Europe are on the brink of defeat in the Ryder Cup, where Ben Coley expects the United States to press home their advantage in the Sunday singles.
It has been an abysmal week for Rory McIlroy, who has not only played poorly but just hasn't given his partners the injection of energy they might have needed. Now, he goes out in the top singles game, facing the prospect of losing all four of his matches, having already been confirmed as Europe's primary point of failure. He lost from this position in 2016 and 2018 and to be frank seeing him given the top slot is almost as surprising as it was to see him left out of the foursomes on Saturday morning.
What to expect from McIlroy? I have no idea, except to say he'll lose if he's in the same form as the first two days. Xander Schauffele has been one of the unsurprising stars of the United States side and his backers for outright or top USA honours can count themselves unlucky that having won all three of his matches, he was denied the chance to play four. Not that it counts as a mistake from captain Steve Stricker. The Olympic champion, unlike today's opponent, can be relied upon to give his running.
Personally I would like to see McIlroy come out and show some fire and some fight. He owes his team that. He owes some blue on the board to Shane Lowry, so emotional a winner of his fourball last night, and tasked with teeing off after him here. And at the risk of flogging a horse which passed away in 2014, I will say this: had you priced this match on Thursday, you wouldn't have been getting close to 15/8 McIlroy. The market has responded to one of the worst weeks of his career. The question is, can he?
Verdict: Schauffele 2&1
As with his close friend Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay is unbeaten having played three matches so far. It's been a memorable year for the Californian duo, capped with beginning what could be a lengthy and lucrative Ryder Cup partnership, and with Justin Thomas below his best, it's not a surprise that they're out in the top two slots. They are the epitome of dependable.
Shane Lowry, though, represents one of the worst draws an American player can face. After holing a putt for a precious point last night he said he was made for this, and he's right: a major and WGC winner who could win his national open as an amateur has something intangible about him; a rare ability to appear more likely to make a putt the more important that putt becomes. He's not quite as good a golfer as Cantlay, but his heart can bridge the gap.
Lowry is shorter in the betting than McIlroy, which is in some ways astonishing, given they face almost identical players. On foreign soil, playing against someone at the top of their game, I can't argue that 13/8 is value. But I do fancy him to give Cantlay a real game and perhaps end his debut with two points from three, and eyes on another crack at the Americans in Rome.
Verdict: Lowry 2&1
Europe always needed more than Jon Rahm to win this but their star man has delivered. He's a point away from reaching 4.5 on a losing side, a remarkably impressive achievement, and could yet be both Europe's top scorer and the top scorer overall. Those who followed the pre-tournament advice to back him in both markets need him to beat Scottie Scheffler and hope for what appears an unlikely favour from Paul Casey.
Rahm should do enough to be the top European at least as he's fancied to beat Scheffler, who hasn't lost yet but has been quite nicely drawn and had Bryson DeChambeau for a fourballs partner. The Texan has justified selection without being a key part of the side, nor appearing to play to his absolute best, and while a free go at the world number one is something he'll relish, he might need Rahm's petrol tank to empty if he's to win.
Scheffler did impress at the WGC-Match Play in the spring and that prospect of Rahm's form dipping in this fifth match versus Scheffler's third is enough to avoid getting stuck in at 4/6. But for those factors it would seem a fair price and if Europe are to keep this respectable, they will surely need a full point from their best player.
Verdict: Rahm 4&2
This is a fun match between two fabulous albeit slightly different drivers of a ball, both of whom are unbeaten. Sergio Garcia brings the experience, having broken more records this week and extended his lead as the top points scorer in the history of the event; Bryson DeChambeau has thrived for having fans on his side and, as expected, has been a useful weapon in fourballs.
Garcia's singles record is 4-4-1 but he hasn't lost since Anthony Kim thumped him in 2008. Since then he's been involved in four tight matches, including a classic with Phil Mickelson in 2016, and this could go all the way to the 18th. DeChambeau will be keen to preserve his unbeaten record for the week and earn a first singles point having lost in Paris, where Alex Noren holed that mammoth putt on the final green, and something similarly prolonged is anticipated.
