Rory McIlroy to lead Europe out in singles as United States close in on Ryder Cup

Hosts take a commanding 11-5 lead into the final day at Whistling Straits

Europe captain Padraig Harrington has offered Rory McIlroy the ultimate vote of confidence by sending out the Northern Irishman first in Sunday's singles as the United States close in on the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

McIlroy, a former world No 1 and a senior player in the European team, has struggled all weekend in Wisconsin and is yet to deliver even half a point for the visitors. After getting heavily beaten alongside Ian Poulter and then Shane Lowry on Friday, the four-time major champion was sat out on Saturday morning - the first time he has not played a session since making his debut in 2010.

However, hopes of a response from McIlroy when he was again paired with Poulter for Saturday's fourballs were emphatically dashed by the imperious team of Dustin Johnson and Open champion Collin Morikawa, who ran out 4&3 winners to give the United States an 11-5 lead heading into the final day's play.

McIlroy, 32, faces a tough challenge in his singles match, where he faces Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele, who has impressed on his Ryder Cup debut having delivered three points from three matches, including a 5&3 win alongside Patrick Cantlay against McIlroy and Poulter in Friday's foursomes.

Europe will need to produce a historic fightback if they are to retain the Ryder Cup on Sunday. No team has come back from more than a four-point deficit in singles to win the biennial match play showdown.

In 1999 at Brookline in Massachusetts the United States rallied from a 10-6 deficit to beat Europe and in 2012 Europe roared back from a 10-6 deficit to stun the Americans in the "Miracle at Medinah" in Illinois.

Both US captain Steve Stricker and Europe captain Harrington had those editions on their minds as they decided the order in which they would send up their singles players at Whistling Straits.

Following the opening match between Schauffele and McIlroy, which is scheduled to tee off at 8.05pm UAE time, PGA Tour player of the year Patrick Cantlay takes on Irish newcomer Shane Lowry, who is coming off an impressive fourballs win for Europe in which he drained an 11-foot birdie putt at the 18th to secure the victory.

American Scottie Scheffler, the lowest-ranked player on the US side at 21 in the world, then faces a daunting task against world No 1 Jon Rahm, who has teamed spectacularly with Spanish compatriot Sergio Garcia over the first two days.

Then comes big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau against Garcia, Morikawa against Viktor Hovland and in the sixth match world No 2 Johnson against veteran Paul Casey.

Johnson has been central to the US surge this week, with four victories in four matches so far. A singles victory on Sunday would make him the first American since Larry Nelson in 1979 to go five-from-five.

The United States need 14.5 points – just 3.5 points from 12 singles matches – to win the Cup. As holders, Europe need 14 points – nine from singles – to retain it.

Despite the lopsided numbers, Johnson, like Stricker, said the Americans' couldn't afford to be complacent.

"It's not over," said Johnson, the oldest player on the team at 37 who was on the US team which capitulated at Medinah.

Although Schauffele is a Ryder Cup rookie, he has experience of the similar team event of the Presidents Cup and he, too, was wary of getting ahead of himself.

"I don't think any of us are getting too far ahead of ourselves," Schauffele said. "It's 12 points for grabs tomorrow, and we are all trying to take care of our own business."

That's just what both Stricker and Harrington want their players to do.

"They have to just go out there and win their own individual match," Harrington said. "They have to focus on that and not look at that bigger picture, focus on their individual self and play their game and win that and then just see how it adds up."

Stricker said he is urging his players only to keep their focus and maintain their momentum.

"No one is taking this day tomorrow for granted at all," Stricker said. "We are totally focused on what we need to do to get the job done."

Updated: September 26th 2021, 5:11 AM
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