Golf: USA stretch Ryder Cup lead over Europe to 9.5-6.5 as Rory McIlroy rips hecklers

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates during the fourball matches at Hazeltine National Golf Course in Chaska, Minnesota on Oct 1, 2016.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates during the fourball matches at Hazeltine National Golf Course in Chaska, Minnesota on Oct 1, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

CHASKA (AFP) - The United States moved closer to their first Ryder Cup triumph since 2008 by capturing Saturday's three final four-ball matches and seizing a 91/2-61/2 edge over Europe.

Heckling crowds at Hazeltine that Europe star Rory McIlroy says have gone over the top with insults were delighted as the Americans put themselves in prime position to snap a three-event losing streak in the biennial team golf showdown.

"We always get criticised - we don't bond as a team, we don't have enough passion - and this time we've taken it personally," US captain Davis Love said. "We're in a good position. I'm very elated."

Personally is how McIlroy, who won in four-balls and alternate-shot matches on Saturday with Belgian partner Thomas Pieters, has taken spectators' taunts.

"I think there have been some boundaries overstepped out there," McIlroy said. "I let it get to me a couple times when I shouldn't have. You're going to let it get to you when emotions are running this high."

Third-ranked McIlroy was screaming and fist-pumping all day, spurred on by the crude remarks.

"It fuelled me a lot," he said. "The more they shouted at us, the better we played. I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow."

Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson made clutch putts over the final holes to secure two vital US points while 10-time Cup starter Lee Westwood, a captain's choice, botched a two-foot putt to cost Europe half a point.

As a result, the US team need only five points from Sunday's 12 concluding singles matches to reclaim the Cup while Europe must take 7 1/2 points to keep the trophy.

"Disappointed. We had a few chances but the American guys played very good," Europe captain Darren Clarke said. "We are going to have to work hard tomorrow."

McIlroy and Reed will meet in Sunday's singles opener with other match-ups including Jordan Spieth against British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Olympic champion Justin Rose of England against Rickie Fowler, and five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson against Sergio Garcia.

It would take Europe's second-biggest rally to keep the Cup, having trailed 6-10 in 2012 before a Love-guided US squad was shocked in the "Miracle at Medinah".

"It has been done before from a worse position than what we have," Clarke said. "We have a chance. The guys are capable of doing it. There is a precedent."

Since 1979, when the Cup expanded beyond a British-Irish team, teams ahead by three points or more entering singles have won seven of nine times.

"I'm excited but a three-point lead can be gone in the first three matches," US star Jordan Spieth said. "We need to come out and play aggressively, like we are two points down."

Reed and Spieth, who lost four of the last six holes to halve a morning foursomes match, beat Rose and Stenson 2&1 in fourballs.

Reed won four holes in a row starting at the fifth with three birdies and an eagle at the par-five sixth, lifting the Americans 3-up, then silenced a rally with a birdie to win the 14th and 15th holes and restore the 3-up edge.

"The crowd energises me. I love playing for the red, white and blue at home," Reed said. "I live for this stuff. I'm so energised. I can't wait for tomorrow."

Spieth and Reed lead the US team at 2-1-1.

"I know he has that in him. He's Captain America for us," Spieth said of Reed. "He's as good as anybody on the big stage."

McIlroy, last week's PGA Tour Championship winner, and Pieters beat Mickelson and Fowler 4&2 in foursomes and beat US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka 3& 1 in fourballs.

"You might see this in Paris," McIlroy said, looking ahead to the 2018 Ryder Cup.

Pieters will be the first Europe rookie to play five matches since 1999 and a win over J.B. Holmes would give him the most rookie points ever for Europe.

Holmes and Ryan Moore beat Masters champion Danny Willett and English compatriot Westwood 1-up after Westwood missed a two-footer at the 18th to halve the match.

Mickelson and Matt Kuchar downed Spain's Garcia and Germany's Martin Kaymer 2&1.

The Americans led 5-3 after Friday but Europe answered with two wins and fought back to halve another in Saturday morning's alternate-shot foursomes matches to pull within 51/2-61/2 entering the four-ball matches.