MEDINAH, Ill. — Europe's Ryder Cup hopes were on life support. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson had just put the finishing touches on a 5&4 romp to extend the U.S. lead to 9-4, and with the exception of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, who held a 2-up lead over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, there wasn't a single European flag on the leaderboard.
The Ryder Cup wasn't a done deal, but with cheers of "USA! USA!" echoing through the trees at Medinah and birdies falling from every conceivable spot, you started to get the feeling that the U.S. was on the verge of turning the 39th Ryder Cup into a rout on home soil.
The final two matches were critical for Europe. Win both and the chances of retaining the Ryder Cup went from non-existent to a possibility. Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia were doing their part, but Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy needed to stage a miracle comeback.
Down for much of the day, you got the sense that the anchor pairing needed to make a big putt or, at the very least, a counterpunch to turn the tide. For the longest time it looked like that putt would never come, but something happened on the 14th hole: Ian Poulter found the missing spark, producing one of the greatest big match performances in Ryder Cup history down the stretch.
Poulter started with a birdie putt on the par-5 14th that kept the pair from going 2-down ... and another on the par-4 15th to square the match ... and another on the par-4 16th to take a 1-up lead. The Englishman had found a second gear and was single-handedly keeping Europe's Ryder Cup hopes alive.
But he wasn't done. Poulter then produced a magical birdie putt on the 17th, to halve the hole, and a final dagger on the 18th to maintain the 1-up lead and win the match.
"We needed something to happen," Rory McIlroy said, "some sort of spark and I think the birdie on 13 sort of sparked us and gave us a bit of momentum. Then Ian sort of took over from there. It was good to be a part of; he was incredible on the way in. All the credit needs to be put on this man."
No doubt Poulter deserved all the credit for keeping Europe's Ryder Cup hopes alive. His five straight birdies to end the round was the kind of big-game performance you'll see on Ryder Cup highlight reels in the years to come. It also proved that the Europeans shouldn't be counted out ... at least not just yet.
Ian Poulter is only one man, and Europe needs eight points on Sunday to retain the Cup, but if we learned anything from his stellar Saturday performance down the stretch, it's that you can never count out the underdog.
"It comes from within," Poulter said of his performance after the round. "And you know, if we can do anything to get this trophy in this position, and Seve [Ballesteros] is looking down on us, then you've got to do what you've got to do."
We know what Ian Poulter is made of. It's time to see if the rest of his teammates can follow suit and stage one of the greatest Ryder Cup comebacks of all-time.