Europe face an enormous task to turn the tide in the Ryder Cup, so can they do it? Ben Coley delivers his verdict on the fourballs as Rory McIlroy is dropped for the first time.
If Europe are to overcome a 6-2 deficit, the largest they've faced under this format over a period of more than 40 years, they need to win this session. And if they are to win this session, they surely need Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia to deliver just as they did from the same slot on Friday.
The two Spaniards struck up a formidable partnership and got everything right, starting with the decision to allow Garcia to tee off on one. His sublime approach play and Rahm's deadly putting helped them establish a lead which they really didn't look like giving away, even if the match ran on longer than expected and came alive just for a second on the 17th green.
In theory this is a slightly easier assignment, although Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger were convincing winners themselves. Scorecards are not everything in this competition, but it is worth noting the Americans played 17 holes in around the two-under mark, versus five-under for the Europeans, and that underlines the belief the boys in blue are entitled to favouritism.
The possible negative is that Rahm was understandably tired having helped salvage half a point late last night, and if his stomach issues of last week have cost him energy then today will tell us. However this is only match three and he should be fine. Unbeaten in his two so far, he should remain that way and at least get some blue on the board early.
Verdict: Europe 3&2
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa were outstanding on Friday morning before Steve Stricker kept to his word and stuck to the plan, benching Morikawa in the afternoon. Johnson is two from two having combined with Xander Schauffele in foursomes later in the day and has played some world-class golf so far, very much seeming to peak at the right time.
If they reproduce the levels of yesterday they will be very hard to beat, and hope for Europe probably relies on Johnson being penalised more for some remaining waywardness off the tee, or Morikawa having one of those days on the greens. If it so happens that the USA face a series of important six-foot putts, and most of them fall to Morikawa, there is a chance the door swings open.
Tyrrell Hatton was superb in the fourballs, his shots to 17 and 18 of the very highest calibre as he and Rahm secured half a point. There were very real form concerns coming in but perhaps he'll prove to be the type of player who can leave all that behind in this arena. Certainly, so far he's looked born to play in the Ryder Cup, having excelled on Friday and done well enough on debut in Paris.
Back in 2018 he was with Paul Casey twice, winning one and losing one, but significantly these were fourball matches. Hatton of course demonstrated that foursomes is fine, but Casey has a losing record in the format having played just three such matches in his Ryder Cup career. In fairness to the Englishman, he and Viktor Hovland played well on Friday morning but ran into this same pairing in outstanding form, and I'm afraid it feels like Europe's path to a point here depends more on what their opponents do.
Verdict: USA 4&3
Justin Thomas came good late on Friday afternoon to earn half a point in the bottom match having seemingly been the weak link alongside Jordan Spieth in the morning. The pair were beaten by Rahm and Garcia and really didn't look like turning the tide until Spieth's miracle shot on 17, which was swiftly rendered useless by another missed putt from Thomas.
Clearly, Thomas is capable of producing fireworks at any moment, just as he did with an eagle on 16 during the fourballs. That's the type of player he is. But there might just be a feeling among the European ranks that this top American partnership, fancied to lead the way throughout the week, could be more vulnerable than we all expected. Both certainly have big misses in them.
On another day in another scenario I would quite like the European pairing, both of whom flush it when at their best. Bernd Wiesberger did quite well on his debut in fourballs, earning a nod of approval from DJ after holing a clutch putt albeit in defeat. He can take pride in the way he stuck to the task but this is a new one altogether and it will be seriously impressive if he can hold his own in world-class company.
Viktor Hovland earned that half-point against Thomas and Patrick Cantlay and he seemed to hit it better the longer the match went on. Were he back out with Tommy Fleetwood, they would look quite interesting here. But while I'm a fan of Wiesberger, the Ryder Cup really is on the line as early as this session, and it might be asking too much that these rookies strike up a winning partnership. Perhaps they can at least keep it close, but expect experience and class to count in the end.
Verdict: USA 2&1
Lastly, we have one of the stars of day one, Xander Schauffele, back with Patrick Cantlay, the two having thrashed Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter on Friday morning. Schauffele went on to secure another point with Johnson, and Cantlay remains unbeaten after fighting back alongside Thomas.
Matt Fitzpatrick still seeks his first Ryder Cup point. He and Lee Westwood lost on day one and were behind from the second hole onwards. They played quite well, making one birdie and 16 pars in their 17 holes, but it's not a coincidence they were this solid but lacking in the spectacular. For a course as big as this, with two driveable par-fours, they lack firepower. Their birdie came courtesy of a pinpoint wedge whereas their opponents can pick them up cheaply on the scoring holes.
I'll be frank: I think it's remarkable that Rory McIlroy doesn't feature somewhere, and of the eight Europeans selected, these two are the hardest to justify. Odds of 5/2 are seldom seen in this event and they're tempting purely on the basis that the Americans could play poorly. But Europe have not got their strongest side out for a must-win session and I expect it to end with the USA having turned the screw.
Verdict: USA 3&2
Posted at 1010 BST on 25/09/21
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