Credit where credit is due. The Americans, their rookies in particular, have produced some outstanding golf to earn a 10-6 lead after the first two days. They’ve made the putts that have mattered, a whole stack of them. At 12.5 on the stimpmeter, the greens here are running the fastest in the last four matches. The home team are loving them.
Europe may have been the team wearing the bright outfits – lime green one day, cerise the next – but they’ve been off colour. Rory McIlroy, the world No.1, hasn’t come close to firing on all cylinders. He’s picked up just two points from four outings. In yesterday’s fourballs, he hardly contributed. Yet this course, the longest in Ryder Cup history, should suit him to a tee.
Lee Westwood, the most experienced player in the European camp, has been a big disappointment. After struggling badly on Friday, he was lucky to get an outing yesterday morning, when the Americans sat out Tiger Woods for the first time in his Ryder Cup career. The Englishman couldn’t complain about being benched in the afternoon.
There’s been the odd spark here and there, mostly provided by Ian Poulter. In the main, though, there’s been a flatness in the European team ever since they lost a 4-0 lead in the opening session and had to settle for a 2-2 tie in that. It’s not what we expected with Jose Maria Olazabal at the helm. It will take a rousing team talk from him to turn this around.
His counterpart, Davis Love, came up with the most profitable pairings. His rookies have shown no sign whatsoever of being rabbits caught in headlights. Keegan Bradley is heading into the singles with three wins out of three. Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner also have points under their belts; Brandt Snedeker has contributed, too. There’s nothing to suggest they’ll freeze in the isolated singles arena.
For the second afternoon running, Simpson and his partner, Bubba Watson, revelled in the fourball format. Ten-under for 14 holes on Friday, they were at it again. This time, they were nine-under. Simpson bagged seven of their birdies, taking his tally to 12 in 28 holes over two days playing fourball. Watson, one of the game’s biggest hitters, took care of the par-5s. But he’s not counting any chickens yet. “Europe is not going to lie down,” he warned. “They are not going to give it to us.”
Rose, who had reason to feel puzzled about seeing his winning morning partnership broken up in the afternoon by Olazabal, concurred. He used Brookline as the inspiration for Europe. “Ben Crenshaw (the US captain in 1999) said it can happen, so you never know,” said the Englishman. “If we can get close, it will start to get a little bit frantic out there and the American team will feel that.”
After again being overlooked for the foursomes, Paul Lawrie was brought in for the afternoon. Martin Kaymer and Peter Hanson weren’t so lucky and will go into the singles with just one match – a defeat in both instances – under their belt. Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts were up against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. It was supposed to be the first match out. But, with Colsaerts going to the 17th in his morning joust, it went out second.
With First Minister Alex Salmond inside the ropes to lend his support to the sole Scot in the team, Lawrie gave a good account of himself. Two down early on, the Europeans clawed their way back. Lawrie made a great up and down from a greenside bunker for a half at the 13th. He repeated the feat two holes later. His two-putt par then squared the match with two to play.
Johnson had contributed little to the match. He picked his moment perfectly. A 25-footer was judged to perfection at the 17th. It was yet another example of the home team sinking those all-important putts. The birdie-2 put the Americans back in front heading to the final tee. Colsaerts almost holed his approach at the par-4. But, after seeing his ball spin off to the edge of the green, the Belgian was unable to secure the birdie they needed to earn a half. “I’ve played two matches and both times they’ve putted much better than us,” observed Lawrie.
Behind them, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia looked to be coasting to victory. They were four up at the turn on Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. But, for the second afternoon running, Woods found his game on the back nine. He birdied the tenth, 12th, 13th and 14th. The Americans were back in the game. Woods missed another birdie chance at the 15th; Donald made him regret it as he gave Europe some breathing space again.
Woods wasn’t finished, though. He made another birdie at the 16th. He then hit it close at the 17th. Donald responded by hitting it closer, though, and the European pair just managed to hang on for their point.
In the bottom match, McIlroy found himself playing with someone other than Graeme McDowell in six matches in the event. McDowell had looked jaded in their morning defeat. Instead, Poulter teamed up with the world No.1. They lost the first two holes – the second to a par, which is criminal in this format. Poulter holed his fair share of putts but most were for halves. McIlroy rolled in a good one for a birdie at the 13th. Poulter then produced five birdies on the spin. That secured a welcome point late in the day for Europe.
Love bore the look of a satisfied man. His pairings had worked out to near-perfection. “The key is that they went out and played their game in the company of their friends,” he said, simplistically. Having played at Brookline, though, he’ll be warning his players it’s not over yet.
For the singles, Europe will be wearing the navy blue famously sported by Seve Ballesteros when he won the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews. Each and everyone of them will need to come up with the sort of performance he so often produced in this event if Europe are to have any chance of being the holders when the Ryder Cup comes to Gleneagles in 2014.