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Ryder Cup: Americans look to shake ghosts of 2012 on Sunday

CHASKA, Minn. — So now, after the years of planning, and the months of talking and two electric days of flips and flops with the roars of mammoth crowds at every corner, it has come down to this at the Ryder Cup.

Sunday. Singles. The United States with a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead, and a strong whiff of a new day in the Ryder Cup.

Now is when we find out if recent history is to be reversed, or just roll on in European blue. Now is when we find out if all those American changes in Ryder Cup organization were truly enough to reboot this rivalry.

For the Americans it looks so good, with deliverance so near. But how many will be on the lookout for the ghosts of 2012, when the U.S. blew a 10-6 lead on the final day at Medinah?

“We all know the deal is to do our job,” said Matt Kuchar, who was there for the American team. One match at a time.

“We’re one closer than we were at Medinah,” said Justin Rose, who was there for the European team. “It’s going to be a monumental challenge.”

So far, nothing this week has been certain, except one never has had to wait long for something remarkable. Especially from two must-see firebrands, one per side.

 It could be Patrick Reed holing out from the fairway for an eagle Saturday afternoon, part of a 5-under stretch in four holes, when he turned into Arnold Palmer. He would win or halve holes with six birdies and an eagle, in teaming with Jordan Spieth to put down one of Europe’s most dynamic duos; Rose and Henrik Stenson. With each birdie, with each Reed celebration, the crowd only loved him more. The noise must have carried to Wisconsin.

“He’s Captain America for us,” Spieth said.

“It was incredible to watch,” Rose said. “I think he beat us single-handedly.”

Or it could be Rory McIlroy, storming over the course like an aroused bull. He and Thomas Pieters are two European 20-somethings who become the princes of darkness, steamrolling through their last three sessions, leading 45 of 49 holes. McIlroy has screamed and birdied his way around Hazeltine, as he duels with the crowds as much as he duels with the Americans. His best shots against the gallery’s best shots, and the more the people yell, the more putts he has made.

Phil Mickelson might be the wise paternal figure of this U.S. team. Lee Westwood the elder for the Europeans. But Reed and McIlroy are the beating hearts and pumping fists of this Ryder Cup. 

And guess who’s going against one another in the first pairing Sunday? It’s like leading off a boxing card with Frazier vs. Ali.

LEADERBOARD: SUNDAY SINGLES MATCHES

Both teams have seen points slip away. Both teams have felt the buzz of a charge, and the urge to answer. Both have been reminded what an intense exercise the Ryder Cup has become, like playing golf in a furnace.

“You just see waves of momentum, both directions,” Zach Johnson was saying. “The tide turns, that kind of thing. It’s beautiful.”

This has been the Ryder Cup: Kuchar rolling in a long putt and then going into an impromptu dancing with the stars with Mickelson. Two guys 38 and 46 doing a shimmy. “You watch Steph Curry do it,” Mickelson said. “I think we stepped it up another notch.”

And this has been the Ryder Cup: Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello 4-down against Reed and Spieth with six holes to go in foursomes in the morning, then storming back to halve the match.  The comeback required everything Garcia had, including his oxygen. “I had to take a lot of breaths on 17 and 18,” he said. “Because the emotions were so high.” Reed shook off the downfall, then played one of the rounds of his life in the afternoon.

And this has been the Ryder Cup. Reed and Spieth holding their hands over their hearts as they walked up No. 9, as the gallery had broken into the national anthem. 

PHOTOS: Top photos from Saturday afternoon

And this has been the Ryder Cup. The stands at No. 1 filled by sunrise. Abe Lincoln in house – or at least someone dressed up like him.

Now comes the final decision. The Ryder Cup is composed of in two chapters. Friday and Saturday are about teamwork. But Sunday, 24 golfers who will be on their own.

Twelve Americans, for whom the recent past is a constantly mentioned shadow.

Twelve Europeans, whose mission seems now nearly impossible, except it has been done before.

“We’re going to look at each other man-to-man tomorrow,” Rose said. “We’re going to be eyeball-to-eyeball on the first tee, no partners, no friends out there on the golf course.”

All of them will be playing in front of a raucous and enormous audience. The crowds have driven this fight with their fervor – and occasional misplaced verbiage. Inspiring the Americans who need the support, annoying the Europeans who are determined to conquer the road game atmosphere.

“Quite poor,” Garcia called some of the antics, having heard some aspersions on his major-less career. “I’m going to skip that question” Rose answered, when asked about the topic.

McIlroy’s journey through Saturday morning was an emotional assortment. It began with a bow in jest to Davis Love III at the No. 1 tee, going back to how he reacted to the crowd Friday. There would be moments, after sinking putts, that his face would be so sternly set, he looked like a member of Mt. Rushmore. But most times, his fist pumps could have churned butter, his howls scare kids.

“The more they shouted, the better we played,” McIlroy said. “I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow.”

Oh, there’ll be shouts all right, when Reed and he tee off. The home crowd has been asked to support the cause with its wardrobe. The PGA has called for a Sunday red-out, as if there were 50,000 Tiger Woods.

So it’s going to be red. And it’s going to be loud. And it’s probably going to be testy. The U.S is close now. So close.