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Before controversy and tensions bubbled from the 18th green into the parking lot at Marco Simone Saturday afternoon, the Americans made a valiant charge to cut the European advantage from 7 to 5 points.
The late heroics of publicly hat-shamed Patrick Cantlay turned the impossible into merely the unprecedented. To retain the Ryder Cup, the United States will need to author the greatest singles comeback in the history of the event.
Here are the top numbers and notes to know from a wild Saturday in Rome.
1. The day began with another massive blue wave that nearly knocked the Americans into oblivion. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood won the first three holes of their match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas despite making just one birdie. Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Åberg then went 4-up through four on Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka despite playing those holes in even par.
Hovland and Åberg would go on to win their match 9&7, the single largest margin of victory for any non-singles match in the history of the Ryder Cup, which dates to 1927. Not only did Scheffler and Koepka not win a single hole, they played their 11 holes in an unofficial 7-over-par. A 4&2 win by Max Homa and Brian Harman prevented the U.S. from becoming the first side in Ryder Cup history to play the first three sessions without winning a match.
2. With a 3-1 morning session win, the Europeans finished with 7 of a possible 8 points in two days of alternate shot format, tying the record for either side in a single Ryder Cup. In the last three Ryder Cups played on home soil, the Europeans have absolutely throttled the U.S. in foursomes, 20 to 4. The 7-point advantage for Europe tied the largest lead after session 3 in the modern era.
With his morning win, Fleetwood became the third player – and first European – in Ryder Cup history to have at least four career foursomes matches and not lose or tie any of them. Americans Jack Burke Jr. and Garnder Dickinson are the only other two players with that distinction in alternate shot.
You know the old golf adage: the Ryder Cup doesn’t truly start until multiple hat-related controversies culminate in a player-caddie parking lot argument
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) September 30, 2023
3. Needing a miracle in the afternoon to keep things within mathematical reason, the Americans put together their strongest session of the week in Saturday four-ball. Sam Burns, who along with Scheffler lost big in the first match of the week, played significantly better alongside Collin Morikawa in a 4&3 victory. Homa and Harman won again, too, and account for half of the four match wins the U.S. team has for the week.
4. What Cantlay did down the stretch, though, was inarguably the most significant, best golf played by an American so far this week. Sitting 1 down with 3 holes to play, Cantlay matched a McIlroy birdie at 16, then birdied 17 and 18 – winning both holes – to secure half-a-point for the United States. Per DataGolf, Cantlay gained 1.24 strokes putting in the match, most of any American player in that session. It was a significant turnaround on the greens for the OWGR number 5, as he lost about two-tenths of a stroke putting in his first two matches.
The Americans led at the turn twice in the afternoon foursomes, more than the first three sessions combined. Europe won just 13 holes Saturday afternoon, eight fewer than any of the first three sessions of this Ryder Cup.
5. Despite the terrific finish to the afternoon (on the course, at least), the Americans still have an Everest-sized mountain to climb Sunday in order to win.
The largest deficit overcome to win entering singles at the Ryder Cup is four points, by the Americans in 1999 at Brookline and the Europeans in 2012 at Medinah. Since the Ryder Cup first expanded to five sessions in 1963, the Americans have only trailed entering singles on foreign soil one time and come back to win – in 1993, when they were down just 1 point.
The most points won by any side in a singles session is 8 1/2, again at Brookline and Medinah. That’s the total the U.S. needs Sunday to tie in points and retain the Cup. It’s certainly not likely, but at least there’s a number to shoot for that’s happened before multiple times.
6. For the U.S. and their supporters, there is also the stark reality that the Europeans have simply played better golf than they have. Of the seven top performers in strokes gained total this week, six play for Team Europe. Four of the bottom five wear the stars and stripes. By the Twenty First Group strokes gained numbers, the Europeans have been better off the tee (+8.7 differential), on approach (+17.5) and putting (+12.7).
Adding up all the advanced metrics, the European side has combined for an estimated 42.6 strokes gained total. The Americans have 5.1.
7. After the largest margin of victory in any team match at the Ryder Cup, Hovland and Åberg had a diametrically different experience in the afternoon, losing 4&3. That added up to just 26 holes played, an unusually small sum for a pairing that played two matches together. In fact, the 26 total holes played are the fewest in the modern era of the Ryder Cup by any duo in a day in which they played together twice. Potential bonus: fresher legs on Sunday.
8. Despite dropping the afternoon match to Cantlay and Wyndham Clark, McIlroy’s three match wins this week tie a career-high in any single Ryder Cup. Even a tie in singles Sunday against Sam Burns would give McIlroy 3 1/2 points for the week, a career-best performance. McIlroy’s 17 holes won this week are tied for most of any player through two days. His 21 birdies or better lead all players.
9. Entering singles, Luke Donald’s captain’s picks have vastly outperformed those made by Zach Johnson. The European team’s picks have a combined match record of 7-5-2, while the Americans have managed a mark of just 2-9-3. Two of Johnson’s picks (hardly controversial ones, in his defense) – Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth – have been the two worst performers by strokes gained total this week. Spieth has lost nearly 9 strokes alone with his ball striking.
10. In the last three singles sessions on European soil, the Americans have held their own, outscored by just 1 point combined. Twice since 1979, the first year continental Europe was brought into the event, the U.S. has managed 8 points in a Ryder Cup singles away from home: in 1981 at Walton Heath and 1997 at Valderrama.
In order to prevent the road Ryder Cup drought from extending into at least 2027, the Americans will need a Sunday for the history books.
(Top photo of Viktor Hovland, right, and Ludvig Åberg: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)