PARIS — Having swept a foursomes session for the first time ever Friday afternoon at the 42nd Ryder Cup, Europe now looks to carry momentum into Saturday morning four-balls sessions. The U.S. started fast on Friday, taking a 3-1 lead in four-balls. Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who went 2-0 on Friday, were the lone European team to pull out a point in the session.
So U.S. captain Jim Furyk will look for more of the same magic Saturday morning, at least in four-balls. And then the team will have to turn its attention to performing much better in foursomes after a 4-0 thrashing on Friday. None of the four matches were remotely tight.
“There’s going to be a lot of soul-searching going on in that U.S. team room tonight,” said Butch Harmon, the renowned instructor who works as a television analyst for Sky Sports at the Ryder Cup.
Watch the top 10 shots from Friday's Ryder Cup action
Furyk will go with the same four-balls lineup he put out Friday morning in the opening session on Saturday. The only shifting was Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed moving from the anchor spot to the third spot in the lineup; Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas will play last, facing Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm.
European captain Thomas Bjorn altered two of his pairings in his four-balls lineup. Poulter sat in Friday’s morning four-balls but will go out with the rookie Rahm (who lost with Justin Rose Friday morning) in the final match. Rory McIlroy will partner with Sergio Garcia. This will be their fourth time pairing together at the Ryder Cup (1-1-1).
Furyk said Friday evening that the day had been “two tales” for the U.S. but expressed confidence that the U.S. team can figure things out and turn their fortunes around. The U.S. is trying to win a Ryder Cup away from home for the first time since 1993.
“You know, you've got to look at it, we played for eight points so far out of 28,” Furyk said. “The event is still pretty young. We've got one more team format tomorrow and then the singles. Eight out of 28, you know, a pretty small percentage of this golf tournament has been played.”
Here is a preview and predictions for Saturday morning's four-balls session (all times Eastern)
Match 1: Tony Finau-Brooks Koepka (U.S.) vs. Rory McIlroy-Sergio Garcia (Europe), 2:10 a.m.
Finau and Koepka may have caught a big break Friday morning when Finau’s ball bounced off the railroad tie fronting the par-3 16th green and finished just a few feet from the cup. He made birdie to win the hole, and a par by Koepka at the difficult par-4 finishing hole left the U.S. on top 1-0. They flipped a match in which they were 2-down at one point, and knocked off a power team in Justin Rose and Jon Rahm.
Furyk sends these two back out in the leadoff spot on Saturday morning, and if they win, they could see some afternoon action together in foursomes, too. As for Garcia, he only played the foursomes session on Friday, but played very well, winning with rookie Alex Noren. Surely his friend and partner on Saturday, McIroy, cannot perform as poorly as he did in Friday’s opening session, when he failed to make a birdie. (He and his game perked up mightily in the afternoon alongside Ian Poulter.) Garcia and McIlroy lost their lone four-balls match together in 2014, losing to Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson at Gleneagles, 1-down.
Prediction: Koepka-Finau, 2 up
Match 2: Dustin Johnson-Rickie Fowler (U.S.) vs. Paul Casey-Tyrrell Hatton (Europe), 2:25 a.m.
Johnson and Fowler went out twice Friday, winning in the morning and losing in the afternoon. They played far better in the four-balls format. On Friday, Johnson got the best of McIlroy in a four-balls match for the first time after losing the first two times he had faced him.
Furyk needs Johnson, who is now 7-5-0 in matches, to play like the No. 1 player in the world. That's a challenge at Le Golf, which takes the driver out of the long-hitting Johnson's hands. Casey and Hatton lost on Friday morning, but took Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas to the final hole. They were 3-down at one point in the match but fought back to get it to level, with a birdie by Thomas at the 15th hole proving the distance in the end.
Hatton is the lone rookie in this group and Casey hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup for a decade, last appearing at Valhalla in 2008. Surely they got some nerves out of their systems on Friday and will be more prepared come Saturday morning. This one will go to the wire.
Prediction: Match is halved
Match 3: Tiger Woods-Patrick Reed (U.S.) vs. Francesco Molinari-Tommy Fleetwood (Europe), 2:40 a.m.
Rematch time. Molinari and Fleetwood are headed back out in four-balls after these two flipped their four-ball match against Woods and Reed on Friday morning. Woods and Reed led 2-up through 10 holes after a Reed chip-in at the par-4 10th, but they ran out of birdies at that point. And Molinari and Fleetwood decided to catch fire. They birdied five of their last seven holes to win, 3 and 1.
Surely Molinari, this year’s Open Championship winner, and Fleetwood, a rookie from England who played exceptionally well Friday, were Europe’s stars for the day. But with Woods watching Molinari get the best of him on the back nine at Carnoustie this summer, and then again on Friday, enough is probably enough.
He should have a better answer on Saturday morning. Woods also needs Captain America (Reed) to perform better than he did on Friday, when he didn’t contribute very much beyond that big chip-in at the 10th. Twice Reed had short irons into greens and dumped shots into water fronting them (on 1 and 15), and he definitely needs to hit it straighter off the tee to stay clear of Le Golf’s gnarly rough. He is a fierce competitor just as Woods is, and Saturday morning they should bounce back in a big way.
Prediction: Woods-Reed, 3&2
Match 4: Justin Thomas-Jordan Spieth (U.S.) vs. Ian Poulter-Jon Rahm (Europe), 2:55 a.m.
Wow, talk about pairing fire with fire. With Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm, European captain Thomas Bjorn has a pairing that should raise the temperature at Le Golf by at least 10 degrees. Rahm is going to be on these teams for a long, long time, so it’s good that he’s been sent out with two veteran players (Justin Rose and Poulter) who certainly can show him around a Ryder Cup. Poulter is Mr. Ryder Cup in Europe, but even in this event, he might not bring the firepower that Rose can deliver, not in the four-balls. (Yes, we do remember his five-birdie finish at Medinah six years ago, when he single-handedly kept Europe within shouting distance heading to singles. That was six years ago. Poulter is 42 now. He is now 13-4-2 in his career, so watch out.
For Thomas and Spieth, this will be a big morning. They wanted to play alongside one another quite badly, and Furyk broke up a very successful duo (Reed and Spieth) to allow it to happen. So they need to deliver for their captain. Getting a point in the four-balls session will be significant to putting them out there again in the afternoon. He probably can't do that if they are 1-2 and the U.S. is trailing.
Thomas and Spieth played both matches on Friday, splitting them. They played quite solidly in the morning, but performed poorly in the afternoon foursomes against the day’s stars, Molinari and Fleetwood. These two weren’t alone, as all four U.S. pairings faltered in the afternoon session. Spieth was the one to get off to a fast start in the morning on Friday, and he’ll need to repeat that, because this is a golf course that makes it quite difficult to play from behind.
Prediction: Thomas-Spieth, 2 up