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U.S. leads Ryder Cup, 10-6, with Europeans hanging tough

Ryder Cup

Ian Poulter and Luke Donald make key birdies down the stretch to give Europe some momentum heading into singles.

September 30, 2012|By Jeff Shain
  • Ian Poulter reacts after sinking his putt on the sixteenth hole.
Ian Poulter reacts after sinking his putt on the sixteenth hole. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA )

MEDINAH, Ill. — Hold off on that red, white and blue party. Throw a little more ice on that champagne. And for goodness sake, don't get Ian Poulter stirred up.

The Americans might yet win back this Ryder Cup, but the Europeans aren't going down without a fight.

Poulter and Luke Donald defiantly kept the transatlantic clash from turning into a runaway, raining down European birdies on Medinah's back nine during Saturday's four-balls to hold off a pair of American rallies and stay within striking distance of a miracle.

USA 10, Europe 6. Twelves singles matches to decide the Cup.

"Of course there's a chance," said world No.1 Rory McIlroy, who as Poulter's partner had a front-row view of the Englishman's five closing birdies — and his wild-eyed celebrations as each one fell in.

"We all have to go out there and believe that we are going to win our match. … Hopefully we can take advantage of [the opportunity] and get a few points on the board early and put them under pressure."

The Americans need only 4 1/2 more points Sunday to reclaim the diminutive gold trophy. Europe needs 8 points to keep possession.

Or to put it another way, the Europeans need to duplicate the biggest Sunday comeback in Ryder Cup history — 1999's legendary U.S. rally in Brookline, Mass.

"We haven't lost a segment yet," U.S. captain Davis Love III said. "We just need to try and keep it going."

Donald birdied three of the last five holes in four-ball as he and Sergio Garcia held off a furious rally by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Their 1-up triumph, though, wasn't decided until Stricker's seven-foot birdie try at No.18 caught the left edge and stayed out.

That merely set the table for the match that followed. Poulter finished his round with five consecutive birdies — needing every one as he and McIlroy flipped a 1-down deficit into a victory over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.

Poulter gave the British duo its first lead by curling a 15-footer from left to right into the cup at No.16. Then he had to match the Americans' birdies on the final two holes — an eight-footer at the par-three 17th that negated Johnson's, then an 10-footer at No.18 after Dufner applied the pressure.

"Those last two matches were massive," European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. "That keeps us in, just a chance. … At one point in this match, I believe that momentum will come our way — and why not tomorrow?"

Europe nearly made it closer, as Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar were taken to the limit in a 1-up win over Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts. That final stretch found Colsaerts watching lip-outs on back-to-back holes — and Johnson nailing a 20-footer at No.17.

"One of the best putts I've ever made," Johnson said.

The loss by Woods and Stricker dropped them to 0-3 in the paired matches — two coming in spite of five back-nine birdies by Woods in four-ball.

"It's tough," Woods said. "I'm feeling good about my game, but just unfortunately haven't got a point."

It's the first time that Woods has lost three matches in a weekend since Europe's 2004 rout at Oakland Hills.

Lost in all the drama was the 5-and-4 romp by Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson over Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari.

Despite the frantic finish, the Americans' 10-6 lead is the second-largest they've taken into singles since the current format was instituted in 1979. In 1981, Dave Marr's squad led by a count of 10 1/2 to 5 1/2 after two days at England's Walton Heath.

Mickelson and Bradley led a 3-1 morning session for the Americans, matching the Ryder Cup record for biggest margin in a tandem match with a 7-and-6 romp over Donald and Lee Westwood.

In 44 Ryder Cup holes this weekend, the duo has recorded 21 birdies.

"We've had so much fun; the crowd brought so much energy," said Mickelson, who notched three wins at a Ryder Cup for the first time since his 1995 debut. "We just love it."

Mickelson and Bradley became the third duo in Ryder Cup annals to notch a 7-and-6 victory. Tom Kite and Hale Irwin did it first in 1979, matched by Paul Azinger and Mark O'Meara in 1991.

jshain@orlandosentinel.com

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