By Tony Jimenez
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Birdies galore and thrills aplenty characterized another remarkable day of Ryder Cup golf as the U.S. repelled a Rory McIlroy-inspired fightback from Europe to lead by 9 1/2 – 6 1/2 points on Saturday.
The holders briefly silenced a raucous Hazeltine National crowd by winning the morning foursomes 2 1/2 – 1 1/2 but the U.S., desperate to avoid a fourth straight defeat in the biennial team event, rallied to take the afternoon fourballs 3-1.
McIlroy, all high-fives, fist pumps and eye-bulging reaction, was as animated as he has ever been in the Ryder Cup as he and Belgian rookie Thomas Pieters took their record to 3-0 this week by beating Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson 3 and 1.
Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood suffered heartbreak in the next match, missing from inside three feet at the last as he and fellow Englishman Danny Willett slid to a one-hole defeat at the hands of JB Holmes and Ryan Moore.
Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar never trailed in match three, recording a 2 and 1 victory over Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.
The irrepressible Patrick Reed was the central figure in the last tussle of the session as he and Jordan Spieth took down England’s Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson of Sweden 2 and 1 on a sun-kissed second day.
World number three McIlroy was clearly irked by persistent heckling from the galleries, one day after Willett was teased and taunted as a result of his brother’s midweek rant against the home fans.
Curtis Strange, U.S. captain in 2002, did not like what he witnessed.
“You hate to see it but it only takes a few,” Strange told Reuters on the 14th hole. “You want to see the fans root really hard for their team and be polite to the other team.
“They are our guests … in our country. I really feel for Danny this week and they’ve been heckling Rory. How can you heckle Rory?”
McIlroy agreed with Strange’s assessment after he and Pieters combined for a haul of 10 birdies in a big-hitting duel with the equally long Johnson and Koepka that lasted 17 holes.
“I think there have been some boundaries overstepped, it’s been a tough crowd,” said the Northern Irishman.
“I let it get to me a couple of times, every now and again you’re going to let it get to you especially when emotions are running so high.”
Ryder Cup veteran Garcia said 15 percent of the fans had been “really bad” and that he “felt ashamed” for his American girlfriend.
HOLLERING AND SHOUTING
Reed was equally as extravagant as McIlroy with his hollering and shouting as his seven-birdie effort helped floor Olympic champion Rose and British Open winner Stenson.
The American produced a moment of magic at the sixth, sending his approach shot 15 feet beyond the flag before it spun back dramatically and disappeared into the cup.
There was controversy on the 11th green when a noisy spectator shouted ‘Rose, get out of the way’ just as Stenson was about to putt.
All four players showed their evident disgust, Stenson backed away from his putt while Rose walked toward the crowd with a face like thunder.
The ‘USA, USA, USA’ soccer-style chanting reached fever pitch as the quartet approached the 16th green and Reed responded by hoisting his putter high in the air in acknowledgement.
On a less serious note, Mickelson said how much he was put at ease by wisecracking partner Kuchar in their victory over Garcia and Kaymer.
“I had a blast with Matt,” the left-hander explained. “It was just what I needed to get me relaxed, to get me laughing, to get me enjoying the golf.
“He brings out the best in me by being so funny and light hearted, telling stories and cracking jokes.”
Smiles were in short supply at the end of Westwood and Willett’s defeat by Holmes and Moore.
“We just couldn’t back each other up on the putts at the right time,” said Masters champion Willett.
(Editing by Andrew Both)