Momentum has done a 180, leaving Europe with all the positive vibes and the United States with a very tenuous 6-4 lead at the conclusion of Ryder Cup Saturday. If you didn’t know better, it looked like the Yanks felt guilty for stealing the final point of the second session – Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar basically won the last three holes to beat Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, 1 up.
The Euros lead in all six suspended matches, four of them by advantages of 2 up or more, though none have reached the back nine. Darkness did not arrive soon enough for the Americans, who seemed worn down from the outset of the “makeup session” that features a pair of foursomes games in addition to four better-balls. For all the hand-wringing to be done in the U.S. team room Saturday evening, the mission when play resumes should be rather clear.
Salvage at least two points Sunday morning. Anything more would amount to a huge bonus – and allow the Yanks to retain the lead heading into singles – but this is no time to get greedy. With Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 4 down and Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan trailing by three on the eighth tee, both alternate-shot tilts appear to be lost causes. Phil Mickelson remains winless and has failed to get anything going with Rickie Fowler after a failed partnership with Dustin Johnson.
At this point, it would be silly to expect anything from Philly Mick – he lost 3 down in his first two matches with Johnson and is 2 down now. That infamous, ill-fated pairing with Tiger Woods in 2004 continues to haunt Mickelson, who has won just one of 14 matches since. As good as he has been at the Presidents Cup, Lefty has been just as awful against the Euros, and if you’re U.S. captain Corey Pavin, you’re looking for a place to hide Mickelson in the singles, most likely the middle of the lineup.
Despite superb performances from unlikely sources such as Jeff Overton and Stewart Cink, plus a pair of wins from Woods-Stricker, the U.S. doesn’t find itself in a position of strength heading into Sunday. If there’s one thing to be learned from watching Ryder Cup over the years, it’s that momentum is a moody old cuss, capable of switching its allegiance at any moment, often without an obvious reason. Although the Yanks were headed in the wrong direction when play was called Friday, they came out Saturday morning and won the opening session, then turned their one-point lead into two in the afternoon.
Twenty-four hours later, with the action in the third session halted at virtually the same point as was the first, the U.S. has to deal with the ramifications of tricky reality. There is a ton of golf to be played, the outcome of 16 matches still to be resolved, but now, it’s all about damage control. The tide has shifted, and as the Euros dig into the deficit, Celtic Manor’s galleries will become an even greater factor. Two points Sunday morning means a tie ballgame heading into the finale. As little as that may sound, it could be a lot to ask for.