Sergio leads surge to glory

United States 5 Europe 11: Langer trusts in his Ryder rookies to quell the US comeback
Click to follow

Inspired by a vital win by two of their lesser-sung heroes, Paul Casey and David Howell, who were being thrown into the maelstrom of the Ryder Cup for the first time, Bernhard Langer's European team quashed the expected comeback from the Americans and now require only three points from today's 12 singles to retain the Cup.

Inspired by a vital win by two of their lesser-sung heroes, Paul Casey and David Howell, who were being thrown into the maelstrom of the Ryder Cup for the first time, Bernhard Langer's European team quashed the expected comeback from the Americans and now require only three points from today's 12 singles to retain the Cup.

If Friday was gloriously one-sided for European supporters, yesterday's action here offered classic shifts in momentum with the home team winning the morning fourballs, but losing a crucial match at the 18th, and Europe taking advantage by winning the afternoon foursomes 3-1.

At 11-5 ahead, Europe hold the biggest ever advantage going into the singles since the current format was adopted in 1979. Seven years ago at Valderrama, Europe led by five points and just hung on for the victory, but at Brookline two years later a four-point lead did not prove enough.

Not only has Langer's team built a bigger advantage on their return to the States but, without being complacent, the German captain knows he possesses a line-up that is stronger in depth and he has made sure that all of them have already contributed to the cause.

"We are very close," said Langer. "I think we can do it. I believe strongly that we can. It was tough for a time this morning but the guys came through it, we got an important win from a couple of rookies and I was always confident I had a strong foursomes line-up again."

Hal Sutton, the US captain, had targeted five points from the day for his team but they managed only three and a half. "There is not a lot that can be said to them tonight," he admitted. "We've been flat outplayed. We had some energy this morning but we couldn't keep it going."

Challenged by Sutton at an intense team meeting on Friday night to respond positively to America's worst ever opening day showing, the home players looked as if they might sweep the fourballs. But the old firm of Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood salvaged a half from their match and then the rookie pairing of Casey and Howell came from one-down with two to play to win at the 18th against Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell.

"Winning that last fourball was probably bigger than the whole of Friday," Colin Montgomerie said. "We came into the team room as if we had won the session. For two rookies to turn a fourball by winning the last two holes was fantastic."

Langer's team were spurred on to the effect that Westwood and Darren Clarke swiftly defeated Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco 5 and 4, while Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley came back from losing the first two holes to Tiger Woods and Davis Love to win 4 and 3. In front of a mass of Irish supporters, madly celebrating by the 15th green, McGinley said: "We are not going to celebrate tonight. The lessons of Brookline have been learned. We've got great respect for the American players and they will make it as tough as they can for us tomorrow."

The huge advantage was secured at the last hole of the day by Garcia and Luke Donald holding on to a one-hole victory over Furyk and Fred Funk. The Americans had been three down with four to play and fought back strongly, but there was to be no great escape.

Garcia, the youngest but most passionate member of the team, has now won six foursomes matches out of six in the Ryder Cup and once again he has contributed massively to the European points tally over the first two days. The Spaniard has won three and a half points out of four, as has Westwood, with Clarke and Harrington winning three out of four.

But when it mattered most it was Casey and Howell who pulled Europe through in the morning. They were the only European pairing to be in front but twice Howell, virtually unknown in the States having made less than half a dozen appearances here, birdied, at the 15th and the 17th, to level the match.

When he had been asked who or what might cause a surprise this week he had answered simply: "David Howell." He did yesterday. His tee shot at the fearsome 17th finished 10 feet away and, despite missing a short putt horribly on the first, he nervelessly holed the putt after Casey had got up and down to secure the par.

At the last, however, he had to leave the job to his playing partner and while both Americans failed to make par after coming up short of the green, Casey, the 27-year-old former American college star, superbly hit the green in two and then even more bravely two-putted across the hogsbacked putting surface. "I knew the pace was all-important on that first putt and I felt I left it in the perfect place," Casey said. "Rarely have I got someone else to help with the line of a two-foot putt, but I holed it in the middle."

Howell said: "That was one of the best pars I have ever seen. With me out of the hole, Paul was the big man we know he is. Even without looking at the scoreboards we knew we were the light at the end of the tunnel and we need to come through. People over here probably haven't heard of me but my team have and we were never afraid of playing anyone."

Sutton, his team and their supporters had been rocked by Woods and Phil Mickelson losing twice on Friday. At the team meeting that night, Tiger spoke up for the first time. "Tiger stepped up and said some things," Sutton said. "He liked the idea of setting clear goals." Playing with his old southern Californian school friend, Chris Riley, Woods finally got on the scoreboard with a 4 and 3 win over Clarke and Ian Poulter. Mickelson, however, had been benched humiliatingly by Sutton after losing nine successive matches in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup play.

While Woods could not maintain his revival in the afternoon, Mickelson came out with his Belfry partner of two years ago David Toms and beat Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet 4 and 3 in the foursomes. "I'm proud of the way I responded," said the Masters champion. "The way the team played the morning lifted me. I had a brutal night. There was not much sleep. Yesterday I was as tight as I have been all year."

Montgomerie and Harrington ran out of steam in the morning fourballs, losing to Stewart Cink and Davis Love 3 and 2 and surrendering his nine-match unbeaten run in the Ryder Cup with it. His record of playing in 30 consecutive rounds of matches also ended when he took out a buggy in the afternoon. It was yet another indication that Langer, in his calm and calculated manner, was leaving nothing to chance today.