HAVEN – Is Kleenex a corporate partner of the 43rd Ryder Cup? If not, Kimberly-Clark, which manufactures the tissues, missed a golden opportunity. Because at some point Sunday – probably at many points – U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is going to cry.
The floodgates are going to open when the Americans clinch the Cup in Stricker’s home state. The Edgerton native and Madison resident is going to blubber when NBC interviews him. His eyes are going to be as red as the grandstands at Whistling Straits. And we’re going to love every minute of it.
The U.S. takes an 11-5 lead over Team Europe into singles after winning three of four foursomes matches Saturday morning and then splitting the fourball matches, 2-2, in the afternoon.
Since the Ryder Cup went to 12 singles matches in 1979, no team has ever scored fewer than 3½ points, which happens to be the number the Americans need to get to 14½ and clinch the Cup. As the defending champions, the Europeans would need to score nine points to retain the Cup with a 14-14 tie.
“You can overcome 10-6,” said NBC analyst Paul Azinger, the winning U.S. captain in 2008. “But if it gets bigger than that, it’s almost insurmountable.”
The Americans, then, have one hand on Samuel Ryder’s 17-inch trophy and the other on a bottle of Dom Perignon. In order for both to slip from their grasp, they would have to play historically poorly Sunday and Europe would have to overcome a six-point deficit – something no team in the 94-year history of the competition has done. After two days and 16 matches, there are no indications that either is forthcoming.
Mathematically, of course, the U.S. could lose. It’s possible that the golfers ranked Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 in the world all could lose their singles matches. It’s also possible that the Loch Ness monster could swim into Lake Michigan and surface off the 17th green at the Straits.
Yeah, we know, it’s not over till it’s over. That’s why they play the game. But this is what bettors call a mortal lock. This is Tom Brady with a two-touchdown lead and the ball with 30 seconds left. Turn out the lights, the party’s over. Come to think of it, leave ‘em on, because we haven’t gotten to celebrate U.S. Ryder Cup victories very often this century.
The Europeans are hanging on to a sliver of hope, and captain Padraig Harrington is reminding his players of the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, when Europe overcame a 10-6 deficit, winning the first five singles matches en route to a stunning 14½-13½ victory. The U.S. also overcame a 10-6 deficit in 1999, after captain Ben Crenshaw famously said, “I’m a big believer in fate. I’ve got a feeling about this.”
“There's no doubt that's going to be very strong on our minds, and look, even reversing it to Brookline (in ’99),” Harrington said. “I know that was a four-point gap. These things can be done. But again, it is more of an individual game tomorrow and getting them to focus on winning their point. Go out there and play their game and win their point. That's the biggest thing they can do to help the team.
“I'm sure they know they have a very tall order ahead of them, but it's still possible.”
The difference between Medinah and Brookline and what’s transpired at Whistling Straits is that this U.S. team is one of the strongest in history based on the world ranking, and other than the Spanish duo of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia and the feisty team of Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry, the Europeans have not put up much of a fight.
Rory McIlroy, the heart and soul of Team Europe, is 0-3 and looks completely out of sorts. In two fourball matches, he has not made a single birdie (though he did make an eagle Friday).
“Obviously disappointing,” McIlroy said. “Disappointing not to contribute a point for the team yet. I’ll just go out tomorrow and try my best to get a point, and hopefully we can rally and at least give them something to maybe sweat about in the middle of the afternoon.”
Lee Westwood, playing in his 11th Ryder Cup and the winner of 20 career matches, has looked every bit of his 48 years and is 0-3. Westwood was 14-8-3 in his first five Ryder Cups but is 6-13-6 since. Even English firebrand Ian Poulter, who has been a thorn in the Americans’ side over the years, is 0-2.
Rahm (3-0-1) and Garcia (3-0) stayed unbeaten together by toppling Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger, 3 and 1, in morning foursomes and Koepka and Jordan Spieth, 2 and 1, in afternoon fourballs. Outside of them, however, the only Europeans to win a match in four sessions were Hatton and Lowry, who beat Tony Finau and Harris English, 1-up, in fourballs.
In fact, without Hatton’s clutch 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in Friday fourballs for a crucial halve and Lowry’s 10-footer on the same hole in Saturday fourballs for a 1-up victory, the Europeans would be looking at a 12-4 deficit.
The Americans, meanwhile, have been every bit the juggernaut they looked to be on paper going into the matches. Dustin Johnson teamed with Collin Morikawa to win both matches Saturday; they are 3-0 together and Johnson is 4-0.
“They complement each other's game very nicely,” Stricker said. “And we knew DJ's record going around (Whistling Straits). He's had some great events here. Probably should have won one of the PGAs here (when he finished T-5 in 2010), but he's enjoyed the course and played it well again this week.”
Every member of the U.S. team has won at least one match and all are playing well, with the exception of Spieth, who uncharacteristically has struggled on the greens.
“Obviously, I love the way the guys are playing, and the energy that they are bringing on a regular, daily basis,” Stricker said. “We have said it from the start how loose and connected they have been with each other. It's showing. They are playing great. They are playing with some freedom. You know, they are having a great time. So, it's good to see.
“I just feel so good about all 12 of my guys, really. They are just all playing very nicely and just doing all the right things. But the big part, I think, is just the fun we've been having this week as a unit and together. I think it's showed out on the course.”
In singles, Stricker is sending Xander Schauffele out first Sunday to face McIlroy. That match is scheduled to start at 11:04 a.m. After that, it’s Patrick Cantlay vs. Lowry, Scottie Scheffler vs. Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau vs. Garcia, Morikawa vs. Viktor Hovland, Johnson vs. Paul Casey, Koepka vs. Bernd Wiesberger, Finau vs. Poulter, Justin Thomas vs. Hatton, English vs. Westwood, Spieth vs. Tommy Fleetwood and Berger vs. Matt Fitzpatrick.
Stricker, who was on the team that coughed up the four-point lead at Medinah – and whose loss to Germany’s Martin Kaymer in singles provided Europe with its clinching point – said there was no reason to bring up the past with his players.
“No, I'm not going to bring up Medinah,” he said. “I just told them before they left, I had a little small conversation with them. … I just said that we've got another day. It's not over yet. Let's not rest on what we've done these first couple of days, and you know, don't be content with where we're at and let's go out there, we want to win the session again tomorrow.
“These guys are still very focused. I think they have learned from our past mistakes, as well. They know. They have watched. No one is taking this day tomorrow for granted at all, and we are totally focused on what we need to do to get the job done.”
Only then will the Americans get to break out the champagne. And the Kleenex.