After a sensational opening day in the 2023 Ryder Cup, Europe started Saturday with an emphatic 6 ½ – 1 ½ lead over their USA counterparts.
On a feisty day that began with Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg destroying world #1 Scottie Scheffler and five-time major winner Brooks Koepka 9&7 in the foursomes, and ended with a heated exchange in the carpark between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay’s caddy Joe LaCava, that five-point gap remains, with Europe taking a 10 ½ – 5 ½ lead into the Sunday singles.
The Europeans produced another outstanding display in the Saturday foursomes, with Rory McIlroy/Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm/Tyrrell Hatton also winning their matches to give Europe a 9 ½ – 2 ½ lead heading into the final fourballs session.
Team USA fought back strongly, as Collin Morikawa/Sam Burns saw off the star duo of Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, whilst an inspired Max Homa made six birdies and an eagle to help himself and partner, Brian Harman to a win over Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard.
Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre won the third match over Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth but it was the final match where the biggest drama ensued.
Patrick Cantlay birdied the final three holes to flip the match against Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick and hand the final point of the day to Team USA. Rory and other members of the Europeans were angry at Cantlay’s caddy, LaCava, spending too long on the 18th green after Cantlay birdied it, whilst McIlroy and Fitzpatrick were getting ready for their own birdie putts which would’ve halved the match; there were confrontations straight after which continued off the course.
That moment lit a fuse in an event that had largely been lacking such drama due to the dominance of Europe and though it will take a record-breaking performance for the Americans to overturn the deficit on Sunday, it at least adds some spice to that final day and gives them the chance to produce their own historic moment.
Match #1: Jon Rahm (EUR) vs Scottie Scheffler (USA)
The opening match of Sunday is a mouthwatering one, as world #3 Jon Rahm collides with #1 Scottie Scheffler. A repeat of their singles match in the 2021 Ryder Cup.
Scheffler won that contest at Whistling Straits 4&3 over Rahm but their fortunes this week have been much different, with Rahm undefeated so far and taking 2 ½ points from his three matches; Scheffler has just half a point from three matches and was visibly upset at the conclusion of his foursomes hammering on Saturday.
However, Scheffler has proven himself to be as good a one-on-one match player as anyone over recent years, winning and finishing second in two of the last three WGC – Match Play events and is bound to respond on Sunday.
Verdict: The Americans will obviously be feeling buoyed by the finish on Saturday and Scheffler will personally be itching to get a win on the board after his luckless event so far. Having said that, Rahm has statistically been the best golfer in the event over the first two days and would’ve been a hard man to oppose against anyone. I fancy he’ll get Europe off to a strong start in the singles.
Match #2: Viktor Hovland (EUR) vs Collin Morikawa (USA)
In another repeat of a match from the 2021 singles, college rivals, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa will once again square off, on Sunday in Rome. Their 2021 match ended all-square.
Hovland has been one of the best performers in this year’s event and indeed the golfing world over recent months, taking two wins and a half from his four matches. Though he did suffer a first defeat of the event in the Saturday fourballs, to Sam Burns and indeed the man he faces here.
That was the first point picked up by Morikawa after he lost his opening two matches of the competition on Friday.
Verdict: Hovland would’ve been an easy choice before that fourballs defeat but that match changes the complexion a little, with the quality of golf Morikawa produced there as good, if not better than anything Hovland has produced so far in any of his matches. That is just one match though, whereas Hovland has performed well for most of the week and I’m expecting him to bounce back in this match, for all I think it will be a close one.
Match #3: Justin Rose (EUR) vs Patrick Cantlay (USA)
We narrowly miss out on what might’ve been an explosive contest between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay, as the American will take on the elder statesmen of the European side and indeed the whole event, Justin Rose.
That last match on Saturday was the first point picked up by Cantlay in the event, whilst Justin Rose has picked up one win and a half from his two fourballs matches alongside Robert MacIntyre.
Rose has a decent record in the singles, with two wins, a half and two defeats in his five matches, though Cantlay is 100% in such matches, winning in the singles on his Ryder Cup debut in 2021 and in both previous Presidents Cups.
