GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — As soon as Patrick Cantlay‘s third straight birdie fell into the cup on the 18th hole at Marco Simone Golf Club on Saturday, he pretended to take off his hat and salute the crowd. The rest of the American players turned and waved their hats at European fans.
The United States trails 10½-5½ after two days of the 44th Ryder Cup and would need the largest comeback in history to retain the trophy. But finally, after what was a largely forgettable weekend, the Americans have some momentum, thanks to Cantlay and a disputed report from the British media.
Cantlay, the fifth-ranked player in the world, made a 43-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to beat Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and England’s Matt Fitzpatrick 1 up in the final match of the day. Cantlay and U.S. Open winner Wyndham Clark were 1 down with three holes to play before Cantlay made a 10½-footer to match McIlroy’s birdie on the 16th and sank a 10-footer to tie the match on the par-3 17th.
After the American team was left in a seven-point hole after losing three of four foursomes (alternate shot) matches Saturday morning, a British media report suggested the U.S. squad was fractured. It accused Cantlay of leading the charge over players not being paid for competing in the Ryder Cup and said he wasn’t wearing a team-issued hat in protest.
Once the report hit social media, many European fans greeted Cantlay on nearly every hole by waving their hats.
“I’ve never had so many standing ovations going to tee boxes and greens,” Cantlay said. “I thought it was fantastic. You know, I told Wyndham when we were going to the first tee today that we were going to use all the energy out there as fuel, and we did.”
Cantlay denied the report and said the Ryder Cup wasn’t about being paid. He said he wasn’t wearing a hat because it didn’t fit. He didn’t wear one during the Americans’ 19-9 win at Whistling Straits in 2021 for the same reason.
One more day.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 30, 2023
“It’s just about Team USA and representing our country,” Cantlay said.
The U.S. won three of four four-ball (best ball) matches in Saturday’s afternoon session, but Europe’s five-point advantage is its second-largest lead after two days. The Europeans need four points to capture the Ryder Cup. The U.S. team would have to win 8½ of the 12 singles points to retain the trophy as the defending champion.
The American team trailed by the same score and won eight of 12 points in singles to nearly pull off the largest comeback in Ryder Cup history in a 14½-13½ loss at Valderrama Golf Club in Spain in 1997. The largest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history is four points.
“I really believe that everybody on this team believes in each other,” American Max Homa said. “It is a massive hole, don’t get me wrong. But I believe in every single one of these people to put a point on the board. And yeah, I don’t think that there’s been a second that’s gone by where it hasn’t been like that. So hopefully we’ll go out there tomorrow and just go crazy like we can.”
The Americans’ first point of the session came from Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa, who handed Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg a 4-and-3 defeat in the top match. The Scandinavian duo had rolled past world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and five-time major champion Brooks Koepka 9 and 7 in the morning session in the most lopsided match in Ryder Cup history.
Burns and Morikawa proved to be much more formidable opponents. Burns won four of the first six holes, and then Morikawa took three out of four from Nos. 9 to 12 to give the Americans a 6-up lead. It was the first loss of the week for Hovland, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, who had been 2-0-1.
Homa and Open Championship winner Brian Harman also jumped on England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard early in the second match. Homa had birdies on Nos. 1, 4 and 6 to go 3 up, and then Harman carded a birdie on the par-5 ninth to push the lead to 4.
After the European tandem cut its deficit to 3, Homa had one of the best shots of the week on the par-5 12th. He hit his approach shot from 246 yards to 2 feet and tapped in an eagle putt. The Europeans won a couple of holes late to make it interesting, but Homa’s par putt on the par-3 17th closed out a 2-and-1 victory.
England’s Justin Rose and Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre took a 3-and-2 victory over Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in what has been a disappointing performance for the normally reliable pair. They fell to 0-2-1 when playing together this week.
Saturday’s morning session was another unmitigated disaster for the American team. Scheffler was reduced to tears after he and Koepka were blitzed in their match against Hovland and Aberg, who competed at Texas Tech this past season and didn’t turn pro until June.
The European pair was 5 up after seven and then took each of the next four holes to end the match. The Americans didn’t win a hole. The U.S. pair carded a 5-over 40 on the front nine; the Europeans posted a 4-under 31. The match lasted just 2 hours, 19 minutes and didn’t make it to the 12th hole.
It was the largest margin of victory in an 18-hole match of any format at the Ryder Cup, which was first played in 1927. The previous most lopsided defeat in an 18-hole match was 8 and 7, which occurred twice in singles, most recently by current U.S. team vice captain Fred Couples over Ian Woosnam in 1997.
The previous worst loss in a foursomes match was 7 and 6, which happened three times, most recently by Americans Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson over current European team captain Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in 2012.
“We needed something to go our way,” Homa said. “I felt like we were ready this morning. We were ready to come out and play some great golf, which we did. Somebody had to start a spark, so I’m just glad it was us. We obviously are in a big hole, but we have the right guys to dig ourselves out of it.”