CHASKA, Minn. – After a morning full of roars and moans, dazzling shots and bewildering ones, the Europeans stunned the Americans by winning the foursomes session, 2 1/2 to 1 1/2, to pull within one point heading into afternoon fourballs.
The U.S. still leads, 6 1/2 to 5 1/2, heading into the fourth session at Hazeltine, but Europe has once again swung momentum in its favor.
The American duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed squandered a huge back-nine lead against Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Rafael Cabrera Bello after going 6 under four the first 12 holes. Staked to a 4-up lead, the U.S. made three consecutive bogeys to give the Europeans a chance, none more critical than the dropped shot on 15, where Spieth attempted a “hero shot” and failed to skip his approach shot across a pond. On 17, Spieth’s birdie bid crept over and somehow by the right edge, as Cabrera Bello chipped in to square the match heading to the final hole, where both teams made clutch putts for a halve.
“The way we played wins most matches,” Spieth said. “They stayed steady with it and hit the shots they needed to down the stretch.”
The Europeans built an early 3-up lead in a match that featured even more demonstrative celebrations from Europe’s biggest star. Pumping their fists, glaring at the crowd, McIlroy and Pieters combined for five birdies to knock off Mickelson and Fowler, who played erratically for the second consecutive day. Commentating on Sky Sports, Butch Harmon, Mickelson’s former swing coach, quipped: “I don’t think Phil can spell fairway, much less hit one.”
It’s the first time that McIlroy has defeated Mickelson in a Ryder Cup match (1-3). McIlroy has found a solid, and unexpected, partner in Pieters. They hadn’t even practiced together or developed a game plan – needing to flip a tee on the first hole to determine who started first – but they are now 2-0 as a pairing.
Silencing the European chants was the U.S. team of Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker, who made four consecutive birdies on Nos. 13-16 to move the match from all square to a 3-and-2 victory over Henrik Stenson and Matt Fitzpatrick. Koepka shook off an embarrassing shank on the 12th hole with a 243-yard rocket on the next tee, leading to the first of four birdies to close.
With Stenson paired with the diminutive rookie, his usual partner, Justin Rose, also guided a first-timer around Hazeltine. The Englishman paired with Chris Wood, playing in his first match of the week, to knock off Zach Johnson and Jimmy Walker, 1 up. Rose made it interesting, finding the water after a questionable decision on 16, but Europe still came away with the full point.
Now the Americans have a narrow lead as they head into the fourballs sessions – usually their strength – but a format in which they struggled mightily on Friday afternoon, forfeiting all of the momentum from their morning sweep.
The U.S. has led after the third session five times since 1979. Only once did they fail to win – in 2012, with Davis Love III as captain.