Verdict: Patrick Cantlay (or his lack of a hat, more specifically) has been a part of one of the stranger stories of this Ryder Cup, though that seemed to inspire him to an excellent performance in that final fourballs match. Whilst Rose has performed admirably in his guiding of young Scot, Robert MacIntyre, the quality of golf Cantlay produced in that win exceeds any of Rose’s golf this week and I expect him to keep that 100% singles record in tact in our third match of the day.
Match #4: Rory McIlroy (EUR) vs Sam Burns (USA)
An expectedly fired-up Rory McIlroy will take on rookie, Sam Burns in the fourth match of the day, looking to bounce back after his 100% record in this year’s event ended in the Saturday fourballs.
Prior to that, Rory had won every match and though losing there, he still played well. In contrast, Burns picked up his first point in that session, after losing in the opening foursomes match of the event when paired with Scottie Scheffler on Friday.
Rory has a great singles record, with three wins and a half in six matches. Though Burns is no mug in this format, having won the WGC – Match Play this year; an event McIlroy also won in 2015.
Verdict: Burns played well on Saturday but I can’t go against McIlroy in this match. He’s played well throughout the week and will be as fired up as anyone heading into Sunday. I just can’t see Burns having enough to handle what the Northern Irishman will undoubtedly throw at him.
Match #5: Matt Fitzpatrick (EUR) vs Max Homa (USA)
Matt Fitzpatrick’s Friday fourballs and Max Homa’s Saturday fourballs are two of the best individual displays we’ve seen this week and the two get the chance to go up against each other in our fifth singles match on Sunday.
Homa has been the standout player for Team USA with two wins and a half from four matches and only ranks behind Rahm statistically this week. His fourballs performance on Saturday was the best standard of golf anyone has produced all event. Whilst Fitzpatrick was nowhere near as strong on Saturday as he was on Friday.
Singles records are scarce, with Fitzpatrick having lost 2/2 in the Ryder Cup and Homa with just one match to his name in similar events, though that was a win in last year’s Presidents Cup.
Verdict: This would be an interesting game if Fitz could recapture his form from Friday, however Homa was outstanding on Saturday and there’s no reason to think he won’t bring that again on Sunday. He gets the nod in this one.
Match #6: Tyrrell Hatton (EUR) vs Brian Harman (USA)
Tyrrell Hatton is enjoying the best Ryder Cup of his three so far and is currently unbeaten this week, having won two foursomes matches with Jon Rahm and gained a half in the fourballs on Friday.
He’s up against rookie and 2023 Open Champion, Brian Harman, who enjoyed an excellent Saturday, winning both foursomes and fourballs matches with Max Homa. While he very much relied on Homa in that fourballs match, he was excellent in the Saturday morning foursomes.
Hatton is still searching for his first singles win after losing on both of his previous appearances and Harman has no form in similar events, though he did reach the quarter-finals of the 2021 WGC – Match Play.
Verdict: Excluding Harman’s Friday foursomes performance these two are relatively closely matched this week and it should make for a close contest. Both are strong putters but the higher quality of Hatton’s ball-striking has me thinking he’ll claim a first Ryder Cup singles win on Sunday.
Match #7: Ludvig Aberg (EUR) vs Brooks Koepka (USA)
Brooks Koepka will get a chance for revenge after his Saturday foursomes embarrassment in match #7, as he takes on rookie Ludvig Aberg.
Koepka is still searching for a first win this week after losing one and halving one of his two matches; he has been one of the worst performing players, statistically, this week. This is in contrast to the Swede, who enjoyed a sensational start to his Ryder Cup career with two foursomes wins alongside Viktor Hovland, before they lost in the Saturday fourballs.
However, whilst we have no past record to go off for Aberg, Koepka is undefeated in Ryder Cup singles, winning two and halving one of his three matches.
Verdict: Brooks was all over the place on Saturday morning and unless he can suddenly find a level of form that he hasn’t shown for a number of weeks, Aberg can inflict a first Ryder Cup singles defeat on him here.
Match #8: Sepp Straka (EUR) vs Justin Thomas (USA)
Rookie, Sepp Straka is up against Justin Thomas in match #8, who failed to capitalise on the promise he showed on Friday, slumping to two Saturday defeats alongside Jordan Spieth and was one of the worst performers on the day.
