SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — Their day was done and, as the afternoon matches teed off, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger were playing to the crowd. They tossed a few beers to the thousands packed into the stands around the first tee at Whistling Straits, then drew cheers from everyone in red, white and blue by chugging a couple themselves.
Great players, great teammates, great fun. In some ways, the scene epitomized the Ryder Cup at its raucous best.
If only it came late on a Sunday afternoon.
There will be plenty of time to celebrate then, assuming things keep going the U.S. way. Plenty of people to celebrate with, too, judging from the massive galleries this week on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The heavy lifting has, for the most part, been done. The Americans have a historic 11-5 lead that will be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to overcome.
Still, there’s work to do. History suggests it might not be as easy as it looks.
Which begs the question: Just what were they thinking?
There’s no reason to celebrate early when Jon Rahm is making almost every putt he sees. No reason to think it’s locked up when Ian Poulter can’t wait to start pumping his fist and leading a charge in Sunday’s singles.
And no need to hand over the Ryder Cup until Europe has its final say in singles.
“We’re still not out of it,” Shane Lowry said after making a putt on the 18th hole to give Europe one of its points. “It’s a long day tomorrow, 12 matches. If any 12 of us were going out against any of them in the match play, we would fancy our chances. We just have to believe.”
Actually, belief is about all the Europeans have left because the U.S. needs just 3.5 points to regain the cup on home soil. The American team includes 12 of the top 21 players in the world and, barring catastrophe, should be able to deliver.
But golf is a funny game. It’s unpredictable, and the Ryder Cup is being played on a golf course that makes it even more of a crapshoot.
Strange things can happen, especially if the wind blows. Momentum can be huge should a few European players get going early.
That’s what happened in 2012 at Medinah outside of Chicago when Europe won the first five singles matches, and Ian Poulter took down Matt Kuchar early to set the tone. Down 10-6, the Europeans would go on to win 14 1/2-13 ½.
It’s what happened in 1999 in Boston when Ben Crenshaw famously predicted his team wasn’t done yet and the Americans overcame a 10-6 deficit to win by the same score.
Still, no team has ever come from more than four points down on the final day to win. That’s what made Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler coming from behind to beat Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland in the final match on the course Saturday even more important.
“The potential of it being 10-6 again like it was at Medinah for us to be able to flip that match was huge,” said Scheffler, obviously a student of golf history. “And to be able to win the last match on Saturday was good momentum as well.”
Indeed, all indications are that Sunday will be a mere coronation for a U.S team that has played up to massive expectations this week — and more. Until all the putts are holed and the totals added up, though, the Europeans can still dream.
“It’s going to take a beyond monumental effort,” Poulter said. “So we need a couple of miracles.”
The bad news for the Europeans, of course, is that they’ve dug themselves into an immense hole. The putts that dropped in their dominant win in Paris three years ago didn’t fall at nearly the same rate in the team matches here.
Even worse is that every U.S. player has contributed points and there are no weak links in the 12 singles matches for Europe to exploit.
“The lead that we have created is huge,” DeChambeau said. “We haven’t had this good of an opportunity in a long time and hopefully we can get the job done tomorrow.”
Hopefully, indeed. Losing this one would be the equivalent of blowing a three-touchdown lead in the final minute to lose an NFL game.
No one wants to be part of an epic collapse. No one wants to lose a point, much less a chance at the cup itself.
Nothing will be taken for granted. The U.S. players will grind it out from the first tee on, and their talent — paired with a big lead — will surely carry the day.
And when it’s all done, they can celebrate the way they’re supposed to — drinking out of the Ryder Cup late on a Sunday afternoon.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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