Lee Westwood and Luke Donald set the tone as Europe charged 9-1/2 points to 6-1/2 ahead of the United States with an inspirational display in the third session of the weather-hit Ryder Cup on Sunday.
Leading in all six unfinished matches overnight, the unstoppable Europeans won five of them and halved the sixth and now need only five more points to wrest the trophy away from the holders in the concluding 12 singles.
With the biennial team competition heading into its first Monday finish due to torrential rain earlier in the week and a further delay on Sunday, the stage is set for a compelling final day as Europe seek a fourth victory in five editions.
For their part, the Americans face a tall order in their bid to win on European soil for the first time in 17 years, although they can reflect back to Brookline in 1999 when they triumphed after trailing 10-6 going into the singles.
“Brookline was mentioned in the locker room tonight,” European captain Colin Montgomerie said after describing Sunday’s display as one Europe’s best ever.
“We were 10-6 up at Brookline; we lost. This isn’t as good of a position as them. So there is no mention of that word [complacency] in our locker rooms, never. We respect the American team fully.”
Montgomerie had given his team a fiery pep talk on Saturday before the start of the weather-delayed third session, and he was delighted that they carried their form into Sunday.
“That was one of the greatest days for European golf that we have had,” the 47-year-old Scot said. “To turn a two-point deficit into a three-point lead was quite amazing. To stop America winning a match, fantastic.”
Westwood and Donald earned the first point of the day by crushing American heavyweights Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 6&5 in foursomes, the world number one’s heaviest Ryder Cup defeat.
The talismanic Westwood gave the British partnership a major lift when he started the day by draining a 40-foot birdie putt at the 10th and they also birdied the next two holes before Woods and Stricker ended the match a collective three over par.
“That putt Westy holed on 10 was just magnificent,” Donald said. “I can’t even put it into words. It was amazing to see that go in and to go five up there just gave us a huge boost.”
Woods’s previous worst result at the Ryder Cup was a 5&3 defeat by Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer at Valderrama in 1997 when Mark O’Meara was his partner.
As roars of “Europe, Europe” began to echo around the course, Northern Irishmen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy followed suit by beating Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan 3&1 in their foursomes encounter to level the overall score at 6-6.
Britain’s Ross Fisher produced some of the best golf of the week as he and Padraig Harrington won their fourball against Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson 2&1 but the Europeans had to fend off a spirited American fightback late in the day.
At one point Europe trailed in one match and were all square in two but a flurry of sparkling approach shots and ice-cool clutch putts in early evening sunshine at Celtic Manor kept red US numbers off the board.
Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez squandered a two-up lead after seven holes to be level after 14 before they rallied to beat Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton two up.
Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer led by three after eight holes against Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler but were pegged back to all square before winning 2&1.
It was Mickelson’s third defeat of the week, taking his overall tally to 17 — the most defeats by any American.
In the final twist of the day, Francesco Molinari sank a three-foot birdie putt at the last to steal a valuable half with his brother Edoardo after they had been dormie one down to Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar.
“We have to mention the Molinaris,” Montgomerie said. “They knew they needed at worst a birdie, and… to do what they did at the last hole, two rookies, two brothers coming down that last hole with everybody that plays golf in Europe watching them. Big, big difference.”
The Europeans narrowly failed to complete the first clean sweep in a session at the biennial team event since the home side won all four fourballs at The Belfry in 1989.
“I was really proud of my guys,” US captain Corey Pavin said. “We went to sleep last night down in every match and I watched 12 men out there who fought hard and held their heads high. We got a couple of matches to 18.
“They know what they have to do and they will go out and play hard again tomorrow. They are going to come out fighting.” – Reuters