Sept. 21-26, 2021 Whistling Straits, Kohler, WI
43rd Ryder Cup - Afternoon Fourball Matches

KOHLER, Wis. – This was when they were going to push back.

The European Team, beaten every which way through the first three sessions of the 43rd Ryder Cup, had been pushed to the brink before lunch was served Saturday. Down 9-3 and staring at an unprecedented deficit, the current holders of the Cup were officially in dire straits as the Americans kicked off a raucous celebration on the first tee ahead of the afternoon Four-Ball matches.

So this was when the regression was supposed to sink in for the home squad. This was when the Europeans would finally find their footing, start rolling in putts and act like the invincible side they’ve resembled for much of the past two decades. And for a couple of hours Saturday, as the wind whipped and the sun shone brightly, they did just that. The leaderboards around Whistling Straits were painted in blue for the first time all week, and whispers began to circulate around the galleries: is this the start of a comeback for the ages?

The answer came, as it had through the first three sessions, not from a single player. The Americans fought back with a sum of their parts, battering their opponents with an arsenal that was equal parts talented and deep. By sunset they had secured an afternoon draw, which means they head into Sunday’s Singles matches within arm’s reach of the Cup.

“I just feel so good about all 12 of my guys, really,” said U.S. Captain Steve Stricker. “They are all just playing very nicely, and you know, just doing all the right things. But the big part I think is just the fun we’ve been having this week as a unit and together. I think it’s showed out on the course.”

At one point Saturday afternoon, a 4-0 European blue-out seemed within the realm of possibility. Then the goal for the away side switched to a 3-1 session win, which would pull them within the critical score of 10-6: a margin that has twice been erased on the final day, including in 2012 by a magical road rally from the Europeans.

But world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, the only American to play all five matches this week, held his mettle alongside Collin Morikawa. And when Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau rallied to steal a full point from Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood, the Americans had leveled the afternoon tote board and ensured a seemingly insurmountable six-point advantage heading into the final day.

“Very big. 11-5 versus 10-6, that’s a big difference in my book,” Stricker said. “It was an important session I think just to get the two points.”

“I felt like I just played really solid, but I like the golf course,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve got a great team, and I’ve got a great partner in Collin.”

Granted, the celebrations haven’t begun in full force yet among the U.S. Team. Johnson was on that 2012 roster at Medinah, the one that coughed up a 10-6 lead on Sunday in memorable fashion. That result was quickly referenced by European Captain Padraig Harrington, who noted that his roster needs only a half-point more than they delivered that afternoon outside Chicago to retain the Cup.

“I’m sure they know they have a very tall order ahead of them, but it’s possible,” Harrington said. “They just have to go out there and win their own individual match. There’s nothing more they can do than that.”

But Harrington’s words don’t quite have the same impact as the ones uttered by Jose Maria Olazabal nine years ago, or Ben Crenshaw’s in 1999. As Stricker pointed out, the difference between 10-6 and 11-5 might be wide enough to span Lake Michigan.

The Europeans had their chance Saturday afternoon. The door was ajar, albeit briefly, for an epic shift in momentum and one that might have set the stage for a white-knuckle finale. But the deepest U.S. Team on paper found their resolved, proved their top-to-bottom merit and staved off a comeback in the making.

As a result, they’ll enjoy an enviable cushion Sunday afternoon as they look to win back the Cup for just the third time since 2000.

“These guys are still very focused. I think they have learned from our past mistakes, as well,” Stricker said. “They know. They have watched. No one is taking this day tomorrow for granted at all, and we are totally focused on what we need to do to get the job done.”

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