MEDINAH, Ill. — Dustin Johnson did very little to help teammate Matt Kuchar in Saturday afternoon’s four-ball match in the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.
Until the match was on the line, that is.
With the match tied on the par-3 17th hole, Johnson rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt to put the American duo 1 up over Nicolas Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie, then made a par on the par-4 18th to secure the point for the U.S., which leads 10-6 going into Sunday’s 12 singles matches.
“Oh man, it felt really good,” Johnson said. “Matt had been carrying me all day pretty much. I made a couple good shots on the back nine, but that was definitely, in that situation, one of the best putts I’ve ever made.”
The putt turned a few feet to the left toward water fronting the green, and Johnson followed it with an emphatic fist pump that was made more forceful with a couple impromptu steps to his left.
“That the loudest roar I’ve ever heard, especially for me, on a golf course,” said the Coastal Carolina alumnus. “… It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had on the golf course.”
Johnson was the last player among the 16 in the afternoon matches to make a birdie, contributing one on the par-5 14th to halve a hole.
Kuchar carried the team to a 2 up lead with birdies on three of the first four holes, and they still maintained a 1 up lead after his fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 15th for a halve.
But on the par-4 16th hole, Kuchar hit a tree on his second shot and Johnson made a bad bogey following a big drive by finding a front greenside bunker, leaving his third shot short in rough and needing two shots from there – and the match was all square.
“I’m so proud of this guy,” Kuchar said. “He struggled today and I kept telling him, ‘I’ve got faith in you, I know it’s going to turn around.’ This guy came through so big. That putt on 17 and then being there on 18, that’s just awesome.”
Johnson hit a drive in the fairway on the 18th and an approach to 16 feet. Colsaerts was about 14 feet away looking at birdie, but both he and Johnson narrowly missed putts and Kuchar and Johnson claimed the point.
“I was so jacked up walking to the 18th tee, I don’t know, I had goosebumps,” Johnson said. “I was fired up. The crowds out here are great.”
Johnson and Kuchar have won both matches they have participated in this weekend, adding Saturday’s win to a 3 and 2 win in Friday’s four-ball (best ball) over Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer.
They’ve both been held out of morning foursome (alternate shot) matches Friday and Saturday, and were forced to wait until the afternoon to tee off.
“I was probably a little more antsy the first day, just because we’ve been practicing all week and you’re kind of ready to get out there,” Johnson said. “But, you know, I was real pumped up about going out in the afternoon.”
Johnson is now 3-3 in his Ryder Cup career and readies for Sunday’s singles. He goes out sixth and will face Colsaerts at 12:58 p.m. in a matchup of two of the game’s longest hitters.
Johnson’s 6 and 4 win over 2010 PGA Championship winner Kaymer last year – his only win in four matches in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales – is tied for the 10th largest margin of victory in Ryder Cup singles history.
Back on top
Brandt Snedeker played splendidly in winning the Tour Championship and capturing the FedEx Cup title last Sunday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
It only took him five days to become a goat, at least in his mind, in the Ryder Cup. Snedeker and Jim Furyk pulled all square against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell on Friday morning foursomes after trailing by three with six to play.
But on the par-4 18th, Snedeker pulled his drive well into the trees and flexed his driver shaft with both hands in angst. After Furyk punched out to wedge range, Snedeker left Furyk a 20-foot putt he couldn’t make and the U.S. team lost the match 1 up.
He was in a similar position on the 18th tee against the same European pairing in Saturday morning foursomes, and earned a bit of redemption. He kept the ball in play in a fairway bunker and later nestled a 35-foot putt close to the hole to make par and win the match 1 up for his first Ryder Cup point.
Furyk and Snedeker played the foursome match 3-under par, the second best score among the eight morning teams.
“It’s a huge monkey off my back,” Snedeker said. “It was obviously a tough way to end [Friday], so to come out here today and play the same team again I felt like I had something to prove to Jim and to them that it was not going to be the same guy they saw [Friday]. … We had a lot of fun out there and it was great to beat one of their best teams and get us that much needed point.”
First tee frenzy
Ian Poulter knew Bubba Watson was going to beseech the masses surrounding the first tee to continue screaming when he hit his opening tee shot in the day’s first match, as he did Friday, so Poulter beat him to it.
Poulter and partner Justin Rose teed off first in their match with Watson and Webb Simpson, so Poulter invited to the crowd to roar while he was hitting, and it complied.
“I knew he was going to do it again today. I guess I had to get in there first,” said Poulter, who hit his drive into a fairway bunker. “It’s very daunting to stand there and hit a first tee shot. It’s even more daunting when they’re screaming and going bananas, but he was going to do it to us, so I done it back to him.” Watson welcomed the increased fervor on the tee, and even helped Poulter get the crowd going.
“I love that he did it,” Watson said, “and I was behind him pumping the crowd up. I thought it was great. It’s great for the game of golf. It made it fun and I love that he did it.
“… He saw how nerve-racking that is when you actually do it. You get jacked up. You get pumped up. You get very excited and the adrenaline starts coming through you and the ball could go anywhere.”
This year’s Ryder Cup is the first since the death of Seve Ballesteros, the team’s spiritual leader for so many years who formed the arguably the most successful Ryder Cup partnership in history with fellow Spaniard and 2012 European Ryder Cup Team captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Though Ballesteros died last year from brain cancer, he is still providing motivation for the European squad, which will wear Seve’s favorite team colors during Sunday singles.
“Obviously having Seve in our minds and in our hearts makes it even better,” Sergio Garcia said. “I felt like he probably helped us a little bit today, and we’re going to need a lot of his help tomorrow. Hopefully he’ll be there for us.”
Not only does the U.S. team have a big lead, the team may be more prepared for Sunday’s singles matches.
All 12 of the U.S. team members played at least two team sessions, while Europe’s Peter Hanson and Martin Kaymer only played one team session apiece and did not play at all Saturday.
“When you’re asked to sit out a whole day it’s hard, but you have to accept it and do what the captain thinks is best for the team,” Hanson said. “I feel good about my game, and that makes it more difficult.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.