Europe need just four points from the final day’s 12 singles matches to complete their revenge mission in Rome and regain the Ryder Cup.
Luke Donald’s side will also have plenty of extra motivation after the second day’s play ended with angry scenes on the 18th green which later continued outside the clubhouse at Marco Simone.
Rory McIlroy was annoyed that Patrick Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava initially refused to move from his eyeline as he waved his cap over his head in celebration of Cantlay’s birdie on the last.
McIlroy and team-mate Matt Fitzpatrick still had birdie putts of their own to halve the hole and the match, but neither was able to convert.
Live From just showed this angle of LaCava on the 18th green in Rory’s kitchen as he prepared for his birdie putt. Definitely right in Rory’s way. pic.twitter.com/NcBAILHBcJ
— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) September 30, 2023
“I talked to Rory,” Donald said. “He politely asked Joe to move aside. He was in his line of vision.
“He stood there and didn’t move for a while and continued to wave the hat, so I think Rory was upset about that.
“The Ryder Cup is always passionate. We’ve seen that many times over the past.
“I will address all 12 of my guys tomorrow. I’ll give them the right messaging and they will be ready to play.”
The incident threatened to overshadow a record-breaking performance from Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, who had earlier thrashed Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka 9&7, the largest margin in any 18-hole match in the event’s history.
That sparked a 3-1 win in the morning foursomes and although the United States took the fourballs by the same scoreline thanks to Cantlay’s late heroics, Europe ended the day leading by 10.5 points to 5.5.
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 30, 2023
The United States have never trailed entering the singles on European soil and come back to win. The largest comeback of four points in any singles was achieved by the US at Brookline in 1999 and Europe at Medinah in 2012.
Cantlay was taunted by European fans all afternoon after it was reported that he was refusing to wear a team-branded baseball cap in protest at players not being paid to compete in the Ryder Cup.
But he and his team-mates had the last laugh, waving their caps above their heads after Cantlay birdied the 16th, 17th and 18th to partner Wyndham Clark to victory over McIlroy and Fitzpatrick and ruin McIlroy’s perfect record.
“It just doesn’t fit,” Cantlay told NBC regarding his hat. “It is as simple as that. I didn’t wear it in Whistling Straits. That is all it is.”
Donald felt his side were still in a “great spot” to secure overall victory, adding: “I think if you asked us to be at 10.5 after two days we would take it.
“There is always momentum shifts and I thought we were going to maybe snatch a 2-2 this afternoon but Cantlay birdied the last three holes. I have a plan (for the singles) and will relay it to the team.
“I’m going to put (out) some strong players and put some blue on the board early.”
Donald’s players had achieved that perfectly in the foursomes, the record win for Hovland and Aberg followed by victories for the powerhouse pairs of Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton.
The only bright spot of the morning session for the visitors came when Max Homa and Brian Harman secured a first full point for the Americans, Homa chipping in for an eagle on the 16th to see off Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka 4&2.
Scheffler, who was pictured fighting back tears and being comforted by his wife Meredith following the crushing loss with Koepka, lobbied to be given the chance to make amends in the afternoon fourballs but was left out by US captain Zach Johnson.
That decision paid dividends as Hovland and Aberg ran out of steam in a 4&3 defeat to Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa, while Homa and Harman enjoyed their second win of the day, beating Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard 2&1.
Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre recovered from an early deficit to beat Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth 3&2 before the late drama in the anchor match gave the United States a glimmer of hope.