Patrick Cantlay kept alive United States’ slim chances of ending a 30-year European Ryder Cup hoodoo with a dramatic and tension-packed late win in Saturday’s final fourballs match which cut their opponents’ lead to five points.
Trailing by one hole with two to play against Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick, Cantlay and Wyndham Clark won at 17 and 18 to claim the Americans’ third point of the second session, 1-up.
Zach Johnson’s men go into Sunday’s 12 singles matches trailing 10.5-5.5 thanks to the last-ditch turnaround as the Roman sun crept below the horizon.
It was a dramatic win for the USA earned largely thanks to Cantlay, who sunk three crucial putts in the final three holes just as momentum appeared to have definitively swung in the European’s favour.
The most impressive was at 18, a 30-footer drained under huge pressure to leave McIlroy and Fitzpatrick needing to make tricky birdy putts which they duly missed.
Cantlay unleashed a wave of emotion with his teammates on the green at the end of an epic day’s play which finished at nearly 7.00pm local time (1700 GMT) and ended with the Americans reducing a first-session European lead of seven.
“Hopefully have a ray of light and we can build on this session and try and pull off a big victory tomorrow,” said Cantlay who competed Saturday without a cap, reportedly in protest at players not being paid.
The USA still have a massive task on their hands as no team has ever recovered from more than a four-point deficit at the end of the second day, leaving Luke Donald’s European team still favourites to claim their seventh straight home win.
Robert MacIntyre and Justin Rose, who snatched a half at the last in Friday’s fourballs, cruised to a three and two victory over Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth who had come into the tournament with a formidable matchplay record.
Rose sunk the key 19-foot putt to halve his Friday fourballs match in stunning fashion and on Saturday the English Ryder Cup veteran repeated the trick on the 16th.
“I just knew there was a huge opportunity today,” said Rose.
“Obviously nine and 10, we went one up and… I said to Bobby, the next 20 minutes, we have to put our foot down and get out and get a stranglehold on this match. That’s exactly what happened.”
By that time the USA had already collected two of their afternoon points with convincing wins.
Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa cruised to a 4 and 3 victory over Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, who ran out of gas after dishing out a record-breaking 9 and 7 foursomes hammering to Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
Max Homa and Brian Harman were the only bright spot in the morning foursomes for Johnson’s team and the pair followed that up by prevailing 2 and 1 over Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard.
Homa was not making a pun when he said over lunchtime that the US were in a “big hole” ahead of the fourballs and Harma has no illusions about their chances on Sunday.
“Back against the wall. We’ve got a deep hole to climb out of,” admitted Harman.
“But we’ve got some good players and got a good team. So we’re going to fight like hell and either win or die trying.”
The day started in emotional fashion as home fans unfurled a large banner depicting Spanish Ryder Cup icon Seve Ballesteros, bringing vice-captain Jose Maria Olazabal to the verge of tears at the Italian message “forever in our hearts”.
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