The United States continued their dominance on day two of the Ryder Cup, the hosts closing in on the trophy after taking a commanding 11-5 lead over defending champions Europe.

Europe, who have won seven of the past nine editions of the showpiece biennial competition, split Saturday afternoon's four-ball session but face an uphill task to retain their crown in Wisconsin this weekend.

USA – enjoying the biggest two-day lead since 1975 – require 14.5 points to dethrone Team Europe and clinch the cup on home soil at Whistling Straits on Sunday.

Europe gave themselves some hope by winning the opening two matches of the afternoon's four-ball – world number one Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia topping Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth as Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton battled past Tony Finau and Harris English.

But the Americans claimed the final two matches of the day to preserve their six-shot cushion thanks to Dustin Johnson-Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler-Bryson DeChambeau.

Rory McIlroy was benched for the first time in his Ryder Cup career, sitting out the morning foursomes. The four-time major champion returned in the afternoon but he was unable to snap his winless run at this year's tournament, tasting defeat in his pairing with Ian Poulter versus Johnson and Morikawa.

Earlier, in the foursomes, Steve Stricker's red-hot USA were dominant once again.  

Spieth and Justin Thomas took four of the last five holes to beat the rookie duo of Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger, while Johnson and Morikawa edged past Paul Casey and Hatton.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay won for the second consecutive day, claiming holes nine, 10 and 11 to take control as they overcame Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Spanish pair Rahm and Garcia got Europe's solitary point, as they came from behind to see off Koepka and Daniel Berger despite initially going three holes down. 

 

Shot of the day

Casey ended up on the losing side in his foursomes match alongside Hatton, but he can at least reflect on a remarkable shot at the par-four 14th hole.

Hatton's drive had found the left-hand rough just short of the bunker, leaving Casey with a blind wedge shot onto the green.

Not only did he get it onto the dancefloor, but the Englishman rolled it into the cup to win the hole in style.

Player of the day

The oldest player on the Team USA roster, Johnson has led by example throughout this week. The 37-year-old is yet to taste defeat at Whistling Straits, having swept the foursomes and four-ball alongside Morikawa on Saturday. Johnson did not drop a shot in the final matchup against Poulter and McIlroy, while he and Morikawa also enjoyed a flawless display in the win over Casey and Hatton.

Chipping in

Despite a record-breaking day personally, former Masters champion Garcia told reporters: "It's great but it's not. We need more wins and unfortunately we are not getting them at the moment. I didn't even know. Steve Sands told me on the 17th hole. I didn't know the record and I didn't care. Obviously Jon and I, we did what we had to and what we could, and unfortunately it just looks like the American guys are just playing a little bit better than us, and it's a shame."

USA captain Steve Stricker said: "This team is deep. They are so good and they have had great couple of years to make this team. Everybody came in ready and prepared. They are hitting it well. They came here all on board a couple weeks ago for the final round and they put the time and effort and energy into it."

On the home-field advantage, Dustin Johnson added: "It definitely helps. It kind of keeps you going. It gets you fired up, especially right at the start. But the fans have been great this week. I felt like they have been really respectful to both sides. But obviously we have got definitely a home-field advantage here."

A little birdie told me...

Garcia was in record-breaking form in his foursomes showdown, becoming the player to win the most matches in Ryder Cup history.

The 41-year-old, who made his competition debut in 1999, claimed his 24th victory earlier in the day, moving clear of Nick Faldo's previous record.

Saturday's foursomes results

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (Eur) beat Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) 3 and 1
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) beat Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton (Eur) 2 and 1
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) beat Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger (Eur) 2 up
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) beat Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (Eur) 2 and 1

Saturday's four-ball results

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (Eur) beat Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth (USA) 2 and 1
Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton (Eur) beat Tony Finau and Harris English (USA) 1 up
Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau (USA) beat Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland (Eur) 3 and 1
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) beat Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy (Eur) 4 and 3

Tiger Woods may not be at Whistling Straits, but his influence was felt as the United States made a rip-roaring start to their Ryder Cup trophy bid.

The 45-year-old Woods is continuing his recovery from the February high-speed car crash near Los Angeles that left him with serious leg injuries, and it remains to be seen whether he is capable of playing again on tour.

But the 15-time major winner is willing the USA team to snatch back the cup from Europe, and Xander Schauffele revealed he had been in touch with a few words of encouragement.

Woods, who often struggled to take his world-beating form onto the Ryder Cup stage, had his say before the Americans raced into a 3-1 lead following the morning foursomes.

Schauffele, after teaming up with fellow debutant Patrick Cantlay to land a dazzling 5 and 3 win over Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, confirmed Woods wanted to offer help from afar.

 

"We got a nice message from Tiger last night," Schauffele said on the Golf Channel.

"I'm not going to reveal what it said, but Pat and I knew and we referred to it a few times today, and we knew what we needed to do.

"We knew he was fist-pumping from the couch. Whether he was on crutches or not, he's as fired up as anyone back at home, so it's nice to have his support."

Woods has a disappointing record of just 13 wins from 37 Ryder Cup matches, an unexpectedly weak performance given his PGA Tour and major championship prowess.

But he remains an idol for many players on the team, with Schauffele and Cantlay two of six rookies on Steve Stricker's roster this year.

Cantlay said: "[There's] no better role model and no better leader and somebody you can always learn from.

"I saw him last week at home and picked his brain on Ryder Cup and applied some of that here today."

The USA pair sped to a 5up lead through five holes on the way to their dominant victory, feeding off the largely American crowd.

