PARIS — Team USA is in a spot of bother this week in France. After jetting out to a 3-1 lead at the 42nd Ryder Cup, the U.S. has failed to win any of the last three sessions, and will head into Sunday singles trailing 10-6.
The good part about that? The U.S. knows that winning from four points down is something that is possible. It turned around that deficit at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1999. It also watched a four-point cushion heading into the singles slip away in a heartbreaking defeat at Medinah, outside Chicago, in 2012.
Jim Furyk, this week’s U.S. Captain, played in both of those Ryder Cups. The one that he remembers better, he said Saturday evening at Le Golf National, is the one that the U.S. lost. He calls it one of his “top three nightmares” in golf.
Needing to try to seize back momentum the U.S. has not had since Friday morning means Furyk needed to front-load his singles lineup, trying to get some early red — which represents the U.S. — onto the boards around the golf course. Thomas Bjorn was not part of Europe’s epic fall in 1999, but he was there as a vice-captain to Jose Maria Olazabal at Medinah in 2012. As well as Europe has played these last two days, he realizes that the job that his team came here to do — win back the Ryder Cup — is far from over.
Relive the greatest comebacks in Ryder Cup history, which the U.S. will try to match Sunday
“We have a goal, and that is to try to win this trophy, and that's where the focus stays,” Bjorn said. “I’ve said all along, I focus on the 12 players that is in our side, but we are so well aware of what's standing across on the other side. Very capable and very … you know, the greatest players in the world.
“We have to regroup and we look to tomorrow, and I would never get ahead of myself in this.”
Bjorn’s lineup may be more balanced than what the U.S. did with its lineup, with some of Bjorn's better performers this week (Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson) positioned in the back half. But he also sprinkled in some firepower toward the top, leading off with Rory McIlroy (he’ll play Justin Thomas) and penciling World No. 2 Justin Rose, unbeaten Tommy Fleetwood and Ryder Cup standout Ian Poulter into his top six.
Ben Crenshaw, the captain of the U.S. team that engineered that great comeback at Brookline in 1999, is here this week, and has visited the team room. He famously wagged his index finger to end his press gathering on that evening before the singles in 1999, proclaiming, “I’ve got a feeling about this.”
Will he speak to the U.S. team on Saturday night in Paris. Furyk joked that Crenshaw is is welcome to drop by if he chooses.
“If he wants to wave a finger, he's more than invited,” Furyk said.
Here is Sunday’s singles lineup, with background on the competitors and a prediction on each of the matches (all times Eastern)
Match 1: Justin Thomas (U.S.) vs. Rory McIlroy (Europe), 6:05 a.m.
What a fantastic leadoff match. McIlroy was unbeaten in his first three singles matches (2-0-1) before losing to Patrick Reed two years ago on the final hole. He and Reed combined for 18 birdies in an epic Sunday match at Hazeltine. His best singles performance came in 2014 at Gleneagles, as he drummed Rickie Fowler. McIlroy is a former world No. 1.
Thomas, ranked No. 4 in the world, is a Ryder Cup rookie, but has been one of the few bright spots for the U.S. team this week. He and Jordan Spieth have combined to go 3-1 in the team format. Who will have more energy? Both of these players will play in all five sessions.
Prediction: Thomas, 2 & 1
Match 2: Brooks Koepka (U.S.) vs. Paul Casey (Europe), 6:17 a.m.
Koepka owns a record of 1-0 in Ryder Cup singles, having hammered Englishman Danny Willett at Hazeltine two years ago 5 & 4. He loves the big stage, having won three of his last five starts in major championships, winning both the U.S. Open and PGA this summer.
Casey hadn’t played in a Ryder Cup for a decade, so making one more run in the event was important enough to him that the Arizona resident rejoined the European Tour to try to qualify. Thomas Bjorn used a captain’s selection on him.
Casey is 1-1-1 in three Ryder Cup singles matches. His singles victory came in 2006 at the K Club in Ireland, where he took down current U.S. captain Jim Furyk.
Prediction: Koepka, 3 & 1
Match 3: Webb Simpson (U.S.) vs. Justin Rose (Europe), 6:29 a.m.
