MEDINAH, Ill. — Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley helped stake the Americans to their biggest lead in the Ryder Cup in more than 30 years. Ian Poulter, eyes bulging and fists shaking with every clutch putt, gave Europe some big momentum over the frantic final hour Saturday at Medinah.
Right when it looked as if the Americans were a lock to win back the Cup, Poulter birdied his last five holes to win a crucial point and keep everyone guessing.
Heading into today's finale, 12 singles matches, the Americans still had a big lead, 10-6. It was their second-biggest lead under the U.S.-Europe format, which began in 1979; they led by five in 1981 and won by nine. Today, they need 41/2 points to win.
Europe at least had hope.
"The last two putts were massive," captain Jose Maria Olazabal said after watching Poulter stay undefeated in this Cup by rolling in one last birdie putt from 12 feet. "That gives us a chance. It's been done before in the past. "
Only one team has rallied from four points behind on the final day: the United States at Brookline, Mass., in 1999. Olazabal remembers it well. He was in the decisive match when Justin Leonard rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
The final two matches Saturday were a showcase of what the Ryder Cup is all about: one brilliant shot after another, birdies on every hole, suspense at every turn.
Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia were on the verge of blowing a 4-up lead to hard-charging Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, but they hung on as Donald matched two birdies with Woods, including a tee shot into the 17th that plopped down 2 feet from the cup.
Their 1-up win kept Woods winless for the first time in a Ryder Cup going into Sunday. Woods and Stricker lost all three of their matches, even though Woods made five birdies on the back nine for the second straight day. Woods was thinking more of the big picture.
"We are in a great spot right now to win the Cup," he said.
Poulter and Rory McIlroy were 2 down with six holes to play against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson when McIlroy made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th. Poulter took it from there.
"We had to make birdies, and wow! Five in a row. It was awesome," said Poulter, who raised his career Cup record to 11-3-0. "I've got the world No. 1 at my side, backing me up. It allowed me to hit some golf shots."
Mickelson and Bradley were flawless in foursomes, matching a Ryder Cup record for largest margin with a 7-and-6 win over Donald and Lee Westwood. They were so dominant together they didn't have to play the 18th hole in any of their three matches.
They didn't play Saturday afternoon, part of the master plan of U.S. captain Davis Love III to make sure his players were fresh for today. Love became the first U.S. captain since 1979 to make sure each of his players sat out at least one match before the final day.
Now he finds out if it will work.