Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France — Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood walked down the fairway after delivering another big point in the Ryder Cup, side by side with their arms around each other’s shoulder.
Here came “Moliwood” at Le Golf National, the latest Ryder Cup sensation and the first European tandem to win all four matches since the current format began in 1979. Even more satisfying was that three of those points came at the expense of Tiger Woods.
But this was no time to celebrate.
“We came here to do a job, and it wasn’t to go in the record books or anything like that,” Molinari said.
And now they have to do it by themselves.
Everything points to Europe taking back the precious gold trophy on Sunday, starting from a 10-6 lead that requires Europe to win only 4 1/2 points from the 12 singles matches on the final day.
Woods hasn’t won any of his three matches.
Phil Mickelson didn’t even play Saturday.
Europe filled the board with its blue scores right from the start, winning three of the four matches in fourballs for an 8-4 lead, its largest after three sessions in 14 years. It held on in foursomes, with Henrik Stenson delivering clutch putts in the only match that was close.
But the score should sound familiar, and it was enough to make them cautious.
That’s the same deficit Europe faced in 2012 at Medinah when it produced the largest comeback on foreign soil. The Americans have never made up that much ground away from home, though they were the first to win after trailing 10-6, at Brookline in 1999 when they front-loaded the Sunday lineup with their biggest stars.
And that was on the mind of Europe captain Thomas Bjorn, even as he was drowned out by thousands of fans using what was left of their voices to sing, “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” the European anthem for these matches that Americans have heard far too often.
“We go ahead tomorrow and focus on what’s ahead and not what’s done,” Bjorn said. “We are so well aware of what’s standing across on the other side — the greatest players in the world. … I would never get ahead of myself in this.
“History will show me and everybody on this team that it’s not over.”
Even so, he couldn’t contain a smile.
Europe brought five rookies to Le Golf National who sure didn’t seem like rookies – Alex Noren and Fleetwood were the last two French Open champions on the Albatross Course – and certainly didn’t play like that.
His four captain’s picks have delivered six points, while the American picks have contributed one, by Tony Finau.
“We’re really, really, really happy with how it’s gone these past two days,” Bjorn said.
If not for Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, the Americans might really be in trouble. They pulled ahead in a tight fourballs match to beat Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm for the lone American point in the morning that prevented Europe from a second straight sweep of a team session. They rallied from an early deficit against Poulter and Rory McIlroy in foursomes, with both delivering key shots and big putts. With four birdies over their last five holes, they won 4 and 3.
Europe was up 10-4 until Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson won their match on the 16th, and Spieth and Thomas closed out their match right behind them.
“They had a six-point lead, and now it’s four,” Spieth said. “So we are carrying that as a little bit of momentum, I guess. Early wins tomorrow go a long way.”
Thomas leads off the singles against McIlroy.
Woods is in the No. 4 spot against Jon Rahm, who has played two emotional matches without winning.
Mickelson faces Molinari.
“I don’t know if there is any one match more important than the other,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said. “You’ve got 12 of them out there, and we have to win eight points tomorrow to take the cup back home. … We’re trying to make some magic tomorrow.”
Mickelson will have to shake off some rust. He hasn’t played since Friday in a foursomes loss that lasted only 14 holes. Furyk said he would shake up the order for Saturday afternoon foursomes, and that meant keeping Lefty on the bench.
It was the second time in as many Ryder Cups in Europe that Mickelson, who holds the Ryder Cup record with 12 appearances, did not play on Saturday.
Woods played twice, and at times it looked as though he was playing by himself alongside Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau.
Reed went from “Captain America” to looking more like “Private Patrick,” taking himself out of holes in the fourballs session with too many shots into the gnarly rough, in the water and one out-of-bounds.
That wasn’t enough to contend against “Moliwood.” The fourballs match was all square until Molinari ran off three straight birdies. The foursomes match was never close, as Fleetwood delivered big putts to win holes, each time turning to the crowd in a crouch, dropping both arms and pumping them wildly.
They were 5 up at the turn over Woods and DeChambeau, and a brief rally only delayed the inevitable.
Woods has failed to win seven consecutive matches, dating to his singles victory against Molinari in Wales in 2010. Woods, coming off an inspiring victory at the Tour Championship for his first title since his litany of back surgeries, has looked flat in the Paris suburbs.
He hasn’t had much help, but he also missed key putts around the turn that allowed Europe to build a big lead.
“Everything feels pretty good,” Woods said. “Just pretty (ticked) off, the fact that I lost three matches and didn’t feel like I played poorly. That’s the frustrating thing about match play. We ran against two guys that were both playing well.”
The rest of the European team wasn’t too shabby either.
Saturday match recaps
Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, Europe, def. Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, United States, 2 and 1.
Koepka and Finau trailed the entire way for the second straight fourballs session, only this time they didn’t recover. McIlroy got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 third hole for a lead Europe never relinquished, and he holed a 15-foot birdie putt for an unlikely halve when Finau holed a bunker shot on No. 5. McIlroy holed a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 8 for a 4-up lead. The Americans tried to stage a rally, winning three straight holes to trim the deficit to 1 down. On the 17th, Garcia holed a 25-foot birdie putt, and Koepka missed his attempt from 15 feet to give Europe the first point of the morning.
Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, Europe, def. Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, United States, 3 and 2.
The Americans gave a hole when both hit into the water at different times on the opening hole. Casey started making birdies, and the Americans couldn’t keep up. Casey and Hatton made nine birdies over 16 holes, none bigger than Casey’s birdie on the par-5 14th. That stretched the lead to 3 up with four to play. Johnson kept the match alive by chipping in for par on the 15th hole, but they halved the next two holes with pars.
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe, def. Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed, United States, 4 and 3.
“Moliwood” won their third straight match without ever getting to the 18th green, and it was the second time at Le Golf National that Woods and Reed were their victims. For the most part, this was Europe against Woods, as Reed continually took himself out of the hole with tee shots in the water, the rough and out-of-bounds on one hole. Woods squared the match with a birdie on No. 10, and then Molinari made three straight birdies for a 3-up lead. On the 15th, Reed went from the rough to the water, and Woods had to lay up to have any chance to extend the match. He missed a par putt for another win by Europe’s best team this week.
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, United States, vs. Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm, Europe.
This was tight from the start, and Europe took the first lead when Poulter made a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 7. Spieth answered with a tee shot to 4 feet for birdie on the par-3 eighth, and Spieth gave the Americans the lead again with his third birdie on a par 3 at No. 11. Thomas took over from there. He birdied the 12th for a 2-up lead, birdied the 14th to stay 2 up and made a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th to stay 1 up after Poulter made his from the same distance. The match ended on No. 17 when Thomas made a 10-foot birdie putt.
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, Europe, def. Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, United States, 2 and 1.
The Americans lost an early lead by not even finishing the fourth hole because of wild shots. Europe took its first lead when Johnson hit a pedestrian chip and Koepka missed a 7-foot par putt, and the Americans never caught up. Johnson and Koepka combined to three-putt the 10th to fall 2 down, and this became the most important match of the afternoon when the rest of them were lopsided. Koepka delivered a bold shot to the 15th over the water to 2 feet to go 1 down. On the par-3 16th, with Europe in trouble off the tee, Stenson rescued them with an 8-foot par save. Stenson made a 10-footer for par on the 17th that kept it from going down the 18th after Johnson chipped long and Koepka missed the putt.
Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, United States, def. Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, Europe, 3 and 2.
The match had the tone of being ugly early when they halved the second hole with a triple bogey, both teams hitting into the water and Noren flubbing a chip on the par 3. The rest of the match was clean, and the Americans played exceptionally well to win their first Ryder Cup match together since Medinah in 2012. The Europeans gave away the seventh hole with a double bogey, Simpson made a 15-foot birdie putt on No. 8 for a 4-up lead, and Simpson hit hybrid after a huge drive by Watson on the par-5 14th to 6 feet for only the second eagle of the matches. Simpson made one last putt to thwart European hopes for a rally on the 16th.
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, Europe, def. Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau, United States, 5 and 4.
Molinari and Fleetwood became the first European tandem to go 4-0 in team matches, and this one wasn’t close. Molinari drove into the water on the par-5 third, and DeChambeau followed him into the water, leading to bogey and a 2-down deficit. The Americans gave away the sixth and eighth holes with bogeys, and Fleetwood’s birdie putt on the par-5 ninth gave Europe a 5-up lead. The Americans didn’t make a birdie until the 10th hole, won back-to-back holes, only for Fleetwood to make another birdie to restore the lead to 4 up. Molinari made the final birdie. Europe played bogey-free in foursomes.
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, United States, def. Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy, Europe, 5 and 4.
The Americans lost the first two holes with bogeys, and McIlroy halved the third hole with a 12-foot birdie putt. He mixed it up with a fan, shouting to him, “Can I putt? I can putt?” as he pounded his chest. On the next hole, McIlroy pounded a drive out of play and they lost the hole with a triple bogey. Starting with the fourth hole, Spieth and Thomas wound up winning four of the next five holes, only one of them with a birdie. Thomas made birdie on the 11th for a 3-up lead, and Spieth rolled in a birdie two holes later to make the outcome inevitable.
Sunday singles matches
►6:05 a.m. — Rory McIlroy vs. Justin Thomas
►6:17 a.m. — Paul Casey vs. Brooks Koepka
►6:29 a.m. — Justin Rose vs. Webb Simpson
►6:41 a.m. — Jon Rahm vs. Tiger Woods
►6:53 a.m. — Tommy Fleetwood vs. Tony Finau
►7:05 a.m. — Ian Poulter vs. Dustin Johnson
►7:17 a.m. — Thorbjorn Olesen vs. Jordan Spieth
►7:29 a.m. — Sergio Garcia vs. Rickie Fowler
►7:41 a.m. — Francesco Molinari vs. Phil Mickelson
►7:53 a.m. — Tyrrell Hatton vs. Patrick Reed
►8:05 a.m. — Henrik Stenson vs. Bubba Watson
►8:17 a.m. — Alex Noren vs. Bryson DeChambeau