Golf Insider: Europe can seal Ryder Cup victory with time to spare

The Europeans hold a big Ryder Cup lead going into Sunday, and though similar margins have been overcome, their domination should continue in the singles...

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Ben Crenshaw had a feeling on that Saturday night at Brookline in 1999; Jose Maria Olazabal invoked Braveheart 13 years later at Medinah.

In Versailles, Jim Furyk will have to think of something extra special if he is to summon his American team to a comeback that will rival those Ryder Cup great escape acts of the past.

Europe go into Sunday’s final session of 12 singles matches at Le Golf National firmly in the driving seat, leading 10-6 after four sessions of fourballs and foursomes in which Thomas Bjorn’s team has transformed a 3-1 deficit after Friday morning’s opening session into a commanding lead that equals those of the Mark James’s Europeans 19 years ago and Davis Love III’s United States in 2012.

Golf – 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National – Guyancourt, France – September 29, 2018 – Team USA captain Jim Furyk during the Fourballs REUTERS/Paul Childs

If Furyk’s players are to be remembered in similarly heroic terms to their predecessors at Brookline, they are going to have to find something in both their games and their characters that has only surfaced fleetingly over the first two days of competition here.

The Americans need eight points to retain the trophy they reclaimed for the first time in eight years at Hazeltine in 2016. Europe needs just 4.5 points to grab it back.

You look down the draw list for Sunday’s singles and those 4.5 for the Europeans are a lot easier to find than the American target of eight.

As expected, both skippers have sent out as many of their big guns as they dare at the top of the order in a bid to set the tone and create some momentum they hope will gather and gather over the course of afternoon’s dozen matches.

Yet it is the European order that seems to stretch deeper down the list. The Americans have just not played well enough on this course or gelled with their playing partners sufficiently to make a contest of this 42nd Ryder Cup, though there will be enough fire in their bellies to provide yet another day of drama in this unique team competition.

You have to wonder, though, how much fire can compensate for the likes of Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson or Bryson DeChambeau to start playing this course with the required accuracy to keep the ball on these tight fairways and out of either the penal rough or expansive amounts of water at Le Golf National.

Golf – 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National – Guyancourt, France – September 29, 2018 – Team USA’s Tiger Woods looks dejected during the Foursomes REUTERS/Carl Recine

Reed’s status as Captain America must now be subject to a court-martial after two defeats in the company of Tiger Woods that have not only highlighted the 14-time major winner’s discomfort with playing partners but also his fragility at the end of a year in which he has fought back from spinal fusion surgery in such remarkable fashion.

Woods came to Paris on the back of a career-highlight victory at the Tour Championship last Sunday that seems to have taken its toll on 42-year-old in body, mind and spirit. Not only that, his partnership with Reed appears to have sucked the life out of the USA team’s previously most spirited talisman.

Golf – 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National – Guyancourt, France – September 28, 2018 Team Europe’s Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood celebrate during the Fourballs REUTERS/Paul Childs

That captain Furyk sends Woods out fourth in a match with the similarly winless Spanish rookie Jon Rahm suggests a belief that the Tiger will be unleashed in the comfort of his own company and delighted to have avoided the twin spectres of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, whom he faced in all three of his matches, the last of which in the company of the luckless DeChambeau. Woods has emerged a loser each time.

Rumours that, having beaten Woods three times, Molinari and Fleetwood now get to keep the Tiger are so far unfounded.

Rahm also has a point to prove and a desperate need to win his first Ryder Cup points after losing his two fourball outings with senior partners Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, and though he appears made for a Ryder Cup situation, maybe he too will finally flourish in the singles. His success may just depend on Woods’s appetite for the battle.

Rory McIlroy kicks off the singles schedule against Justin Thomas, who with playing partner Jordan Spieth was the only pairing to mount a stirring resistance to the European charge on Friday and Saturday. Thomas and Spieth are significantly the only two Americans to contribute more than a single point to their cause and they are well placed to add two more on Sunday.

Golf – 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National – Guyancourt, France – September 29, 2018 – Team Europe’s Rory McIlroy during the Foursomes REUTERS/Charles Platiau

McIlroy’s contribution has been a mixed bag in Paris. So often the leader, his game has not clicked consistently enough to predict a singles win over world number four Thomas, who has grown in stature on his debut in the company of childhood pal Spieth.

The American pair have carried the fight to the home side with Spieth rediscovering his putting form and Thomas dovetailing brilliantly to deliver three points from a possible four. Spieth looks to have been given a gimme in being drawn against rookie Olesen, the lowest ranked player on either team and the most nervous-looking debutant on display in his Friday morning fourball when McIlroy did him few favours. The Dane has been benched ever since and looks like a sacrificial offering at number seven in the order.

European supporters will be hopeful the job has already been completed with the in-form Paul Casey whose game and experience looks more likely to better negotiate both course and opponent Brooks Koepka than the other way around.

Golf – 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National – Guyancourt, France – September 28, 2018 Team Europe’s Justin Rose reacts during the Foursomes REUTERS/Carl Recine

That is the third match out and captain Bjorn has sent old reliable Justin Rose in the four slot, where he will face a difficult rival in Webb Simpson, who putted brilliantly on Saturday. Rose, though, is made for these moments and in the battle of the rookies in match six, so too is Fleetwood against Tony Finau.

His pairing with Open champion Francesco Molinari has been the revelation of the weekend and also a record-setting one, the first European pairing to go four wins from four.

Now the dynamic duo are bidding to become the first Euros to make it five from five with Molinari also in good shape against Phil Mickelson, the captain’s pick who looked in terrible form in his lone appearance so far, an ill-fated foursomes pairing with DeChambeau, who has been given the anchor role against fellow rookie Alex Noren.

Indeed, if the job is not done at the top of the order for Europe, then there look to be easy pickings at the bottom of the draw as Furyk can find no hiding place for his misfiring stars. World number one Dustin Johnson and early playing partner Rickie Fowler have faded since an opening fourball win on Friday and they face Ian Poulter and a resurgent Sergio Garcia respectively while Tyrrell Hatton can seal an impressive debut by completing Reed’s misery in Match 10.

Bubba Watson might offer some resistance against Henrik Stenson but the Swede is well placed to make it three wins from three in 2018 as Europe avoid the pitfalls that befell the overnight leaders at Brookline and Medinah.

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