Rickie Fowler (right) stood tall in his foursomes match with partner Jim Furyk on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Redemption for rookie Fowler comes in quick and deserving fashion

Rickie Fowler committed a couple of rookie mistakes early in his debut match. But, Steve Eubanks notes, he more than made up for them with some sharp iron play and clutch putting.

By Steve Eubanks, Special to

NEWPORT, Wales -- It was only fitting that Rickie Fowler holed the final four-footer for birdie to halve his foursomes match on Saturday. Fowler and his American partner Jim Furyk had been down for 16 out of 18 holes when Furyk hit a perfect wedge shot four feet past the flag on 18, giving Fowler a much-deserved moment in the sun. 

Had Furyk and Fowler not pulled out a halve, it would have been the Ryder Cup rookie who took the bulk of the criticism, not because of a lack of quality play, but for two bone-headed mistakes early in the round. On the par-5 second, Fowler failed to get the team’s second shot out of a fairway bunker, even though he was only trying to lay up to give Furyk a short iron into the green. Two holes later, Fowler took a drop from mud, but dropped a different ball than the original, a rookie mistake that automatically resulted in a loss of the hole and put the Americans 2 down through 4 holes.

Every mistake in a Ryder Cup is magnified, and fair or not (this is definitely not) Fowler would have been the goat had the Americans failed to come back. That would have been tough for a Ryder Cup (and PGA Tour) rookie, especially one as young as Fowler, who was the most questionable of Captain Corey Pavin’s picks. 

Remember, Fowler wouldn’t have left the shot in the bunker had his partner not put him there in the first place. The same was true at the fourth, where Fowler was in mud and on the cart path, one of those often confusing double-drop situations. Again, he was there because Furyk put him that position. The rest of the round, Fowler was nearly flawless, striping tee shots down the narrowest fairways and hitting great iron shots onto the greens.

It was Furyk who struggled, short-siding the team on the par-3 10th, and missing many of the very makeable birdie putts Fowler left him. The Americans never went more than 2 down because of Fowler’s ball-striking. It was only fitting that he would earn redemption at the 18th by holing the putt for a critical halve.

“It was awesome to get a look at a putt to halve the match on the last hole,” Fowler said. “On hole four, I mean, basically, I dropped the wrong ball.  It was the same of ball that I had in my pocket and was laying in the mud.  So it was nice to have that putt for a halve.”

 Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker won handily over Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson, and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson continued to struggle, losing with authority for the second time on Saturday. For the second day in a row, their match wasn’t close. One more defeat and Mickelson will stand alone with the inglorious record of most Ryder Cup losses in history.  

When the dust settled, the stage was set for the best half-hour of the day. Clawing their way back from 1 down to the red-hot rookie team of Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter won three in a row, including a birdie at the difficult par-3 17th when Donald hit a laser approach four feet under the hole. At that moment, it looked like Europe might get into the late afternoon session no more than one point down, and, maybe even tied with Team USA. 

That focused all attention on the most entertaining match of the day, and one where it was hard to pull against anyone in the group. There are no greater people in golf than Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, and no nicer, more down-to-earth men anywhere than Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy. Even Pavin and Montgomerie would have found it hard to pull against anybody in that game.   

The match was nothing short of extraordinary. It was the second time those four men had been out, and never once had either team gone more than 1 up until the final hole of Saturday afternoon. All square through 16, the match turned when McDowell hit a great approach to five feet on the 17th, but when Cink sank a 30-footer for birdie, McIlroy missed his short birdie effort. 

That win gave the Americans a 6-4 lead going into the next session, a mixture of four fourball and two foursome matches that began at 3:45 local time. No matter how the late matches go, the Americans will go to sleep tonight needing only eight of the remaining 18 points to win the Ryder Cup. It’s a great place to be going into Sunday. 

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