NEWPORT, Wales – Europe could only dream of a Sunday like this at the Ryder Cup. It gave Tiger Woods his worst beating ever, hit all the right shots to spur on its foot-stomping, flag-waving crowd and kept the Americans from winning a single match.
Too bad this one won’t end until Monday.
The Europeans already had reason to be in a festive mood amid the rain and muck of Celtic Manor.
Bolstered by the sight of blue on every leaderboard, they won five matches and halved the last one when Francesco Molinari knocked in a 3-foot birdie putt and celebrated with his brother, Edoardo. That stretched their lead to 9 1/2 -6 1/2 .
Europe needs to win only five of the 12 singles match to reclaim the gold trophy.
“In my time – 20 years since I’ve been playing Ryder Cup – this is one of the greatest days for European golf we’ve ever had,” European captain Colin Montgomerie said. “To run a two-point deficit into a three-point lead was quite amazing. To stop America from winning a match, just fantastic.”
Lee Westwood, Europe’s leader in the team room and on the golf course, inspired from the start. He teamed with Luke Donald to demoralize Woods and Steve Stricker, who had never lost in six previous matches. Europe was 4 up when the matches resumed, and Westwood promptly knocked in a 30-foot birdie putt to win the hole. The cheer was heard by every match on the course.
More big putts followed until they had a 6-and-5 victory, the biggest rout of the week.
“When you’re playing Tiger, you just seem to up your game a little bit,” said Westwood, who is 6-1 in team matches against Woods. “I supposed he’s got nothing to win – apart from the point – but he’s got a big reputation.”
PGA champion Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter held off a rally to beat Phil Mickelson and 21-year-old Rickie Fowler. Mickelson set an American record with his 17th loss and headed into singles without having contributed a point.
Rain again soaked the course, forcing a five-hour delay and pushing the Ryder Cup into Monday for the first time in its 83-year history.
Europe was leading in all six matches when play resumed, and Montgomerie walked along the practice range repeating the same message he had delivered the night before.
“We know the Americans are going to come out fast,” he said. “But we are going to go out faster.”
What gave Europe such a big lead is that it finished stronger.
Even with Westwood and Donald making quick work in the opening match, and with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy winning their first match against Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan in alternate shot, the remaining fourballs matches could have gone either way.
And over the last five holes in each match, they almost did.
Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar were the only Americans to lead in a match. They were 1 up playing the 18th until Francesco Molinari stuffed his wedge into 3 feet for a half-point that left Kuchar and his teammates sagging their shoulders as they trudged off the course.
Dustin Johnson, who joined Mickelson as the only American without a point, and Jim Furyk were on the cusp of a big rally until Johnson three-putted for bogey on the 14th to fall 2-down. They never caught up against Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher.
Jeff Overton introduced a new cheer to the European crowd – “Booooom, baby!!” – when he holed a shot from the fairway for eagle on the eighth. He and Bubba Watson squared the match, only for Peter Hanson to make a crucial birdie for the halve on the 15th, and Miguel Angel Jimenez to deliver a pivotal 15-foot birdie on the 16th in a 2-up victory.
Fowler holed out from a bunker for eagle on the 11th, and Mickelson’s birdie on the 13th helped the Americans tie their match. Mickelson then missed putts inside 8 feet to lose the next two holes, keeping European blue on the board.
“I saw guys fighting and not getting the result we were looking for,” Pavin said. “But we nearly did.”
The fans were swaying, stomping and singing a tune now so familiar to the Americans – “Ole, ole, ole, ole”—as Europe marched confidently off the 18th green and into the team room, momentum and history on its side.
Only once since this format began in 1979 has Europe had the lead going into the final round and failed to win. That was in 1999 at Brookline, when the Americans overcame a 10-6 deficit behind a home crowd that was raucous and unruly.
Montgomerie brought up those ugly memories when he met with his squad Sunday night after the matches.
“All this would be pointless today if this isn’t continued tomorrow,” Montgomerie said. “Yes, we are tired. The USA team must be tired, as well. But there’s no resting here for our team. We are going here as if it’s tied to try and win the singles session. That’s our goal. And there will be nobody backing down from that goal tomorrow.”
Pavin, a stoic personality throughout the week, was reminded of that great American comeback in 1999, when U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw said he was a big believer in fate and added ominously, “I have a good feeling about this.”
As for Pavin?
“Ben’s Ben, and I’m me,” Pavin said. “I’m going to put the guys out in the order that I think gives us the best chance to win.”
Montgomerie is leading off with strength – Westwood against Stricker, and the top part of his Monday lineup is loaded with some of his best performers at Celtic Manor, with McIlroy, Poulter and Donald at the top.
Pavin has Woods in the eighth spot against Francesco Molinari, while Mickelson is at No. 10 against Peter Hanson. Then again, it’s hard to figure out who is playing well for the Americans this week – especially after the beating they took on Sunday.
“We’re going to try to close the gap and see if we can make a run at this,” Mickelson said.