Straka got off to a winning Ryder Cup start, taking the foursomes match against Rickie Fowler and Collin Morikawa alongside Shane Lowry on Friday, though they weren’t able to follow up on Saturday, losing to Max Homa and Brian Harman. However he did play to a similarly solid level as that first match.
JT does have a 100% Ryder Cup singles record to call on though; beating Rory McIlroy in 2018 and Tyrrell Hatton in 2021. Meanwhile, Straka beat Ewen Ferguson in the singles at the Hero Cup earlier this year.
Verdict: These matches start to get a little tricky to predict as I think the contest could be over by the time some of these are contested, which may alter the intensity of both players. Nevertheless, the Austrian has been rock-solid this week and as one of the better performing iron players, I think he’ll take down an out-of-sorts JT.
Match #9: Nicolai Hojgaard (EUR) vs Xander Schauffele (USA)
Xander Schauffele remains pointless with three defeats in three matches and will take on Nicolai Hojgaard in match #9 of Sunday. Who himself is searching for his first win of the week.
Xander actually played quite well in his opening foursomes match on Friday but his form has regressed since and he was sat out of the Saturday fourballs. Hojgaard picked up a half alongside Jon Rahm in the first fourballs session and contributed hugely, though he had a tough time in approach in his second match on Saturday, as he and Tommy Fleetwood lost out to Max Homa and Brian Harman.
Xander does have a good singles record to call on, winning both of his matches in the Presidents Cup, but he did lose to Rory in the 2021 Ryder Cup; Hojgaard claimed a narrow singles victory against Seamus Power in the Hero Cup this year.
Verdict: Hojgaard has putted these greens as well as anyone this week and has as much positive experience of the course as anyone. Xander, on the other hand has been one of the worst putters here, which has me favouring the Dane in what is a tough contest to call.
Match #10: Shane Lowry (EUR) vs Jordan Spieth (USA)
Shane Lowry takes on Jordan Spieth in match #10; both of whom have yet to win a Ryder Cup singles match.
Lowry has played just twice this week, winning one and losing one, whilst Spieth has played three matches and picked up just half a point; comfortably looking the least at ease player at Marco Simone.
Their singles woes translate to other events, with Spieth possessing only one win in four matches in the Presidents Cup and Lowry lost in the Hero Cup singles this year.
Verdict: This may be one of the lowest quality matches on paper but my vote has to go to the Irishman. Spieth has hit the ball terribly this week and whilst Lowry hasn’t driven it particularly well himself, he has been strong in approach.
Match #11: Tommy Fleetwood (EUR) vs Rickie Fowler (USA)
Rickie Fowler hasn’t featured since himself and Collin Morikawa lost in the foursomes on Friday and will take on Tommy Fleetwood on Sunday, who has been excellent in his two foursomes wins alongside Rory McIlroy.
Despite losing their match, Fleetwood continued his excellent form into the fourballs on Saturday, ranking as the third best golfer of the session statistically.
Fowler’s singles record in Ryder/Presidents Cups don’t inspire confidence, with two wins in seven matches, whilst Tommy has a half and a loss in two Ryder Cup matches.
Verdict: We should be able to mark up another win for Europe here. Fleetwood has been one of the best performing golfers of the week and the fact Fowler has played just one session is sign enough of where his game is at.
Match #12: Robert MacIntyre (EUR) vs Wyndham Clark (USA)
The final match is a rookie vs rookie contest, as Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre takes on 2023 US Open champ, Wyndham Clark.
Both players have taken a point and a half from two fourballs matches and have played their part. Though whilst Clark looked good yesterday in his halved match with MacIntyre and his partner, Justin Rose, he largely relied on Patrick Cantlay for his victory in that last match of Saturday.
Neither have played this event before, nor has Clark appeared in a Presidents Cup. However, MacIntyre did win well in his singles match in the Hero Cup, winning 5&3 over Alex Noren and memorably beat Cam Champ 6&4 in the 2017 Walker Cup in his amateur years.
Verdict: This match could mean very little or absolutely everything. Although MacIntyre played better on Saturday and has some good match-play singles performances to his name, the quality of golf that Clark played on Friday was better than anything the Scot has produced this week and with him showing brilliance under pressure in that US Open win this year, you’d have to fancy the American should this match have some meaning on Sunday.