For a spell yesterday afternoon at Medinah, it looked as though Europe's Ryder Cup hopes would be smothered by a Star Spangled Banner. Jose Maria Olazabal's side are still breathing though. But only just. An uplifting late rally, led by the inspired Ian Poulter, ensured the fourballs session would be shared 2-2.
The USA still hold a commanding 10-6 lead overall and require just 4.5 points from today's closing series of 12 singles to reclaim the prized gold chalice but European spirits have been raised considerably. And, by goodness, did Poulter play his part in doing that. The 36-year-old, full to the brim of competitive fire and fist-pumping, birdied the closing five holes in partnership with Rory McIlroy to claim a remarkable one hole win over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson which was sealed with a 12-foot putt for a three on the 18th. With Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia staving off the menace of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to capture a point on the final green, the last hour of play in Illinois proved to be captivating.
The biggest singles turnaround in Ryder Cup history came 13 years ago at Brookline when the Americans fought back from 10-6 down to win by a point. Europe still have a mountain to climb but they've got the bit back between their teeth and will come out with all guns blazing.
"Five in a row, it was awesome," said a jubilant Poulter. "We just had to make birdies and wow did we do that. It's pretty fun this Ryder Cup, eh?"
It hadn't been much fun for a while for those of a European persuasion mind you. All along the roads leading to the Medinah Country Club, the locals have been selling car park spaces in the driveways of their homes for $20 a motor. Perhaps they should have started start flogging putts? Then again, maybe not. Europe's golfers could haggle all day but they still couldn't buy one.
It's a simple fact of the game that you can't expect to win golf matches if you can't get the ball in the hole and that's what has hindered Europe's Ryder Cup defence. Hamstrung by mis-firing big guns, missed chances and a fair bit of misfortune, their woes on the greens were perfectly illustrated by Nicolas Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie in the top fourballs tie against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. Colsaerts, the Belgian rookie, had holed everything on Friday but the golfing gods conspired against him yesterday as lip outs replaced drop ins.
Colsaerts and Lawrie had battled manfully but when they both failed to convert birdie chances from some 25-feet on the 17th, with the match all square, Johnson drained his raking effort to give the US the lead. That summed it up. There would be further bad luck on the 18th. Colsaerts' superb approach spun back and hit the hole before dribbling off the green. He couldn't make the birdie putt needed to plunder a halve and another point went on the American tally.
With Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari going down to Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 5 and 4, things looked desperate. It looked to be taking a turn for the worse when Woods and Stricker, four down after nine to Donald and Garcia mounted a rousing fightback. Woods, who sat out the morning's matches, was roaring and knocked his tee-shot at 17 to three-feet. Donald stepped up to the plate though and smacked his to tap in distance to keep the Americans at bay. When Stricker spurned a birdie chance on the last, Team Europe had a much-needed point. Poulter would then ensure the sun would not set entirely on Europe's hopes.
The second day had dawned bright and boisterous and it started with Bubba's bravado and Poulter's posturings.
Watson had upped the ante in terms of spectator involvement during Friday's fourballs when he stood on the opening tee and urged the galleries in the bleachers to hoot, holler and howl all the way through his backswing. Poulter, never one to stand idly by in the wings when there's an opportunity to be the showman, clearly fancied a bit of this too as he, and partner Rose, went head-to-head with the American alliance of Watson and Webb Simpson. At 7.20am, the Chicago chorus was in full cry and Poulter, as cocky as the King of Spades, was the conductor of this cacophony. First to blast away, the Englishman stoked the fans into a frenzy and encouraged them to bawl themselves blue as he drove off. Day two was up and running. By the end of the morning session, it would be the US who were making all the noises.
Leading 5-3 after a profitable opening day, Davis Love III's men had extended that advantage to four points as they took the morning foursomes 3-1.
At least Poulter and Rose gave Olazabal something positive to cling to. In a nip and tuck encounter with Watson and Simpson, they finally won by a hole, although Simpson, the US Open champion, almost stole a half on the final green when his birdie putt from some eight feet narrowly missed on the left side of the cup. Poulter would have another big say on proceedings later in the day.
Contextual targeting label: