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Ryder Cup: Europe extend lead over US to 8-4 after Saturday fourballs in France

September 29, 2018 12:17 PM
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Ryder Cup: Europe extend lead over US to 8-4 after Saturday fourballs in France

Europe took tighter control of the Ryder Cup as three points from four in Saturday morning's fourballs sent them charging into an 8-4 lead going into the afternoon's foursomes.

Leading 5-3 overnight after a clean sweep of the foursomes matches on Friday afternoon, Europe came out on another crisp, clear-blue French morning at the same rampaging pace, and the US wilted under the onslaught.

Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia led the way with a 2&1 defeat of Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, and an inspired Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton saw off the threat of Rickie Fowler and world number one Dustin Johnson 3&2.

When Open champion Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood made it three wins from three for the new pairing, profiting 4&3 as Tiger Woods only occasionally sparkled and Patrick Reed fell apart, Europe had won eight matches on the bounce.

Had it not been for Jordan Spieth it could have been worse still for the holders. The three-time major champion dragged Justin Thomas in his wake until the final few holes as they secured the only American point all morning, keeping the battling Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm at bay 2&1.

Once again too many US players were too loose off the tee and too aggressive with their approaches, captain Jim Furyk looking on in blank-faced disbelief as his team of star names and major winners failed to cope with the challenging but never vindictive course set-up.

The US came into this Ryder Cup as holders and favourites. But with 14½ points required to win back the trophy, European captain Thomas Bjorn knows his team now have a wonderful chance, with 16 points still to play for.

Bjorn had opted to stick two of his most experienced men out first, looking to continue that momentum from Friday afternoon, and birdies apiece on three and four had them two up early on.

After Finau chipped in from the bunker on the fifth, McIlroy sank a pressure putt to maintain the lead, and then eased in another from eight feet to go three up after six.

Better was to come on the eighth, where the Northern Irishman drained a beauty from 25 feet before Finau missed from a third of the distance to extend that lead to four.

Koepka pulled one back and then Finau's approach on 11 took him to four feet. McIlroy's chip from the fringes lipped out yet Garcia banged in his putt from range, piling pressure on the US rookie that made him push his attempt left - back to four up when it could so easily have been two.

Finau missed another tiddler on the 13th green but then the wobbles began for the Europeans. Both stuck their second shots on the par-four 15th into the water, and Finau finally found his range on 16 to make it a one-hole game.

No pairing has ever lost a match after being four up through 13, and Garcia was not about to let it happen now. His brilliant putt from the back of the 17th green rattled in, Koepka could not match him and the point was Europe's.

In the second match out, Casey's birdie putt from 10 feet on the fourth had put Europe one up early.

And the Englishman's sweet touch with his putter continued, picking up three more on the bounce, capped with a wondrous putt from 30 feet on the sixth.

Hatton then found some spark of his own as he rattled in an 18-foot putt on the eighth to huge roars from the galleries, and while Johnson brought it back to two up with a birdie putt on 11, Casey's fifth birdie of the day put Europe three up with four to play.

It has been 10 years since Casey last played in this competition, his emotions as the match was sealed reflecting what it means to him to be back.

Molinari and Fleetwood had picked up two points from two in their fourballs and foursomes on Friday and were two up early on Saturday thanks to Fleetwood's birdie on the par-three second and Molinari's birdie on the third.

Reed, the pugnacious talisman across his first two Ryder Cups, was having a horrible time off the tee, and was grateful for Woods' long birdie putt on seven that brought the contest back to a single hole.

Woods fired his iron on 10 to within four feet, and with the European pair both missing their birdie putts from mid-range, knocked his own in to level it up.

Molinari struck back in style. His tee shot on 11 went straight at the pin, his putt from five feet into the centre of the cup.

Woods sent his second on 13 into the water, after his partner Reed had disappeared into the thick rough, and with another Italian birdie the gap began to reopen as Reed flailed away miserably.

Fleetwood's birdie on 15 left a disconsolate-looking Woods with a long putt to keep the match alive, and with the putt sliding by left, another home point was on the board.

Only Spieth of the US superstars was playing close to his usual esteemed standards.

His pairing with Thomas, the two young men but old friends, had sparkled in Friday morning's fourballs but lost their way in the foursomes as the wind picked up in the afternoon.

Early on in the session they were the only US duo with a lead, only for Thomas to push a short putt right on the fifth to bring their match level too.

Poulter held his nerve over a six-footer on the sixth after Spieth's beautiful approach to within a few feet had opened the door for the Americans, and then produced a characteristic slice of Poulter Ryder Cup magic with a sensational putt from right across the seventh green to put Europe up for the first time.

Poulter yelled and punched his chest; Spieth watched on calmly and began to find his range. He birdied the par-three eighth to make it all square then did the same on 11 to turn one small part of the scoreboard red.

Coming to the 15th the lead was still a fragile one, and when Poulter produced a fabulous tee-shot and birdie putt on 16, Thomas had to hole a nail-biter to prevent it going all square once again.

And it was Thomas's six-foot putt on 17 that secured the solitary US point, a lifeline amid the red distress flares.


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