Verdict: Garcia 2&1
One of the matches everyone seemingly wanted to see as these former college rivals go head-to-head. In some ways, their Ryder Cup debuts have been natural extensions of their respective careers: both good, with no learning curve needed, but Collin Morikawa's far more spectacular. He's gone 3-0-0 with Dustin Johnson, whereas Hovland has managed just a half point from his three matches, all of which could and perhaps should have been better.
Now out there on their own, it's difficult to know exactly what to expect, not just in terms of the golf but the intensity of the game and how they interact. It'll be fun to watch, that's assuming we get to watch it. But while Morikawa deserves favouritism, best to just get an early steer on how they might do when heading out in a hopefully more competitive match in Italy.
Verdict: Morikawa 3&1
It's been quite the turnaround for Dustin Johnson who is the only US player to feature in every session, having arrived as the oldest and most experienced member of the team, but with a losing Ryder Cup record. In Paris three years ago he went 1-4-0, losing his singles match to Ian Poulter having previous built up a superb record in the format. Now he needs to win this one to become the first American to go 5-0-0 since Lanny Wadkins in 1979.
Paul Casey is one of several Europeans yet to register a point, and I'm not sure I've seen him bend down to pick the ball out of the hole in any of his three matches. It really has been a miserable week for the Englishman, but he's only lost one of his four Ryder Cup singles matches and was able to tie with Brooks Koepka in Paris.
DJ will likely win, but while Casey hasn't fired yet, those needing Johnson to lose to help their top scorer positions (raises hand) aren't without hope. Casey has always been comfortable in match play golf and has hit plenty of good shots. He'll just need to find a working putter, or else risk being steamrollered by an opponent at the top of his game.
Verdict: Johnson 3&2
After his pathetic antics on Saturday, Europeans will presumably be united in hoping that at least Brooks Koepka might be forced to celebrate winning the Ryder Cup having contributed little towards it. That will be the case if Bernd Wiesberger can roll him over and while not perhaps likely, the Austrian rookie has played better than his results in two matches so far.
Koepka of course is a fabulous golfer with a fearsome reputation and this is an almighty task for Wiesberger. Many will expect him to suffer the same fate as Danny Willett, whose Ryder Cup nightmare was ended swiftly when Koepka thrashed him in 2016. But either side of that, he lost on home soil to Adam Scott in the Presidents Cup, and his failure to beat Casey in Paris denied America the dream start they needed.
Wiesberger is the biggest price of all 12 European players, but he's not bottom of the list here either in terms of expectation. If he can birdie that first hole again, game on.
Verdict: Koepka 2&1
Padraig Harrington has front-loaded his team, as you'd expect, and five of the bottom six players out have not yet won a match this week. One of them is Ian Poulter, for whom I feel sure this will be a final Ryder Cup appearance. How desperate he will be not to end it on a losing note. He's never failed to contribute something to Europe's points tally, but faces that prospect here.
Tony Finau was brilliant in the singles in Paris and not far off that in Australia at the Presidents Cup. Buoyed by his recent and overdue win, he's looked just that bit more comfortable, and though only playing twice, has appeared to be in very good touch. Certainly, his burst of scoring on Friday, when he made eight threes in 13 holes, was among the most impressive of the week so far.
At a course where his driver is a big weapon, Finau should win. Poulter though showed signs of life in his fourball yesterday, when he was badly let down by McIlroy. And his singles return of 5-0-1 demands respect, even if the last three Ryder Cups have confirmed that he is no longer the player who did what he did at Medinah. If this is the end, what a contribution he's made to European success, and I hope he can bow out with an unbeaten singles record.
