By Tony Jimenez
Europe led the United States by 6 1/2 points to 5 1/2 after both teams produced an extraordinary exhibition of shotmaking in a record-breaking morning fourball session at the 40th Ryder Cup on Saturday.
Hunter Mahan, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed were the stars of the show as the Americans picked up two wins and a half after starting the day with a 5-3 deficit.
However, the performance of the session came from Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. The two Europeans were a record 12-under-par for 16 holes as they outplayed Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar 3 & 2.
Watson and Kuchar also lit up the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course in a crackerjack tussle that featured a total of 21 birdies, another Ryder Cup record.
European talisman Ian Poulter, known as ‘The Postman’ because he always delivers in the biennial team event, produced a couple of moments of eye-popping magic as he and Rory McIlroy shared a half with Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.
Mahan was another standout performer, finishing an estimated seven-under-par in the betterball format as he and Jim Furyk defeated Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood 4 & 3, but it was rookies Spieth and Reed who inspired the American effort for the second day running.
No doubt stung by captain Tom Watson’s bizarre decision to drop them from Friday afternoon’s foursomes after they had routed Poulter and Stephen Gallacher in the morning fourballs, the two young tyros this time battered Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn 5 & 3.
The 24-year-old Reed and the 21-year-old Spieth wore a steely gaze throughout the contest and a tally of eight birdies from the two debutants proved too much for their European opponents.
“I enjoyed that a lot,” said Reed. “It’s easy for me when a guy like Jordan hits so many fairways and greens and makes his putts.”
Partner Spieth added: “We are doing what Tom tells us to do and we trust what he says is best for the team. We played really well yesterday but maybe he wanted us to rest ahead of today’s sessions and tomorrow’s singles.”
The youngsters fit together like a hand in a glove, with Spieth providing the calm, measured approach and the more excitable Reed doing the whooping and hollering as they became the first US rookies to win their first two matches together since Chip Beck and Paul Azinger in 1989.
No one was more excitable than Poulter, though. The Englishman again struggled to hit fairways but he evoked memories of the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ with a trademark eyes-on-stalks-like show at the 15th.
The crowd exploded with noise as he holed out from a greenside bunker before Poulter yelled with joy and continually beat the badge on his sweater with the inside of his fist.
He came up with a second demonic show after posting a birdie four at the next hole before matching birdies at the last from McIlroy and Walker ensured a thrilling match ended all square.
“Funny things happen, don’t they?…a case of second-class post,” said a smiling Poulter.
“I made a couple of quick birdies to start the match off, which was great, and then fell asleep in the middle.”
No one peppered the flags more than Mahan as he helped partner Furyk register his first Ryder Cup win over Westwood in eight meetings, the highlight coming when the former rolled in an eagle putt from off the green at the 14th.
“We hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and we tried to get two balls on the green as much as we could,” said Mahan.
“I felt like we put the pressure on them all day. We were making a lot of long putts and chip-ins and stuff.”
Rose and Stenson set the pattern for a spectacular session of golf, stringing together a record 10 successive birdies to sink Watson and Kuchar 3 & 2 in the day’s top match.
“From start to finish we played well and they played well but it’s unheard of to finish with 10 birdies in a row,” said Rose who sunk a series of improbable putts to take his overall Ryder Cup record to an impressive nine wins and three defeats.
“I was forcing myself to stay in the zone, it’s so hard to come by when it gets like that and you just don’t want to burst your bubble.”