Halfway by way of Saturday afternoon, one thing sudden occurred: the US lastly confirmed up at this Ryder Cup. And because the high of the scoreboard turned purple, and the chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” climbed in quantity and depth, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay grew to become locked in a battle for the ages. It was one which raged on the course – and, dramatically, later in the automobile park too.
Due to the characters concerned, a fourballs match that includes McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick in opposition to Cantlay and Wyndham Clark at all times promised spice. However with the US group sensing an opportunity to slice into Europe’s lead because the match headed down the 18th, it grew to become much more heated and visceral than that.
And the lingering rigidity lastly boiled over when Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava, celebrated his man holing from 43ft proper in entrance of the road the place McIlroy had a putt to halve the match. Shouts had been heard. Fingers pointed. The anger on Europe’s aspect was palpable – and comprehensible.
There have been echoes right here of Brookline in 1999 when the US group celebrated Justin Leonard holing from lengthy vary when José María Olazábal was nonetheless to putt. Later, McIlroy was additionally seen pointing his finger at Justin Thomas’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, within the parking space, whereas Shane Lowry and Justin Rose additionally appeared distinctly unimpressed.
This Ryder Cup had lengthy wanted a bit of pleasure – and it definitely received that. And with Cantlay and Clark’s victory, it additionally now has an out of doors likelihood of a contest. The US group now path by 10½ to 5½. Abruptly Sunday’s singles carry a small aspect of jeopardy.
The strain was already clear because the gamers walked to the 14th tee. McIlroy was greeted with enormous cheers. Cantlay, in the meantime, was bombarded with chants of “The place’s your hat, Patrick?” – a reference to the hearsay that he was apparently indignant at not getting paid to play on the Ryder Cup and was refusing to put on headgear.
At this level the competition had come all the way down to McIlroy v Cantlay, hero v villain, final group participant in opposition to a person rumoured – and denied – to have induced a cut up within the US locker room.
Such was the stress that Clark whacked his ball out of bounds – earlier than Fitzpatrick did the identical. In the meantime Cantlay was on the golf green, able to twist the knife. However cometh the hour, cometh McIlroy – or so it appeared.
First he pounded a 376-yard drive down the center. Then, after a textbook sand wedge, got here a nerveless putt to place Europe one up with three to play. Nonetheless Cantlay – who’s nicknamed “Patty Ice” for a cause – refused to go away.
First he made a 10ft putt on the sixteenth to halve it with a birdie. Then he levelled the match with a birdie from 9ft on the seventeenth. Earlier than, lastly, a shocking 43ft putt gave him one other birdie – and the US victory.
“I wasn’t actually considering in the meanwhile,” defined Cantlay afterwards. “It was simply uncooked emotion. I used to be simply feeling it. It felt just like the group birdied darn close to each gap on the again 9, and it felt like each putt was do-or-die.”
As he celebrated a hat-trick of birdies, the US gamers waved their hats in delight. Nonetheless Cantlay later denied that he had not worn a hat in protest at not getting paid, stating that he had performed the identical on the final Ryder Cup. “It simply doesn’t match,” he added, as he rejected rumours of a cut up within the US group after their disappointing first day. “It is so simple as that. That’s all it’s.”
In the meantime, McIlroy, understandably, appeared gutted at not with the ability to pull out a win or tie on the loss of life. And he was clearly livid with how the People celebrated on the finish, with some alternative phrases exchanged between Shane Lowry and LaCava too. However he insisted that the incident would solely fireplace the Europeans up.
“They played a great match,” he said. “And, yeah, a few scenes there on 18 and just fuel for the fire tomorrow.”
However the Northern Irishman can certainly hold his head up high having won three points from four matches – including a 2&1 victory with Tommy Fleetwood over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on Saturday morning.
That is an especially significant achievement given that McIlroy was in tears after Europe were thrashed at Whistling Straits two years ago because he felt he had let his teammates down.
As the skies over Rome began to darken, the US captain, Zach Johnson, insisted he was a big believer in momentum, in a way that made it sound like it could swing back and forth like a grandfather clock.
Cantlay, too, senses an opening. “We’ve been a little under the weather this week,” he said. “But we finally have a moment we can celebrate a little, and we’re going to take that opportunity and try to turn it into some momentum for tomorrow. Hopefully, we have a ray of light and we can build on this session and try and pull off a big victory.”
Perhaps come Sunday night we will all be talking about the Miracle of Marco Simone. But right now this is still Europe’s match to lose.