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Youth Movement - Ryder Cup Rookies Powering USA to 10-6 Ryder Cup Lead

By: Jay Flemma


Riding its rookies and a rejuvenated Phil Mickelson, the United States team turned in a second dominant performance in the two-man formats and powered to an all-but-insurmountable 10-6 lead over Europe in the 39th Ryder Cup.

It's the largest American lead going into Sunday singles since they led by five in 1981. In the six instances since 1979 where one team scored 10 or more points going into Sunday singles, they won five times. The Americans need only 4-1/2 points in 12 singles matches to recapture the Cup they lost two years ago at Celtic Manor.

Ryder Cup rookies Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley are a combined 9-3, with Bradley a perfect 3-0 headed into the Sunday singles. Watson, Simpson and Bradley will be the first three players off in the morning for the U.S. squad and will face Europe's Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy respectively. Justin Rose will face Phil Mickelson in the fourth match of the day, while Dufner faces Sweden's Peter Hanson in match nine.

"My rookies aren't rookies," gushed Davis Love, who front-loaded the singles line-up in an effort to force European captain Jose Maria Olazabal's hand. "These guys came in really prepared, they came in playing very well, and it shows in the results," explained Love. And when asked about sending out three rookies early, he replied, "We want to get off to a quick start and get as many points as (we) can out of the get go, and hopefully we can do that."

Indeed, the rookies have come loaded for bear. Not content to be extras or bit players, they have carried the Stars and Stripes loudly and proudly, holing long putts, lasering irons, and fist-pumping the Chicago crowd into dizzying frenzies, despite the absurd pressure, which is arguably the greatest in golf.

"I think the Ryder Cup is more pressure than I've faced," admitted a candid Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion. "I heard it before I got here and it's true, you're playing for your country and your teammates in front of the world. I think we want to win this more than a major. On the tee box, I could hear my heart beat….you just want to play well so bad. It's more than a major for sure."

You'd never know it from the results, though. Simpson has shown the same poise and fire he displayed in snatching the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, coming from five shots back on Sunday to win over Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk, two Ryder Cup veterans. Simpson has been a breakout star, and paired with Masters champion and fellow "God Squad" mate Bubba Watson, they have been a juggernaut, crossing swords and more than holding their own against the teeth of Europe's line-up. They defeated the teams of Rose-Molinari and Hanson-Lawrie by a combined 10 and 8.

Likewise, Keegan Bradley has been a force of nature this Ryder Cup. Paired with mercurial Mickelson, the tandem went 3-0, spearheading a U.S. charge both days while authoring the biggest rout in Ryder Cup history - a 7&6 Saturday morning foursomes filleting of Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, Europe's strongest team on paper and, along with Rory McIlroy, the backbone of the squad. Though McIlroy has gone 2-2 facing the U.S., the number three and four players in the world have each struggled to pedestrian 1-2 records this weekend. Only two other matches in Ryder Cup history were as lopsided.

"I'm putting so much emotion into my rounds that it's probably a good thing that I'll be rested up for tomorrow's singles….I would never do that in a stroke play event," admitted a typically breathless and ebullient Bradley, a fan favorite and media darling since his improbable rise to prominence starting with last year's PGA Championship victory. He became the first Ryder Cup rookie since Loren Roberts in 1995 to go 3 0 in his first three team matches.

"It's great having a Hall of Fame partner who can get it up and down from anywhere on the golf course," added Bradley, referring to Mickelson, who has peaked in the last few weeks after milquetoast spring and summer campaigns. Ever the fan favorite, Mickelson charged through the crowd at Medinah, rousing up the fans before his record demolition of Westwood and Donald. Tomorrow, Mickelson will set the all-time U.S. record for matches played, with 38. He will pass Billy Casper, who played in 37 matches for the Americans.

Nevertheless, Europe may be bloodied but they are not bowed, after taking the last two foursomes matches yesterday afternoon, closing what was a 10-4 gap that threatened to put the Cup out of reach. Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald held off a furious back nine rally by Woods and Steve Stricker, clinging to a 1-up win after being up four holes after nine. Woods and Stricker are each 0-3, losing all three matches as a team. In fact, every American player has scored at least one point except for Stricker and Woods.

Ian Poulter then closed with five consecutive birdies on the back nine as he and McIlroy rallied past Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, turning a 2-down deficit into a 1-up win in the day's last Saturday four-ball match. Poulter rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt at 18 to cap the improbable comeback. He is 3-0-0 in this Ryder Cup and 11-3 overall.

"Epic," said teammate Graeme McDowell. "Ian was epic."

European captain Jose Maria Olazabal agreed, calling it the game changer his squad needed.

"It was huge. Those last two matches were massive. That (gives us) a chance. It's been done before in the past. And well, tomorrow is going to be a big day," he explained.

Then when asked if he was a believer in momentum in golf he replied, "Of course. And I have to say that things have not gone our way, especially on the greens, and at one point in this match, I believe that momentum will come our way and why not tomorrow."

"The mood in the team room changed completely," stated Luke Donald.

"It's all tied up at 10-6," gushed David Feherty, now an American citizen, but a past European Ryder Cup member.

Sorry, David. We love ya, but the statistics only like you as a friend. Love is not Mark James, this is not '99, the U.S. has home course advantage, and Europe's not coming back. Love led off the singles with four major champions in the first four matches: that's as Ram-tough and red-hot a line-up as he could have sent out.

Moreover, in perhaps the most telling stat of the week, the U.S. leads in holes won 75-50 and in birdies 99-65. In this event, that's almost a statistical outlier, it's so far outside the norm. Additionally, of Europe's six points, five were scored in matches that went a full 18 holes. The U.S., meanwhile, has frequently coasted handily.

Love's rookie gambit appears to have worked, at least on paper. Olazabal also front loaded, and while the match-ups are as good as he could ask for, with the U.S. team being deeper 1-12 and playing much better over the first two days, Europe must claim at least three points out of the first four to have any realistic chance of netting the eight points Europe needs to retain the Cup. Tiger Woods will anchor the U.S. team and face Francesco Molinari, who he demolished in singles at Celtic Manor in 2010.

Love front-loaded heavily, reserving only Dufner and Kuchar, wisely putting them above the anchor positions. Olazabal, with no other choice and his back to the wall, also front-loaded heavily, sending out the guys playing the best golf first, praying that the momentum swings his way.

Europe got as good a draw as they could hope for with the match-ups, but they must get at least three of the first four or it's game over. In a motivational effort, Europe will wear silhouettes of Seve Ballesteros on their shirts as a classy, unifying tribute. "Europe is not going to lie down," asserted a focused Bubba Watson. "They are not going to give it to us. We have to play good golf and come out focused and ready to win some points."

"They're going to pull out all the stops," added Zach Johnson. "They'll charge and we'll have to charge right back."

They certainly will - consummate pros every one, the Europeans will leave it all out on the course tomorrow, but though they're in Chicago, the red-clad "Red Out" crowd will make them feel like they are on an island.

"Woods beats Molinari, period. That means Europe must go 8-3 the rest of the way. Good luck with that," chirped ESPN 980's Steve Czaban.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.