for a comeback, how will it happen?

The U.S. need to bottle what got them through Saturday afternoon and use that same cocktail on Sunday. They looked like a completely different team than the one we saw across the previous three sessions, but in that afternoon, we saw the likes of Homa, Harman, Cantlay and Burns grab the competition by the scruff of the neck and drag their team back in it. They putted far better in the afternoon fourballs than we saw at any other point over the previous two days and will need to continue making those clutch shots.

They also need their stars to step up. Koepka and Scheffler had a grim Saturday — they need those big-hitters back to their best. The same goes for Jordan Spieth, who’s had a quiet Ryder Cup, and we also haven’t seen Rickie Fowler since Friday morning. They need to keep firing back at the home crowd and carry that passion at the right level.

Who is one U.S. player you expect to step up tomorrow?

Homa has probably been America’s best player at this Ryder Cup, and will be the only one from the visitors to play all five matches across the weekend when he lines up in the singles on Sunday. He’s got 2 1/2 points to his name, and was brilliant with his four birdies and two eagles on Saturday afternoon in the fourballs. He enjoyed a few interactions with the crowd and will be confident heading into Sunday.

“We get yelled at a lot,” Homa said Saturday. “They are actually fairly friendly over here, but they are making fun of us all day. So it’s just my enjoyment on 15, a guy — after I fatted my first chip, a guy just gave it to me for the 10 minutes I stood there, so I turned back around and said something back to him.

“So it’s just having fun. It’s enjoyable.

“J.T. told me at the Presidents Cup about how it’s so fun being at these events because you can act like an idiot if you want to, and I acted like an idiot the few times I was lucky enough to have my ball go in the hole. [It] just comes out of you sometimes.”

Who is one Europe player you expect to step up tomorrow?

He’s already stepped up, but McIlroy is going to be electric to watch on Sunday. He’s been around the earth enough times to know how to control his emotions and he’ll be level-headed when the singles get off and running, but expect him to lead the European charge. Donald will speak to McIlroy about what happened in the parking lot before play gets underway on Sunday, but he has full faith in the man who’s already delivered three points this year.

“I’ll talk with Rory when I get back,” Donald said. “I didn’t see the incident personally. I saw the one on 18. Yeah, I think we always — as I said in my speech, we always try and play with passion, play with energy, but play with respect. That will certainly be my message to the players.”

Which match (or matches) are you most excited to watch Sunday?

Singles draw

  • Jon Rahm vs. Scottie Scheffler

  • Viktor Hovland vs. Collin Morikawa

  • Justin Rose vs. Patrick Cantlay

  • Rory McIlroy vs. Sam Burns

  • Matt Fitzpatrick vs. Max Homa

  • Tyrrell Hatton vs. Brian Harman

  • Ludvig Aberg vs. Brooks Koepka

  • Sepp Straka vs. Justin Thomas

  • Nicolai Hojgaard vs. Xander Schauffele

  • Shane Lowry vs. Jordan Spieth

  • Tommy Fleetwood vs. Rickie Fowler

  • Robert MacIntyre vs. Wyndham Clark

There are some blockbuster matches in there. The one first up between Rahm and Scheffler will be like an old-school, big picture action movie. McIlroy’s match against Burns has the promise to get feisty while Fitzpatrick-Homa will be a coin flip. But perhaps the most intriguing of the lot is Aberg-Koepka. Aberg only turned pro in June and now he’s up against a five-time major winner in Koepka — few tests come bigger than that for Aberg, but he has the testament to handle the big occasion.

Final score prediction and who’s taking home the trophy?

Europe will end up winning 16 ½ – 11 ½ and it’ll be Lowry who gets them across the line, but there’ll be nervous moments in the early stages, and Donald’s team will have to halt the American charge.

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