MEDINAH, Ill. – The skywriting planes that have been working the pale blue skies above Medinah Country Club this weekend have been relentlessly Eurocentric and optimistic.
“Make That Board Blue” and “We Believe,” they wrote in the place of the clouds Saturday afternoon.
But if there were truth in advertising, the messages to the Europeans huddled below in the sunshine with their cold putters would have been far less chipper. Some possibilities: “Dream On” and “History Is Overwhelmingly Against You.”
Europe still holds the Ryder Cup, but heading into today’s 12 singles matches, Davis Love III and his U.S. team have their hands on each golden handle.
The Americans’ lead of 10-6 might not sound like a lock, and it is not insurmountable. They still need 41/2 points today to secure the trophy. But 10-6 has almost always been decisive at this advanced phase of this team competition. The one exception: 1999 in Brookline, Mass., where the United States rallied to win from the same deficit.
But that was at home, with a riled-up crowd providing a feisty soundtrack. The Europeans will have to try to hoist themselves out of a very deep bunker on the road and with a big, rowdy crowd almost entirely against them except for the small pockets of Northwestern graduates who feel allegiance to a fellow Wildcat, Englishman Luke Donald.
Donald did his part in the late afternoon to keep the Europeans in touch, if hardly in command. He and Sergio Garcia held off Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, 1-up, in a mood-swinging fourball match that made Woods and Stricker 0-3 in this competition.
In the last match to finish, Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter made six consecutive birdies on the final six holes to win, 1-up, over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner. The last five of those birdies were the work of Poulter, including 12-foot putts on Nos. 17 and 18.
“Those last two matches were massive,” said Jose Maria Olazabal, the European captain. “That leaves us just a chance. It’s been done before in the past.”
But for all the late European exertions, the four-ball session still ended as a 2-2 split.
The U.S. has not lost any of the four sessions at this Ryder Cup, but their chances of winning the Saturday four-ball matches might have improved if Love had chosen to deploy his star pairing of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
As the Americans won three of the four foursome matches Saturday morning, Bradley, a 26-year-old rookie, and Mickelson, a 42-year-old veteran, swept aside Lee Westwood and Donald, 7 and 6 – tying the record for the highest winning margin in an 18-hole Ryder Cup match. Bradley and Mickelson have won all three of their matches.
“The crowd has provided so much energy, and it’s brought our best golf out,” Mickelson said.
But Love chose to stick by his game plan and rest Bradley and Mickelson during the afternoon four-ball session with an eye on today’s singles.
“Historically and mathematically, the guys that have played five matches have not done as well in the singles, and we want to make sure we’re rested and focused on singles,” Mickelson said.
But in light of the score line, it is the Europeans who will need all the focus (and birdies) they can muster.