MEDINAH, Ill. – The United States Ryder Cup team’s best pairing Saturday might have been with Chicago.
Captain Davis Love III’s best strategy might have been recruiting some of the best putters the American team has ever collected and then setting up Medinah Country Club for a birdie blitz.
With the Americans lighting up the course in taking a commanding 10-6 lead, Love’s formula made the grounds quake with unrelenting roars.
The Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra couldn’t have played more stirring music for the souls of an American team eager to keep Europe from winning its fifth Ryder Cup in the last six.
“It was tough,” Europe’s Ian Poulter said. “We’re in Chicago. They had a few drinks today, and they weren’t making it easy for you, I’ll be honest. It was brutal.”
Europe’s Graeme McDowell saw the course setup with hardly any rough early in the week and knew exactly the problem his team faced. It was as if Love doused the grounds with gasoline and sent his team off with putters as matchsticks.
“Chicago should be very proud,” American Ryder Cup rookie Keegan Bradley said. “I can barely contain myself out there.”
McDowell said the setup at Oakland Hills in ’04 actually hurt the Americans because it was major championship tough, where a parade of pars almost lulled the hometown fans into stupor.
“It was a battle of attrition there,” McDowell said at this week’s start. “The only thing Davis can do is set up the course for scoring this week to get the crowds on their feet, to charge them up.”
Give Love credit. His grand plan is unfolding just as he hoped.
“We had an idea of what might work,” Love said. “I think it’s what fans want to see. They don’t want to see us putting for pars. Everybody has had fun, and we just want to go and have fun one more day.”
And give the American team credit. They keep detonating explosions, dropping putts in from every which where.
“We’re the ones who usually make the putts, and the Americans have done it to us the last couple days,” Europe’s Luke Donald said.
Tiger Woods hasn’t won a point this week, but he knows why the Americans are in command going into Sunday’s singles.
“This is probably the best collection of 12 putters we’ve ever had,” Woods said.
With so much new blood on the American team, with their young, unscarred Ryder Cup hearts, the United States made a hard early charge Saturday, winning three of four morning foursomes matches.
The four American rookies were 4-2 Saturday. They’re 8-3 for the week.
Bradley leads them all with a 3-0 mark in his dynamic pairing with Phil Mickelson.
The duo set the quick pace Saturday morning with a record 7-and-6 rout of European Ryder Cup dynamos Donald and Lee Westwood, a pair of former world No. 1s. The margin of victory equaled the largest 18-hole rout in the history of the cup’s partnered matches.
Bradley brings an intensity rare for a first-time Ryder Cupper. He plays these matches like a hockey player leaving a penalty box.
“Phil wants me to get fired up and to get the crowd fired up, to get him excited,” Bradley, 26, said. “There have been times where my caddie [Steve `Pepsi’ Hale] and Phil’s caddie [Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay] have reminded us it’s time to calm down.”
Love’s formula has come together to give the Americans the largest lead they’ve had going into singles in 30 years.
The United States hasn’t had this kind of cushion going into a Sunday since Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd and Johnny Miller helped build a 10½ to 5½ lead in 1981.
The Americans have built this lead even though Woods has contributed zero points. He and Steve Stricker were beaten, 1 up, by Sergio Garcia and Donald in a spirited match in Saturday’s fourballs. The Woods-Stricker combination is 0-3 for the week.
“This is a new generation of guys,” said Woods, 36. “The guys I grew up with are on the senior tour.”
They may be young, but they know enough golf history to remember what happened to the European team in ’99. That team also had a 10-6 lead going into singles and was upset in the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
“There are a lot of memories from ’99, and we have to know that this sort of deficit can be overcome,” American Matt Kuchar said. “We have to go out and play some really good golf tomorrow and make sure that we don’t let a comeback like that happen.”
If there’s any city that knows no large lead is safe in September, it’s Chicago. The memory of the ’69 Cubs late-season collapse will never be forgotten here.
The Europeans showed just how much fight they’ll bring into Sunday singles with a late rally in Saturday’s fourballs. Poulter and Rory McIlroy closed with a spectacular run of six birdies, the last five by Poulter, to defeat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, 1 up. Donald and Garcia held off a Tiger charge to win another point against Woods and Stricker.
While that ’99 American comeback was inspired after captain Ben Crenshaw said he had a “special feeling about this,” the Euros have their own special feelings. They have the memory of the late Seve Ballesteros, a Ryder Cup legend. The Euros will honor his memory wearing “Seve outfits.” They’re expected to wear Ballesteros’ traditional blue-and-white Sunday garb.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal believed his team’s winning the last two points Saturday was critical.
“It gives us a chance,” he said.
If the Europeans do rally, they’ll have to quiet this crowd in Chicago with some hot putting of their own.