Verdict: Finau 3&2
An interesting match this one and part of me wonders whether Justin Thomas might have been punished a little for being a bit of an idiot on the first tee yesterday afternoon. It's perhaps not likely, but for future reference I don't know as it's a great look to be downing beer and then slamming it on the tee box just before the next session of the Ryder Cup begins. I say that not as some stern-faced Brit, which is how Americans might seek to characterise it; it's just the sort of thing which on another day might come back to haunt you. And I think it does show a little lack of respect to your opponents, who've had to go to battle without meaningful support this week.
Certainly I don't think Thomas has covered himself in glory this week, on or off the course, and Tyrrell Hatton can give him one or two problems. He might have been second to Lowry in their fourballs match but did contribute through the middle part of it and his birdie to secure half a point the previous evening was seriously good. He's tough, Hatton, and that will serve him well.
We're at the point in the list where it is theoretically possible that a swathe of blue at the top of the board has made life uncomfortable for the US players teeing off late. That could massively alter the dynamics. Unfortunately, Europe just don't appear close enough, and by the time this match has finished, surely so too has the Ryder Cup.
If it's likely Poulter bows out, then it's close to certain Lee Westwood does. Yes, he qualified for this team, but he'll be 50 by the time Rome comes around and it's far more likely he's captaining the side than playing in it. Westwood made his debut in 1997 and, 24 years later, has been a stalwart whose role in Europe's period of dominance has been significant.
Unfortunately, it's been one or two Ryder Cups too far. Defeat alongside Matt Fitzpatrick yesterday morning extended Westwood's run of lost matches to six, which is double his previous longest sequence. It would be a terrible shame were he to bow out on seven successive defeats, which would mean a sum of zero points across 2016 and 2020 renewals, but that looks likely now.
At least we know Westwood will be absolutely determined to avoid this outcome, but with Harris English playing nicely, it's difficult to see the veteran suddenly making the putts which he's failed to make all week. English will dominate him in that department. And he'll probably hit it better, too. Odds of 4/5 are very fair, albeit betting on matches of no consequence doesn't really appeal at the end of a long week.
Verdict: English 3&2
There's a very straightforward case for chancing Tommy Fleetwood here, but I can't even convince myself that it's enough. That case goes as follows: Spieth's singles record is 0-6-0 across this and the Presidents Cup. He was beaten up by Thorbjorn Olesen in Paris and ever since Graeme McDowell came from the dead to beat him in 2014, Spieth has been unable to put up a singles point.
It's a bizarre and frankly anomalous record. This is a fabulous chance to start rebuilding it, too. Fleetwood has hit some wonderful shots this week but the putter has let him down and the odd big miss remains. He's managed just half a point, spurning a couple of really good chances to win, and with just pride to play for there should be no excuses for Spieth except one: by the time this gets to the 15th, his teammates might have been celebrating for a while.
Then again, perhaps it'll encourage him to go out and get his point as quickly as possible. Siding with a wide-margin Spieth win might just be the way to go if you do want some kind of interest. Personally I recommend a box set or something.
Verdict: Spieth 4&3
Finally we get to Daniel Berger and Matt Fitzpatrick. Berger has won one and lost one this week and will I'm sure be keen to end on a winning note. He did that at the Presidents Cup in 2017, winning his singles match. The difference is this time he's out at the bottom and I see no way this has any real meaning, unless he can fly out of the gates and put himself in position to win a point early, perhaps the one which seals the Ryder Cup.
In fairness to the USA, in their two heavy wins (2008 and 2016) over the last 20 years, their dominance has continued down to the bottom of the singles. Across the two, they've won nine of the 12 matches, as top-heavy European teams have kept the match alive longer than expected. It's therefore reasonable to think they will be professional early on, as when Berger tees off, the top match will be around the 12th hole, and the competition still ongoing.
That said, this is a particularly large lead, and I'm not sure Europe can put enough blue on the board early to avoid a situation where these bottom few matches lack intensity. Perhaps that'll play into the hands of Fitzpatrick, desperate to earn a first point at the fifth attempt.
Verdict: Fitzpatrick 3&2
Posted at 1005 BST on 26/09/21
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