Golf: Key McIlroy-Thomas matchup opens last-day drama at Ryder Cup with Europe in command

Team USA's Justin Thomas (left) talks with Team Europe's Rory McIlroy during the singles match on the third day of the Ryder Cup in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, on Sept 30, 2018.
Team USA's Justin Thomas (left) talks with Team Europe's Rory McIlroy during the singles match on the third day of the Ryder Cup in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, on Sept 30, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, FRANCE (AFP) - Europe were poised for a dramatic upset of the United States to reclaim the Ryder Cup on Sunday (Sept 30), as four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy and fourth-ranked American Justin Thomas teed off to open the 12 concluding singles matches.

The Europeans seized a 10-6 lead in the biennial team golf showdown after Saturday's foursome and four-ball matches at Le Golf National, needing only 4.5 points from the singles to win for the ninth time in 12 attempts.

The Americans, who have not won in Europe since 1993, would have to equal the greatest last-day comebacks in Ryder Cup history by taking eight singles points to keep the trophy.

Europe overcame the margin in 2012 with the "Miracle at Medinah", while the US squad rallied past Europe from the same deficit in the 1999 "Battle of Brookline".

A victory for Thomas, last year's PGA Championship winner, over McIlroy, an emotional leader for Europe, will be vital if they hope for the hot start needed to overcome the hosts' lead. At the 11th hole, the duo were all square with both having won three holes.

While they have the higher-ranked player in eight of the 12 singles matches, the US squad struggled in pairs play, reigning Masters champion Patrick Reed enduring a horror-show outing on Saturday and 48-year-old left-hander Phil Mickelson, a five-time Major champion, seeing action only once.

Reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari and England's Tommy Fleetwood, who together went 4-0 in pairs matches, could each become the first European players to win 5-for-5 in Ryder Cup play with a singles triumph.

 
 
 
 

Fleetwood tees off in the fifth match against American Tony Finau and was 1 down after five holes, while Italian world No. 5 Molinari meets Mickelson in the ninth match.

Also chasing history is Spain's Sergio Garcia, who faces ninth-ranked Rickie Fowler in the eighth match. A victory by the Spaniard, who was 1 up at the fourth hole, would vault him past Nick Faldo's all-time Ryder Cup points record of 25.

Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods, the 14-time Major winner who has been the main spectator draw, hopes to avoid a winless Cup when he plays Spain's Jon Rahm in match four just after world No. 2 Justin Rose of England faces Webb Simpson.

"I don't think it really matters about the order," Rio Olympic champion Rose told Sky Sports. "It's 12 guys against 12 guys and contributing to the common order.

"The US team are world-class all the way through but our boys are super-committed.

"Singles are different, the team element changes today, but you try and dictate the tempo and rhythm as best you can."