GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Paul McGinley has a template. Tom Watson needs a timeout.
The European side has a poster inside its team room that reads, “We will be the rock when the storm comes.” The U.S. is desperately trying not to sink like a rock.
With one day remaining in the Old Tom experiment, this is no time to start driving the golf cart from the back seat. That time will come.
Before that moment of reckoning, however, Watson & Co. have one more session to do what the last four U.S. teams have been unable to do - win an away game Ryder Cup.
It won’t be easy. Not after another poor foursomes performance on Saturday afternoon that leaves the U.S. side trailing, 10-6. At this point the red, white and blue’s best hope may be 12 faulty alarm clocks in the Gleneagles hotel.
After a spirited rally early on Saturday in fourball play, the U.S. cut the Continent’s lead to one point, but for the second consecutive day, the Europeans nearly swept the foursomes session, 3 1/2 to 1/2. Whatever comeback the Americans can muster on Sunday would be historic, right there with Brookline in 1999 and the Euro's two years ago at Medinah.
The last time an American team won a singles session by that margin (8 1/2 points), Ben Crenshaw was calling the shots and the U.S. team’s best tandem this week, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, were in elementary school.
“I have to give credit to the Europeans in the afternoons, yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, they performed the best,” Watson said. “You might think that it's a given that the Europeans are going to win, but I sure as hell don't.”
Maybe things would be different if FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel wasn’t back home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., with a newborn; and Chris Kirk wasn’t in Athens, Ga., attending the Georgia-Tennessee game.
Maybe the U.S. wouldn’t be in this position if Tiger Woods wasn’t in Jupiter, Fla., nursing a back injury and Dustin Johnson wasn’t wherever DJ is these days nursing a battered psyche.
But on Saturday there were no excuses. Say what you will about the U.S. teams of late, but they don’t do excuses.
“We are going to come out strong as a team tomorrow and put this afternoon behind us, because as a team it wasn't what we were looking for,” Spieth said.
Whatever Watson’s master plan has been this week, it has gone wildly off script, what with rookies Reed and Spieth delivering nearly half of the U.S. team’s points (2 1/2) and Phil Mickelson being benched for a full day at the Ryder Cup for the first time in his career.
But of all Watson’s decisions that will be picked apart in the coming days, sitting Lefty won’t be one of them. During Friday’s foursomes action, Mickelson and Bradley - who were perfect as a team at the 2012 Ryder Cup - were 3 over par for 16 holes and lost to Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson, 3 and 2.
“I want our team to win. Whatever we have to do is all I care about,” said Mickelson, who is the first American player to participate in 10 Ryder Cups.
What the U.S. team must do on Sunday is exceedingly simple. The only motivational speaker the Americans need on Saturday night is Dave Stockton Sr., explaining that 100 percent of all putts that don’t get to the hole don’t go in.
America’s dozen have largely putted like Old Tom not Young Tom, leaving clutch putt after clutch putt short, and this isn’t about Gleneagles’ slower green speeds.
It’s not the golf course superintendent that has stymied the U.S. team seven out of the last nine matches, it’s guys named Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson who have combined for more European points this week than all five of the U.S. side’s major champions (Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Bradley) combined.
Want to know what McGinley’s secret template is? Make putts.
Europe doesn’t make every putt, just the ones that matter. Like that 2 footer that Reed – who may not be a top-5 player yet, but he’s certainly among Watson’s top 5 this week – hammered through the break at the 16th hole late Saturday on his way to a halve against McIlroy and Sergio Garcia; or any of the putts that Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker have missed on their numerous trips to the 18th green this week.
Watson’s team still has life, and stranger things have happened on a Ryder Cup Sunday (see Medinah, 2012). But it will take a Brookline-like charge, a reality that doesn’t escape even the team’s youngest.
“We all believe that it's possible,” Spieth said. “Brookline was 10-6 (after two days), Medinah was 10-6 the other way. Hopefully we get some good pairings and some guys out early to go make a move. But we're ready.”
Twenty-one years ago Watson led another U.S. team onto the singles pitch with a deficit and delivered a victory, America’s last on foreign soil. On that Sunday the U.S. won 7 1/2 of 12 points in the final frame to win by two.
Old Tom will have to do it again, just better.