Just when it appeared the Ryder Cup was ready to be won by the Americans Saturday afternoon at Medinah, turning the Sunday singles into a ceremony rather than a shootout, along came Europe's Ian Poulter in his fuschia-colored shoes and white-hot fire.
The Americans will take a commanding 10-6 lead entering Sunday's 12 singles matches but a late-day victory by Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald over the winless pairing of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, coupled with Poulter's brilliant five-birdie finish for a 1-up victory with his partner Rory McIlroy over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson recast the closing storyline.
"Those last two matches were massive. That keep us, just a chance," European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said.
That's not exactly Ben Crenshaw waving his finger in the media room and talking about the feeling he had on Saturday night when his U.S. team trailed 10-6 at The Country Club in 1999 but it was better for the Europeans than how it looked for much of the warm, sunny Saturday. Crenshaw's team came back to win in 1999, the largest comeback in Ryder Cup history, the task facing Europe Sunday.
"We've got a chance and that's all we can (ask)," said Poulter, who made six of the seven back-nine birdies he and McIlroy made in shooting 29 to win their match on the closing hole. Poulter closed the day with a 15-foot birdie at No. 18 to secure the last point Saturday.
Garcia was on the European team that lost in 1999.
"It would be kind of nice to give it back the way they did it to us in '99," Garcia said.
Still, the American team is its best position entering Sunday since 1981. They have stuck to captain Davis Love III's plan of resting every player at least one session with the goal of having everyone fresh for the singles matches.
"I think we all understand 12 singles matches are a lot of points...so there's a lot of room for things to ebb and flow," Matt Kuchar said.
The U.S. team has done it without a point from the Woods-Stricker pairing, once considered their foundation. Instead, it has been Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson who have been the heart and soul of the American effort.
With more than 40,000 fans crammed around the golf course, Mickelson and particularly Bradley have turned Medinah into a football stadium-like setting, enhancing the home course advantage intentionally set up to encourage long hitters and birdies.
Mickelson and Bradley are 3-0 together and their 7&6 destruction of Donald and Lee Westwood Saturday morning equalled the biggest margin of victory for an American pair in the Ryder Cup.
"It's just a great atmosphere for me because I love watching the (New England) Patriots and the (Boston) Celtics play and I love when they get the crowd going. I love when they run up to them and get them excited. That was kind of my mentality this week," said Bradley, a Ryder Cup rookie.
Mickelson and Bradley sat out the Saturday afternoon session, the only one of four sessions the U.S. team has not won outright.
After winning the morning foursomes session 3-1, the Americans were threatening to sweep the afternoon four-ball matches.
In what felt like a free-wheeling replay of their Friday performance, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson smothered Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari 5&4 in the afternoon four-ball session.
The Americans had a simple plan -- Watson would use his power to birdie the four par-5 holes and Simpson could birdie the others. That's close to how it played out with Simpson making seven birdies himself and Watson sealing the match with a 222-yard 7-iron shot into the 14th green, setting up the clinching birdie. It was strikingly different from their foursomes loss to Rose and Poulter in the morning.
"Momentum is everything in match play. I never realized how big it could play into the Ryder Cup," Simpson said after their victory pushed the U.S. advantage to 9-4.
It got tougher for the U.S. from there.
Dustin Johnson birdied the par-3 17th hole for a 1-up victory with Kuchar over Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts before Europe closed with two gritty wins.
After sitting out a session for the first time in his Ryder Cup career, Woods struggled early Saturday afternoon but, as he did Friday afternoon, closed with a fury, making five birdies on the back nine. However, when Stricker's 12-foot birdie putt lipped out on the 18th green, Woods remained winless.
"I've played well the last two afternoons and didn't get a point. It's tough," Woods said.
After a Saturday night team meeting that was to include a talk by captain Love among other things, the Americans will face a Sunday with the opportunity to win the Ryder Cup for just the third time in the last nine events.
"Big picture, we have a full day," Zach Johnson said. "Expect a crazy day."
Pairings for Sunday's singles matches at the Ryder Cup:
12:03 p.m.: Bubba Watson-Luke Donald
12:14: Webb Simpson-Ian Poulter
12:25: Keegan Bradley-Rory McIlroy
12:36: Phil Mickelson-Justin Rose
12:47: Brandt Snedeker-Paul Lawrie
12:58: Dustin Johnson-Nicolas Colsaerts
1:09: Zach Johnson-Graeme McDowell
1:20: Jim Furyk-Sergio Garcia
1:31: Jason Dufner-Peter Hanson
1:42: Matt Kuchar-Lee Westwood
1:53: Steve Stricker-Martin Kaymer
2:04: Tiger Woods-Francesco Molinari
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