By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Europe opened a commanding 8-4 lead after Saturday’s Ryder Cup fourballs with Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia fending off a thrilling American fightback to lead another home onslaught around Le Golf National.
Roared on once again by huge and partisan galleries, Europe’s pairings initially dominated as their misfiring rivals struggled to locate fairways and greens on a breezy Autumn morning south-west of Paris.
Halfway through the third session, a repeat of Friday’s 4-0 foursomes sweep by Europe looked possible before Jim Furyk’s side joined the fight.
In the day’s opening match, McIlroy and Garcia were four up with five to play against Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau only to lose three consecutive holes.
With tension mounting, Garcia ended the American duo’s audacious comeback with a 25-foot birdie on the 17th with the crowd erupting into chants of “Sergio, Sergio”.
Moments later on the 16th, Paul Casey and rookie Tyrrell Hatton completed a 3&2 win against world number one Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.
Tiger Woods, playing his first Ryder Cup for six years, again failed to fire although the 14-times major winner was given little support from a wayward Patrick Reed in a 4&3 loss to Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari — a repeat of their defeat by the Anglo-Italian duo on Friday.
Woods has now lost 10 of his 14 Ryder Cup fourballs.
All eyes were then fixed on the fourth match of the day where Americans Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas held off Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm 2&1 to stem the bleeding and keep the U.S. clinging to Europe’s coat tails ahead of the foursomes.
The eight players Furyk sent out on Saturday were the same ones he picked for Friday’s opening skirmishes and had a combined 23 major titles compared to the six of the home side.
But they boast no-one quite like Garcia.
After the Spaniard missed the cut in all the year’s majors there were raised eyebrows when Bjorn handed the 38-year-old a wildcard but ‘cometh the hour cometh the man’ and he has two points already.
McIlroy made four birdies as Europe went four up after eight holes but Koepka and Finau dug in and when both Europeans hit approaches into water on the 15th the gap was two.
Finau’s birdie on the par-three 16th narrowed it to one but Garcia nailed his putt on the 17th.
He now has 24.5 Ryder Cup points from his nine appearances and victory with Swede Alex Noren later will take him past the all-time record of Englishman Nick Faldo.
“His passion and fire for the Ryder Cup is second to none and it’s pretty infectious. We had a great time,” McIlroy said.
Casey, appearing for the first time in 10 years, began with a five-birdie blitz to put himself and Hatton in control against Johnson and Fowler and although world number one Johnson belatedly hit form it was too little too late.
“It was the Casey Express train the front nine,” Hatton said after collecting his first Ryder Cup point.
Fleetwood’s dream debut continued as he became the first European rookie since Garcia in 1999 to win his first three matches in the Ryder Cup.
A weary-looking Woods pegged back the so-called “Mollywood” duo, finding some magic with birdies at the seventh and 10th, but he was powerless as Open champion Molinari birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th.
“Just started riding that wave again on the back nine when Fran started playing great,” Fleetwood said.
The only slight concern for Bjorn was the form of Rahm.
Greeted at the first tee with chants of “Rhambo Rhambo” from fans in the mammoth grandstand, he hit his first shot into the water and repeated the trick at the second.
Poulter kept Europe alive though before Spieth and Thomas claimed the Americans’ first point for 24 hours.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)