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With the world’s number one golfer Dustin Johnson, the three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, and the resurgent Tiger Woods, the United States flew one of its most talented Ryder Cup teams in history to Le Golf National in Guyancourt, near Paris, for this week’s team tournament.
But it looks like it’s heading home with nothing.
Team USA had begun the competition so well, leading 3-1 after Friday’s morning session had finished. According to Golfchannel.com, it had been “29 years since the Americans started this hot on the road” — and after the opening fourballs session, the United States team was indeed on fire.
The fans also brought the fire. The Ryder Cup has a habit of bringing the flag-waving, beer-chugging, and raucous nature of golf fans to the fore, moreso than any other event in the sport’s calendar.
But Brooks Koepka played down the intimidating din that surrounds the first tee. “I’m here to play golf,” he reportedly said midday Friday, perhaps confident after the US gained that two point lead. “It’s not like somebody’s about to beat my brains in.”
Little did Koepka know that Europe would go on to produce a brain-beating effort that very afternoon, extinguishing all American confidence and form with a stunning clean-sweep in the foursomes, winning 5-3 on the day.
Saturday was no different.
Led by experienced heads like Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, and the invincible pairing of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, Europe marched to a 3-1 lead after the morning fourballs session, and shared the spoils in the afternoon’s foursomes, winning the second day, once again, 5-3.
The United States currently trails 10-6, just like Europe did back in Medinah, where it needed a miracle to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat six years ago. But, alas, unlike that unforgettable 2012 Ryder Cup comeback in Illinois, it looks like there will be no miracle here … just a national humiliation as the once-fancied Americans surrender the Ryder Cup trophy back to the Europeans.
Here’s how it has unfolded so far …
Europe captain Thomas Bjørn has made tough decisions in the two years that have led to this weekend, one of those picking Sergio Garcia as a wildcard — a player who has been off-form throughout the summer.
But it is a decision that has been vindicated as his unparalleled Ryder Cup enthusiasm and natural born motivation skills helped get Rory McIlroy through the course and with a win on Saturday morning, against Koepka and Tony Finau in the fourballs session.
“Any time I didn’t hit a great shot Sergio was always on my shoulder with encouragement telling me to come on and it’s great to hear that from someone like him,” McIlroy said, according to The Guardian. “His passion and fire for the Ryder Cup are second to none and it’s pretty infectious.”
One of Bjørn’s easiest decisions was keeping Fleetwood and Molinari together, as the Anglo-Italian pairing kept winning and winning. Fleetwood and Molinari are responsible for 40% of Europe’s points haul so far, and what perhaps makes their victories all the more sweeter, is the fact they were considered “sacrificial lambs” by US pundits, according to The Telegraph.
The pairing, the first European pair to ever win 4-0 in the same Ryder Cup tournament, has been so successful that “Moliwood” — a portmanteau of both names — began trending on Twitter.
And it is likely because of accurate strikes like Molinari’s tee shot on the 179-yard par 3 11th:
And because of Fleetwood’s impeccable putting on the greens:
Woods, with Patrick Reed, lost 3&1 against “Moliwood” on Friday morning, 4&3 on Saturday morning, and 5&4 (with Bryson DeChambeau), on Saturday afternoon. “Moliwood” was so good, it was enough to make Woods swear.
Woods said he was “p—–” he lost the matches. “They never missed a putt from ten to twelve feet,” he added, to the Golfchannel.com.
Fleetwood, the Ryder Cup rookie, admitted he was “a bit emotional” but his attitude epitomises the team spirit Europe has. He’s made history, but he knows there’s still more golf to play on Sunday. “To have your own little bit of history together is very special,” he said. “I’m very glad we’ve done our job for the team.”
ESPN pundit Taylor Twellman claimed on Twitter that there is a massive difference between the European players and Team USA. “Europeans are grinders and they play to win, while the Americans are like celebrities who play for show.”
But there are also technical problems for the United States to overcome — and it all comes down to accuracy.
The United States possesses players who can drive the golf ball with an almighty thwack, but the entire squad lacks accuracy from the tee box. With the driver, Rickie Fowler is the most accurate US team member, but even he is ranked 52nd on the PGA Tour. The average rank in the United States team, meanwhile, is a lowly 131.2, according to the Golfchannel.com.
In contrast, the Europeans are far more accurate from the tee and, while they may not be able to boom it as far as the Americans, they’ll at least be on the fairways more often than not.
Henrik Stenson, for example, is the most accurate driver on the entire PGA Tour, and players like Ian Poulter (36) and Justin Rose (43) are not too far behind. The average rank in the Europe team is 83.7 — almost 50 ranks below the US.
This difference may well be telling come Sunday, when it’s time for the singles session and everybody plays.
This is because the fairways are narrow and if you’re wayward — like the Americans Reed and DeChambeau have been — then you will likely find your ball halfway up an artificial mound where grass has just been allowed to grow wild. This produces a thick rough that even the strongest of rescue golfers struggle to hack themselves free from.
Precision is therefore key, which is something the Europeans have in abundance.
America has it’s big hitters, off the tee and in matchplay. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth have the capability and performance-level necessary to beat Rory McIlroy and Thobjorn Olesen in the singles event tomorrow. And Woods, who is yet to win this week, will likely prefer the isolated nature of the singles session, so he too could score for the US.
But Europe is undefeated on home turf since 1993, and considering what has transpired this week, there is no good reason why the team won’t extend that run, in style, when play resumes on Sunday.
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