MEDINAH, Ill. – Celebration of a Ryder Cup victory will almost certainly be in full swing Sunday night for the Americans. Show up for the 12 singles matches Sunday morning, win just 4½ of them and it's Champagne time.
The only question is if Tiger Woods will feel deserving of an invitation to the party.
Benched Saturday morning for the first time in his seven Ryder Cup appearances, Woods and partner Steve Stricker emerged in the p.m. only to lose to Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, making the American duo 0-for-3 in the tournament.
No matter, though. With Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson turning the weekend into their own little bromance and the rookie duo of Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson acting like they've been here before, the U.S. has bolted out to a 10-6 advantage over Europe. Barring a Europe '99 meltdown, the Samuel Ryder Cup will return to this side of the pond for just the second time since the turn of the century.
"It is hard to believe that Tiger hasn't won a point yet with Steve Stricker," said Matt Kuchar, who's gone 2-0 paired with Dustin Johnson. "But it's very believable that we are 10-6 up."
While the U.S. was winning two matches in the afternoon session, after posting a dominating 3-1 performance in the morning, Woods and Stricker were getting beaten wire-to-wire by Donald and Garcia, who themselves came in having lost all three matches they'd played. Tiger started off by hitting drives into the woods, approaches even deeper into the woods and, at one point, found his ball settled on a cart path. That forced Stricker to knock down putts, which he didn't. Neither did Woods, until the back nine, when he carded five birdies. Only, it was too late after Woods and Stricker had worked themselves into a four-hole deficit through nine.
Conventional wisdom says Woods and Stricker had to play at least once on Saturday, but why? They lost both matches Friday, dropping Woods' Ryder Cup record to 13-16-2, and showed little life as a partnership other than when Tiger provided a celebratory clap when Stricker bailed him out after he'd driven his very first tee shot deep into the trees.
The last time the U.S. won a Ryder Cup came in 2008 without the help of Woods, who sat out because of injury. A victory Sunday would come in spite of him.
"Just kind of had to make some birdies and we weren't able to get it going," said Woods, who, along with Stricker, could become just the third and fourth players to go 0-4 in the Ryder Cup's current format.
The stars for the second day in a row were the veteran Mickelson and Ryder Cup rookie Bradley. They birdied six of the first 10 holes in the morning's alternate shot play and closed the match out 7-and-6 in what is tied for the most lopsided victory in Ryder Cup history.
And they didn't do it against a couple of chumps. Donald and Lee Westwood are the world's third- and fourth-ranked players, respectively.
In a day and a half of work, Bradley and Mickelson are 3-0, having beaten the world's No. 1 (Rory McIlroy) 3-and-4, and relegated No. 2 (Woods) to a sideshow.
"Phil was giving me a pep talk early in the round, saying we need to come out hot against these two great players," Bradley said. "We were lucky enough to do that.
"It's just very relaxing to know that I have a Hall of Fame partner that knows how to get it up and in from anywhere on the golf course."
So dominant was the U.S. in the first three sessions that team captain Davis Love III had the luxury of sitting out his most formidable team (Mickelson/Bradley) Saturday afternoon. Both Mickelson and Bradley stood behind the decision, agreeing that resting for Sunday's singles matches was more important.
The move by Love is one that will pass without scrutiny, mostly because 83 percent of the American squad has played out of their heads. Bubba Watson has been so into the moment that on Friday afternoon he urged the crowd gathered around the first tee at Medinah Country Club to cheer while he struck his tee shot. And he did it again Saturday – twice.
"The game of golf should be fun," Watson said. "If we are going to grow the game of golf, that's what we have to show – the fun side of it."
The Americans' 10-6 lead is massive, though not insurmountable. Without question, European captain José María Olazábal will tell his squad the story of the '99 Ryder Cup, when the Euros went into the final day with the same four-point advantage only to see it slip away.
Olazábal was on the green that day when Justin Leonard poured in the putt that gave the United States the improbable victory.
"It's been done before," he said. "And, well, tomorrow is going to be a big day."
Sunday, the Europeans do have something to lose – the cup they've held every year but two since 1999. But it's the Americans who have more on the line.
For Keegan Bradley, it's a chance to become a legend. For Phil Mickelson, it's maybe one last chance for Ryder Cup glory. For Tiger Woods, it's a shot at salvation.
So yeah, it's going to be a big day.
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