Simpson, whose last Ryder Cup was 2014, is searching for his first victory in singles. Twice he had drawn Ian Poulter, losing to him at Medinah and playing him to a draw at Gleneagles. He played nicely on Saturday afternoon, teaming with Bubba Watson for a 3-and-2 victory in foursomes. Le Golf National draws heavy comparisons to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, where Simpson won The Players in May.
Rose, ranked second in the world, is 2-1-1 in singles play, and riding the momentum — and added confidence — of winning the FedEx Cup at East Lake last week. In singles, twice he has defeated Phil Mickelson, in 2008 and 2012. Rose’s lone defeat was to Rickie Fowler at Hazeltine two years ago, where he was asked to play all five matches.
Prediction: Rose, 2 & 1
Match 4: Tiger Woods (U.S.) vs. Jon Rahm (Europe), 6:41 a.m.
Woods lost his first Ryder Cup singles match, in 1997, getting routed by Italy’s Constantino Rocca in Spain. Since then, he has not been beaten in singles play. Overall, he is 4-1-2. He had drawn Francesco Molinari, another Italian, in his last two singles appearances, beating him in Wales in 2010, 4 & 3, and playing to a draw at Medinah six years ago. He is 0-3 this week in his first Ryder Cup action since 2012, and has appeared fatigued after a big emotional victory last week at the Tour Championship.
Rahm is a rookie from Spain who hits it long and is pretty fearless. Le Golf probably negates some of his long-hitting prowess, as hitting fairways is absolutely imperative. He has played only twice, in four-balls, and lost both matches. So he is eager to get a point on the board if possible for Europe. This time, the teacher might get the student.
Prediction: Woods, 2 & 1
Match 5: Tony Finau (U.S.) vs. Tommy Fleetwood (Europe), 6:53 a.m.
Finau is one of three rookies on the U.S. team, and hit the opening shot both on Friday morning and Saturday morning in four-balls. He split his two matches alongside Brooks Koepka. He’s definitely a birdie-maker.
Fleetwood is also a rookie, though a little more seasoned on the world stage than Finau. He and Francesco Molinari are 4-0 and the two biggest reasons that Europe has built a 10-6 lead through four sessions. It remains to be seen if he’ll be fresh on Sunday after two long days of matches. No European player ever has finished 5-0 at the Ryder Cup.
Prediction: Finau, 1 up
Match 6: Dustin Johnson (U.S.) vs. Ian Poulter (Europe), 7:05 a.m.
Interesting matchup. It pits the World No. 1, Johnson, against Poulter, a player who might be ranked World No. 1 at the Ryder Cup.
Johnson has struggled at Le Golf, playing all four sessions and winning only one match. But he’s been always been a force in singles, winning all three of his matches. The only player to give him a close match was Chris Wood, who lost 1-down at Hazeltine in 2016.
There’s a reason that Poulter has been called the “heartbeat” of Team Europe through the years. He has been a one-man wrecking crew in the singles, playing five times and posting a record of 4-0-1. Poulter was hurt two years ago, missing out on Hazeltine as a player, and his last two singles matches have been against Webb Simpson (1-0-1). He also owns victories against 2018 U.S. vice-captains Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker. Poulter was a big part of Europe’s comeback victory in 2012 at Medinah, so he’s wise enough to know his team’s lead is anything but safe.
Prediction: Match is halved
Match 7: Jordan Spieth (U.S.) vs. Thorbjorn Olesen (Europe), 7:17 a.m.
Spieth is coming off a tough year, so finishing strongly at the Ryder Cup (he is 3-1 this week) might go a long way in filling him with confidence as he prepares for a new season. He is a fierce competitor, so it’s surprising that he has dropped both of his Ryder Cup singles matches. He let a lead slip away against veteran Graeme McDowell in his rookie debut at Gleneagles and lost to Henrik Stenson in 2016.
Olesen is a rookie for Europe, having grabbed the eighth and final qualifying spot. He’s a good young player, and Bjorn, his captain and fellow Dane, felt badly about not playing him more than once in the team segment. He never expected Fleetwood and Molinari to play all four matches, so that changed some things. Olesen is in a tough spot here, facing a player who is more seasoned in the big events.
Prediction: Spieth, 3 & 2
Match 8: Rickie Fowler (U.S.) vs. Sergio Garcia (Europe), 7:29 a.m.
Fowler is looking for his first singles victory, sporting a record of 0-1-1. The half came against Edoardo Molinari, Francesco’s brother, in his debut in 2010 in Wales, as he won his final three holes to pull out the halve. He beat Justin Rose in singles at Hazeltine. At Le Golf, he won his first match, lost his next two, and sat on Saturday afternoon.
For all his Ryder Cup heroics, Garcia has been mortal in singles play, carrying a career record of 3-4-1 into Sunday. He's faced current U.S. captain Jim Furyk three times in singles (2-1-0) and twice matched up with Phil Mickelson, beating him once and halving him once. Garcia’s next Ryder Cup point will push him past Sir Nick Faldo for most points in event history. It will be interesting to see how he plays standing on his own. He did play well in Portugal leading into the Ryder Cup.
Prediction: Match is halved
Match 9: Phil Mickelson (U.S.) vs. Francesco Molinari (Europe), 7:41 a.m.
It’s been a disappointing week for Mickelson. He put a good deal of focus into making his 12th team, but his form after the first two FedEx Cup Playoffs events has not been very good. Le Golf is a golf course where a player must hit the ball in the fairway. He sat out both sessions Saturday.
Mickelson is 5-5-1 in Ryder Cup singles. Two years ago at Hazeltine, he ran into an opponent who birdied half of the holes, but Mickelson did him one better, making 10 birdies as he and Sergio Garcia fought to an incredible half point. Mickelson is 2-1-1 in his last four Ryder Cup singles matches.
For Europe, Molinari has been the Man of the Match this week, teaming with his pal Fleetwood to go 4-0 the last two days. Previously, he’d never won a match in six tries. Molinari has a great record at the French Open, and that has carried into his week. Molinari should be a tough man to play in singles. He’s a steady ball striker and rarely seems to get rattled. This will be the first time that he hasn’t drawn Woods. He lost 4 & 3 at Celtic Manor in 2010 and six years ago they played to a draw at Medinah.
Prediction: Molinari, 2 & 1
Match 10: Patrick Reed (U.S.) vs. Tyrrell Hatton (Europe), 7:53 a.m.
Reed is unbeaten in his two singles appearances, taking down two European Ryder Cup standouts in the last two cups. He defeated Stenson at Gleneagles in 2014 and McIlroy two years ago in an epic battle at Hazeltine. But he’s been off his game this week. He played twice with Woods and lost both matches, hitting the ball all over the place.
Hatton, an Englishman, is playing in his first Ryder Cup for Europe. He’s a very good putter and teamed with fellow Englishman Paul Casey to earn his first point in four-balls on Saturday morning.
Prediction: Hatton, 2 up
Match 11: Bubba Watson (U.S.) vs. Henrik Stenson (Europe), 8:05 a.m.
Watson hasn’t had much success at the Ryder Cup, and he really has struggled in singles play. Three times he has played singles, and he lost all three. Only once has he gone to at least 17 holes, losing to Luke Donald 2 & 1 at Medinah. But he did play nicely on Saturday afternoon, when he and Simpson teamed up for a foursomes victory.
Stenson has gone out twice for Bjorn and returned two points, winning a pair of foursomes matches alongside Rose. Stenson is 2-2 in Ryder Cup singles. Two years ago he defeated Jordan Spieth at Hazeltine 3 & 2, and he should be much fresher this time around. At Hazeltine, with six rookies on the European side, Stenson was one of a handful of players asked to play in all five matches.
Prediction: Stenson, 3 & 2
Match 12: Bryson DeChambeau (U.S.) vs. Alex Noren (Europe), 8:17 a.m.
A battle between a pair of Ryder Cup rookies. DeChambeau was one of the hotter players in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and this will be his first chance to play his own golf ball at Le Golf National. He lost in two foursomes matches. He does love match play, capturing the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2015 at Olympia Fields in Chicago.
Noren played twice with Sergio Garcia in foursomes, winning once and losing 3 & 2 to Watson and Simpson on Saturday. He is the reigning French Open champion, having shot 10-under on the weekend to pull out the victory this summer at Le Golf National.
Prediction: DeChambeau, 1 up