Saturday at the Ryder Cup was downright bonkers. On day two of the United States and Europe’s battle for golf’s most coveted team trophy, Whistling Straits treated golf fans to no shortage of entertainment. Controversy, pressure, a soul-snatching horseshoe and an epic uppercut joined some of the most entertaining golf we’ve seen all year.
As Saturday afternoon’s fourball session concludes in an 11-5 American lead, we prepare for the granddaddy of all Ryder Cup events: Sunday singles matches. Twelve points are up for grabs when things get underway shortly after noon ET, and if history is any guide, it’s unlikely the fist pumps will be stopping any time soon.
But before we get there, let’s take a quick look at five of the biggest questions we can’t wait to see answered when play begins.
1. Can the Americans hold on?
It is the ONLY question of significance on the minds of every single person involved with the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and it also happens to be the only question to which we can’t know the answer. Recent American Ryder Cup history is tortured by memories of the Miracle at Medinah, when the Europeans used Sunday’s singles matches to mount an impossible comeback from a 10-6 Saturday deficit and retain the Cup.
Will this year be different? There’s plenty of reason for optimism, but anyone who tells you they know how a young and largely unproven U.S. side will respond to the pressure of Sunday singles is a liar. Plenty of other factors are at play here (which we’ll address in a moment), but ultimately, it comes down to the players.
It’s the biggest storyline on Sunday — hell, it’s the biggest storyline of the entire tournament. And tomorrow afternoon, we’re going to have a very clear answer.
2. Can ANYBODY stop Jon Rahm?
To call Jon Rahm “a buzz saw” is to vastly overstate the lethality of buzz saws everywhere. Rahm has been a certified KILLER for the Europeans — carrying the Euros to 3.5 of their 5 overall points and largely dominating the field of play.
There’s an argument to be made that he’s been the best player in the entire tournament, which is a credit to Rahm’s game, because he hasn’t touched his ceiling for most of the week. Irrespective, it’s hard to envision the World No. 1 as anything other than an auto-point for team Europe in singles. Anything else would be very, very good news for the Americans.
3. How will the singles strategy play out?
Ryder Cup captains face their most significant dose of strategy on Saturday evening of tournament week, which is the time when they submit their order for singles matches. The key decision is when to send your best players out and where to place the players that are struggling the most.
It looks like both captains have opted for a strategy of balancing their Sunday lineups. European stalwarts Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia will go out in the third and fourth matches of the day (against Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau). It seems that European Captain Padraig Harrington is hoping to get some points on the board early to help the epic comeback that will be necessary for his team to win.
Xander Schauffele, one of the best Americans this week, will play in the opening match against Rory McIlroy, who has struggled. Undefeated Dustin Johnson will go out in the sixth match against Paul Casey. Whatever happens, there is sure to be a lot of second-guessing come Sunday night.
4. How will the rookies fare?
The United States, as you might have heard, has the youngest team ever assembled at this year’s Ryder Cup — riding six rookies (Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Schauffele, Daniel Berger, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler) as part of its 12-man team.
Now, those rookies have looked rock-solid throughout the early portion of play, and are a huge reason why the Americans are still in the lead (particularly Scottie Scheffler, whose epic birdie on the 15th Saturday night sealed his fourball match for the U.S.).
But how will they fare come Sunday afternoon alone with nowhere to hide against, in all likelihood, a battle-tested European opponent? Fielding this many rookies has always been a massive risk for the Americans, and it’s evident nowhere more than on Sunday. All Steve Stricker can do is pray.
5. Will there be more concession controversy?
Ah yes, “the Great Gimme Battle” of Saturday sure was fun, where players on both sides felt the need to share with their opponents that their putt was, indeed, in a kick-in. “In the leather,” as they say, and therefore deserving of being conceded. In fact, the non-concession controversy served up some of the tensest moments of Saturday’s action, begetting told-ya-so fist-pumps and, unsurprisingly, more unconceded putts.
It would seem likely we’ll see more of that heading into Sunday. After all, opponents are often less likely to concede when they fear doing so could cost their team the Ryder Cup.
Look, Ryder Cup Sundays come with no shortage of drama to begin with. But c’mon, let’s ratchet it up just a little bit further.