It’s impossible to predict how the Ryder Cup will go this week at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.
But Thursday was a particularly good example of the problem.
The group that has dominated four-ball matches in the morning made the same mistake in the afternoon. In the semifinal match of the afternoon afternoon session, Team USA was leading 4-2 going into the final pairing. But what do you do? Go for the win, or stick to the strategy that has worked throughout the two days?
Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari were U.S. Open champions, but they had been skidding all day. Their scores were a combined 54-over par before their match. Casey played the first nine holes in even par, while Molinari took the second six over par. Casey finally birdied 16, but Molinari closed out the match with a par.
In the other semifinal, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth had blown a four-hole lead against Russell Henley and Patrick Reed. So when they took the hole 11th, they already had a two-hole lead to keep the lead.
But then Kuchar hit a rare shot with an iron shot to the green, and it landed so far right that it landed in the bunker and nearly scuttled out of bounds. But the ball settled a foot away from the flagstick. That put Henley and Reed in a tough spot, and Kuchar still picked Reed up with an easy birdie.
One hole later, Henley’s ball fell long for a birdie and a halve, which meant Henley still had a one-hole lead, but the match was tied again.
The U.S. also blew a three-hole lead going into the final session.
But thanks to a birdie from Zach Johnson in the 11th hole, the Americans won the cup with the slimmest of margins of 2-up. Johnson and Jimmy Walker held a two-hole lead over Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. But Rose and Stenson came back for an even match, setting up the dramatic finish.
“It felt like only two points separated us,” Rose said. “Four or five points would have been a reach for the Europeans to win.”
And though the U.S. team was able to hold on Thursday, there was still a lot of tension in the air.
“The crowd has been fantastic,” Rose said. “On the first hole, I was pumping my fist and the crowd just booed me. We know what’s at stake. It’s a great atmosphere to play in. It’s what we really want and look forward to.”