Europe extends Ryder Cup lead to 8-4 behind ‘Moliwood’ team
AP Golf Writer
SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Europe was on the verge of blowing open the Ryder Cup by winning three matches Saturday morning in fourballs to build an 8-4 lead over the Americans for its largest three-session lead since 2004.
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood — known this week at Le Golf National as “Moliwood” — put on another show by beating Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed for the second time in as many days. They are the only partnership to win all three matches.
Woods now has gone six straight Ryder Cup matches without winning, dating to his singles victory in 2010.
Sergio Garcia delivered a big moment and let out the most emotional celebration since he won the Masters a year ago, teaming with Rory McIlroy to set the tone early and beat Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau. Paul Casey nearly teared up after he and Tyrrell Hatton won their fourballs match, a reminder to Casey of how much he had missed the Ryder Cup since he last played a decade ago.
Throw in Europe’s first-ever sweep of a foursomes session Friday night, and the home team won eight consecutive matches, and won them decisively. None of those matches reached the 18th hole.
Carrying the fading U.S. hopes were Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
They were the only match in which the Americans ever had the lead, and even that was tight.
The Americans had a 1-up lead over Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm when Thomas made a 6-foot birdie putt to halve the hole at No. 14, curled in another 6-foot birdie putt at the 16th after Poulter had made birdie, and then dropped the winner with a birdie putt from 10 feet on the 17th.
Spieth made his contributions earlier with birdies on three of the par 3s.
Thomas cupped his hand to his ear, taunting the European crowd, after his birdie on the 14th, perhaps knowing how crucial this match was. It ended a streak of European victories and kept the score from getting entirely away from the Americans.
“This is a big point,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, we’ll get it turned around a little bit.”
The Americans have no choice if they want to win the Ryder Cup on European soil for the first time since 1993. No team has ever rallied from more than a four-point deficit going into the 12 singles matches on Sunday.
They will have to rally without Phil Mickelson.
U.S. captain Jim Furyk pledged to shake up his plan for the Saturday afternoon foursomes, and that meant Mickelson taking a seat. It was the second time in as many Ryder Cups in Europe that Mickelson did not play at all on Saturday.
Europe sent out the same lineup that delivered a sweep of the foursomes session Friday afternoon.
Fleetwood and Molinari have a chance to become the first team to go 4-0 in team matches since Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins in 1979 at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, the first year that Europe was part of the Ryder Cup.
Standing in their way was Woods and Bryson DeChambeau, the Ryder Cup rookie who had Mickelson at his side in a crushing loss Friday.
Molinari and Fleetwood had a tough time in fourballs against Woods and Patrick Reed, but mostly Woods. Reed was far too often in the rough or in the water, and usually out of the hole. Reed’s only birdie was to halve the par-5 ninth hole, and he shushed the crowd as he did at Gleneagles in 2014.
Woods birdied the 10th to square the match, and Molinari took it from there. He fired a tee shot at a back flag on the par-3 11th that nearly went in, the first of three straight birdies to give Europe a 3-up lead.
Europe closed out the match on the 15th hole when Reed hit into the rough and the water. Woods had to lay up to have any chance of extending the match and missed his par putt.
One of the biggest cheers Saturday morning in the chill and the wind was not for any shot. A large video board flashed up the scores that showed Europe leading in every match.
Spieth and Thomas eventually took the lead, but the message had been set.
The Europeans are good in fourballs, too, and they had a surge of confidence. The toughest job for European captain Thomas Bjorn was to keep his squad grounded.
“Nothing is won because you had two good sessions,” Bjorn said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves.”
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