Well. That was … unexpected.
The 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, France began on a hopeful note for the United States, with American teams winning the first three fourball matches and streaking out to a 3-1 lead. And then came lunch, and, well … the nightmare began. Every single American team lost, and lost ugly, in the afternoon foursome round, and now the United States enters the weekend down 5-3. There are questions aplenty, and we’ll answer them all right here.
What the hell?
Seriously, what the hell?
Is it over?
Nah. Relax. It’ll be tough, but it’s not impossible. Bear in mind, first off, that a 14-14 tie means the U.S. retains the Cup. So the U.S. has to get “only” 11 of the next 20 points while Europe has to get 9 1/2. Effectively, the lead is 1 1/2 points, not two.
Plus, this isn’t unprecedented. The last three Ryder Cups have had a 5-3 lead after Day One. In 2016, the United States won after having that lead. In 2014, Europe won after having that lead. In 2012, Europe won after the U.S. had that lead. It’s not over!
(On the other hand, teams have won all four matches in a session nine previous times in Ryder Cup history. And every single time, that team won or retained the Ryder Cup. Just FYI.)
What’s Jim Furyk’s greatest challenge?
The U.S. captain’s suddenly got a whole raft of them. Two of his three winning teams from the morning got their red-white-and-blue butts handed to them in the afternoon, beatdowns so bad that they wipe out all memory of the morning. The only two players entering Saturday with clear consciences are Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, and while that’s a solid base, it’s not nearly enough to reverse the momentum.
Furyk’s got several players he just can’t hide anywhere. Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson just aren’t carrying their weight, and Justin Thomas fell off the edge after a strong morning. It’s rare to see players sit out both sessions of a day, but Furyk might have to pull that trigger on Saturday.
On the other side of the scoreboard, European captain Thomas Bjorn has to be ecstatic. One of his greatest assets, Rory McIlroy, completely reversed the narrative on a terrible morning with a strong performance in the afternoon. Old veterans Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia called back memories of Ryder Cups past. And Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari look absolutely unstoppable.
Why didn’t Tiger Woods play the afternoon?
Woods is on a roll, but he’s also 42 years old. He was strong early but faded late in his morning round, and playing him in the afternoon would have cashed Woods. He’ll get in for a session Saturday, and then he’ll likely be an early singles player on Sunday. But there’s no way that he could have played five rounds.
What’s the story with Phil Mickelson?
This is Phil’s 12th Ryder Cup, and it’s almost surely his last. Mickelson’s just not at the level of the rest of the team now, and pairing him with Bryson DeChambeau was a defensible decision with disastrous results. DeChambeau needed a steady hand for his first Ryder Cup experience, and Mickelson seemingly would have provided that, but Phil’s not even able to carry his own clubs, much less anyone else’s.
What’s the strategy for Saturday?
Like Friday, Saturday morning is a fourball session (best ball on each hole wins the hole) and the afternoon is foursomes (alternating shot). Furyk’s best play ought to be to send out the icy-calm team of Koepka and Finau to start, and then mix and match. Pair Spieth with his old Ryder mate Patrick Reed. Pair Tiger with his new protege DeChambeau. Tell Phil he can sleep in. Send Bubba on a tour of the Louvre. Pair up Dustin Johnson with Simpson for alternating shot, so they can cover for each other’s weaknesses. Get Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas talking of spring breaks past to chill themselves out, and then send them out there to kick some blue-flag tail.
Also, slashing the tires of Team Europe wouldn’t hurt.
What’s the bottom line here? Can the United States win this?
It’s been 25 years since America won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil, and this sure looked like Team USA’s best chance to halt that ugly streak. And it could still happen! But the U.S. is going to have to do something very un-American: play as a team, not a collection of individuals. They’ll need to work together over Friday night to loosen up and forget the way that Friday went down. Not all 5-3 deficits are created equal; going 1-3 and 2-2 in the opening session would have been much more tolerable than going 3-1 and 0-4.
Momentum’s going to swing two or three more times over the course of this Ryder Cup. The question for the U.S. is whether it’ll be able to carry the inevitable momentum swing all the way through Sunday.
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