The United States team spent the first two days of the 2012 Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club building a big lead. Now, in a format they are typically strong in—the Sunday singles matches—the U.S. squad is poised to win for only the third time since 1995 if they can capture four (and a half) of the 12 remaining games.
Sure, it seems like a probable enough occurrence. There have only been three Sunday comebacks at the Ryder Cup since 1979. But anything can happen, and Team Europe is still alive until...well, until they have been officially eliminated.
Thanks to Ian Poulter's five straight birdies on the back nine Saturday afternoon in a four-ball match with Rory McIlroy against the U.S. team of Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, Europe was able to close the day with a full-point victory to narrow the gap to 10-6.
Granted, that's still a very large lead for the United States team, but if you look at the U.S. comeback from that same deficit at the 1999 Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline, you know it's possible.
European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal talked about it in his press conference Saturday evening (h/t ASAPSports.com):
Those last two matches were massive. That keeps us just, a chance. It's been done before in the past. And well, tomorrow is going to be a big day.
In order for the United States to win the Ryder Cup Sunday, they musn't press the panic button. It might even be a blessing in disguise that Team Europe captured a couple late points Saturday, because it keeps the American team from cultivating a sense of invincibility. Their lead is large, but not insurmountable.
Secondly, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley need to pick up where they left off Saturday morning.
U.S. team captain Davis Love III made a difficult decision in sitting his hottest duo for the Saturday afternoon four-ball session. Lefty and his energetic protege were fresh off a surprisingly easy 7 and 6 victory over Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the all‑time record for the largest 18‑hole victory in a team match, when they were given the news they were going to get a break in order to be well-rested for the Sunday singles matches.
It's tough to argue with Love's philosophy, but I would've had a very hard time putting this fearsome twosome "on the bench" when they had so much momentum.
At any rate, in the Sunday singles matches, the play of Mickelson and Bradley will be key. Obviously, Mickelson will not be able to feed off Bradley's energy directly, as he did on Friday and Saturday.
But I believe his game has been recharged as a result of having played with Bradley. The two will go their separate ways, so to speak, but they will need to cash in on the momentum they developed together.
Another key will be the play of Tiger Woods. In three matches with Steve Stricker, he was 0-3, but it's a deceiving number. Tiger played poorly Friday morning during the foursomes session, but managed to reel off seven birdies that afternoon in the four-ball event, losing one-up to a red-hot Nicolas Colsaerts. Colsaerts had eight birdies and an eagle in his partnership with Lee Westwood. That's very difficult to beat, no matter how well you're playing.
Saturday played out much the same, except Tiger was on the sideline for the morning session. In the afternoon, he started slowly but turned his game up considerably, only to be outdone one-up by the formidable team of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald.
Tiger will most certainly feel like he has something to prove, and the U.S. team will be counting on him for a full point Sunday. His play could be key if the European team mounts a comeback. Tiger will play in the day's final match against Francesco Molinari.
During the first two days of play, the United States squad appeared very comfortable, loose and relaxed on home soil. As a result, they have played, for the most part, very well. The European team, on the other hand, has lacked energy. And they simply didn't play as well as the Americans, especially on the greens.
That changed somewhat thanks to a late Saturday rally, but ultimately, Team USA still hasn't lost a segment of matches. They just need to keep doing what they've been doing and the end result should take care of itself with a Ryder Cup victory for the United States.
Here is the lineup for the Sunday singles matches between the United States and Europe. All times are ET:
12:03 pm: Bubba Watson vs. Luke Donald
12:14 pm: Webb Simpson vs. Ian Poulter
12:25 pm: Keegan Bradley vs. Rory McIlroy
12:36 pm: Phil Mickelson vs. Justin Rose
12:47 pm: Brandt Snedeker vs. Paul Lawrie
12:58 pm: Dustin Johnson vs. Nicolas Colsaerts
1:09 pm: Zach Johnson vs. Graeme McDowell
1:20 pm: Jim Furyk vs. Sergio Garcia
1:31 pm: Jason Dufner vs. Peter Hanson
1:42 pm: Matt Kuchar vs. Lee Westwood
1:53 pm: Steve Stricker vs. Martin Kaymer
2:04 pm: Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari