PARIS — They called it the Battle of Brookline in 1999. And then the Miracle of Medinah in 2012. Is there a nickname for posterity waiting Sunday at the Ryder Cup?
Well, the easy part is coming up with a name. The hard part is the comeback that must first inspire it. Both of those legends of yore involved teams rallying from 10-6 down in Sunday singles play — the biggest comebacks in the history of the Ryder Cup. The United States pulled it off in ’99, the Europeans in ‘12.
And here it is again, big as life on the scoreboard: 10-6 for Europe — 40 percent of that coming from the Twosome of Terror, Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. But the Americans at least have knowledge of history on their side, if nothing else. “It’s been done before,” Jordan Spieth said Saturday. And every living, breathing soul in that U.S. team room understands that.
“I think it might be our turn to flip it around on them,” Dustin Johnson said.
“We’re trying to make some magic tomorrow,” captain Jim Furyk said.
The leaders know the past, too, by the way. “History will show me and everybody on that team that this is not over,” Europe captain Thomas Bjorn said.
Oh, if only it were as simple as repeating the past for the U.S. But this Ryder Cup has become Arkansas State in Tuscaloosa to play Alabama, or Elon at Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke. The home team keeps inspiring its frenetic crowd, and getting harder and harder to stop.
The Americans were teetering on oblivion Saturday afternoon. The morning fourball had meant only more trouble, and a continued rising blue tide. All they could do was make the afternoon round a scramble. As in, scrambling to stay in this tournament.
A split in foursomes was the absolute minimum, and a split is what they earned, courtesy of the U.S. star duet of the week, Spieth and Justin Thomas, and also Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson. That, said Furyk, “gave us at least an opportunity tomorrow to do something special.”
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So, here they are, down 10-6. An imposing gap, to be sure. But . . .
Cue the last part of U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw’s Saturday night press conference in 1999 at Brookline, with his famous finger-waving vow.
“I’m a big believer in fate, I have a good feeling about this, that’s all I’m going to tell you.”
Rewind European captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s description of what he told his players on Saturday night in 2012 at Medinah.
“It’s not over, as simple as that. I learned that from Seve.
“There is nothing to hide guys. Let’s go out there and play your socks off.”
The record book will show both teams turned 10-6 deficits into 14.5-13.5 Ryder Cup celebrations. These Americans might be drawn to their 1999 counterparts as role models at this perilous hour, especially since they have direct knowledge. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Furyk were all on that team, and all won their matches that Sunday.
But actually, it is Europe 2012 they should look to for inspiration, for one simple reason. The Europeans did it on the road. Le Golf National is not going to sound like Brookline Sunday afternoon, if the Americans go on a birdie binge.
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And besides, there are guys here this weekend — five players on each side, plus Furyk — who were a part of 2012. “Probably on my list of top three worst nightmares in golf,” Furyk said of that day.
So they all know it’s possible, in both team rooms. And how one day of singles can make a liar out of two days of team play. “Tomorrow’s a different beast,” Bjorn said.
They also must know it is hard. The Americans will come Sunday with no margin for error. They will need lots of wins early to get the wave rolling, because that’s what happened in ’99 and ’12. The rally must come one victory at a time. That is the only way they can ever quiet down all the Oles! pouring down upon them from behind the gallery ropes.
“Early wins tomorrow go a long way," Spieth said. "I would certainly recommend not doing any scoreboard watching, and take care of your match."
That would most certainly include the first match — if Justin Thomas could get a point against one of Europe’s heart-and-soul players, Rory McIlroy. And Brooks Koepka could slow down Paul Casey, who has 11 birdies in two days. Tiger Woods is going fourth, against Jon Rahm. Dustin Johnson sixth, against Ian Poulter.
“We want to get out to a fast start tomorrow,” Furyk said. “That’s key. It’s imperative. Everyone knows it.”
They will also need right answers to most, if not all, of the following questions.
Can Phil Mickelson find his mojo before it is too late? He had a terrible time of it Friday afternoon, was held out all of Saturday, and Sunday might be the last Ryder Cup round of his life. He has to be a bit stung from playing only once so far, but can he turn that into a good round? He might need to be better than good, since it is the torrid Molinari he must try to beat.
Patrick Reed was all over Le Golf National Saturday morning. Captain America drove like Sergeant America. Can he get his rank back against Tyrrell Hatton?
Can Woods rediscover his A game? He has gone 0-3, perhaps a little mentally drained from last weekend’s big doings. But then, his opponents have had something to do with that, too. Which begs another question
Since Molinari and Fleetwood became Europe’s new dream team — they became only the second pair in Ryder Cup history to go 4-0 — will they be less ferocious apart? If you can’t beat ‘em, split ‘em up. And the Americans couldn’t beat them, especially Woods. They’re responsible for all three of his defeats.
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“They never missed a putt inside 10, 12 feet. That’s hard to do,” Woods said. “Everything feels pretty good. Just pretty pissed off, the fact that I lost three matches and didn’t feel like I played poorly.”
The only other pair to go 4-0 in this format were Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins, and that was 39 years ago. The global spotlight is much brighter now. Molinari and Fleetwood may currently be the most renowned duo in this part of France since Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
“I don’t know what planet he lives on,” Bjorn said of Molinari. “But it’s not the one that the rest of the players live on, that’s for sure.”
Or maybe Bubba Watson had the best answer to all these questions: “We better play good.”
The fact the U.S. is within any striking distance at all is an improvement. After Saturday’s morning session, Europe seemed on an inexorable roll.
Add Saturday morning’s fourball to Friday afternoon’s foursomes, and you get eight matches. Europe took seven of them, and lost only 18 holes.
Thomas and Spieth kept the U.S. afloat. They own three of their teams’ six points. And they helped at least send the message that Sunday might not be a stroll in the La Golf National for the Europeans.
“We’re getting closer,” Molinari said, “but those 4 1/2 points we’re going to need tomorrow, we’re going to have to fight hard for them.”
Is Ben Crenshaw in the house? Furyk said he “remembers every damn word” of Crenshaw’s Saturday pep talk to the 1999 team. And since Crenshaw is in France, Furyk said he could always drop by the team room.
“If he wants to wave a finger, he’s more than invited.”