A disappointed McIlroy said: "The start wasn't great. I don't know if anyone could have beat Xander and Patrick today.

"They played really good, four birdies in a row. Geez, yeah, they played great. They were a great pairing today, and all you can do is praise them for the way they played."

The United States launched their bid to reclaim the Ryder Cup from Europe as the action teed off at Whistling Straits on Friday.

Sergio Garcia, playing alongside Spanish compatriot Jon Rahm, had the honour of hitting the opening shot in the morning foursomes, with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas providing the opposition.

A raucous crowd created a tremendous atmosphere on the first tee in Wisconsin, with some boos for Europe, for whom Garcia drove into a bunker before Thomas responded by finding the fairway.

Europe, then led by Thomas Bjorn, won by seven points last time out at Le Golf National in 2018 and new captain Padraig Harrington has gone for experience to kick off his team's campaign after a year's delay amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Paul Casey, 44, joins Viktor Hovland against Dustin Johnson and Open champion Collin Morikawa in the next match out, followed by the 48-year-old Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick against Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger. 

The final clash of the opening session pits Ian Poulter, 45, and Rory McIlroy against the rookie American duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. 

Europe have left Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger on the sidelines for the opening matches, while Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler miss out for the hosts.

The fourballs pairings will be confirmed later in the day.

Friday's foursomes

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) v Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (EUR)
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) v Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland (EUR)
Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) v Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (EUR)
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) v Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter (EUR)

Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter have a combined 46 Ryder Cup matches to their credit, while their opponents in Friday's foursomes, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, have none. 

That disparity is of no concern to the American rookies, who expressed confidence they will be able to get the job done at Whistling Straits in the final match of Friday's opening session. 

Considering their form lately, that makes sense. Cantlay enters his first Ryder Cup ranked fourth in the world, while Schauffele – who won Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo – is fifth. 

Cantlay won the final two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs, beating Bryson DeChambeau in a playoff at the BMW Championship and edging Jon Rahm by one stroke to take the Tour Championship. 

The duo also are comfortable playing together. They paired up for the foursomes and fourball at the 2019 Presidents Cup, winning both of their foursomes matches, and each also won his singles match in that event. 

"Xander and Patrick have had success in foursomes in The Presidents Cup, so we thought it was a natural fit for them to do foursomes here tomorrow morning," said USA captain Steve Stricker, an assistant captain with that 2019 team. 

As the final match on the course in the opening session, Cantlay and Schauffele also figure to have the full-throated support of what is expected to be an overwhelmingly pro-USA crowd. 

"It will be fantastic," Cantlay said. "The Wisconsin fans will be showing up and cheering us on all day. They have been great so far this week and those have just been practice rounds." 

Whatever their comfort level, the challenge they face is daunting, as McIlroy and Poulter have played together regularly for years and have exemplary records in Ryder Cup play.

"You always want to play against the best," Schauffele said. "Best way to challenge your game. Pat and I are looking forward to putting a point on the board and going from there."

Their European counterparts will of course have something to say about that. 

While McIlroy was complimentary of the young American pair Thursday, he did note that they will be stepping into an entirely different type of arena Friday. 

"Patrick has had a hell of a year and Xander is a great player," McIlroy said. "Probably doesn't quite compare to what a Ryder Cup is, so they will feel a little different on the first tee tomorrow."

Europe will look to their Ryder Cup veterans to set the tone when play begins at Whistling Straits on Friday. 

Captain Padraig Harrington's four oldest players, all in their 40s, will feature for Europe in the morning foursomes against a youthful USA group whose oldest player, Dustin Johnson, is 37. 

All-time Ryder Cup scoring leader Sergio Garcia, 41, will lead the charge with world number one Jon Rahm as the Spanish pair face Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in the opening match in Wisconsin. 

"We would have been aware that JT and Jordan would have gone first, obviously, so we were going to lead ourselves with a strong partnership," Harrington told a news conference. "The whole world will be watching that one."

Teeing off next, Paul Casey (44) will team with rookie Viktor Hovland against Johnson and Open Championship winner Collin Morikawa, followed by Lee Westwood (48) and Matthew Fitzpatrick against Brooks Koepka and Danel Berger. 

The final matchup of the opening session will pit Ian Poulter (45) and Rory McIlroy against the rookie American duo of Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. 

"We've gone with an experienced setup, no doubt about it, but it was our strong setup," Harrington said. "It just happened to be experienced. I was happy with that, there's no doubt, when it came out like that and you're looking at it and you go, yeah, that's very experienced. That is a big bonus.

"But it didn't weaken our fourballs – that was very important. We still have a strong fourball setup and we haven't taken from the afternoon by going with a strong setup in the morning." 

Europe will leave Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger on the sidelines for the opening matches, while the USA will do the same with Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Tony Finau and Scottie Scheffler. 

While the Europe captain said it was safe to assume his players who will sit out the morning will play in the afternoon fourballs, his US counterpart Steve Stricker declined to be drawn on that topic – though both captains said their foursome and fourball pairings were set and communicated to their teams early in the week.

Each also said he was focused on his own side as opposed to worrying about what the other team might be doing, though both put special emphasis on the first and fourth matches. 

"We talked occasionally about maybe who they're going to put out, but it doesn't matter," Stricker said. "I mean, they're all such great players, they're all highly ranked players and we know that we're going to have to play our best to to beat them.

"We had an idea that Rory and Rahm would probably go one and four, and that's pretty much all we knew, or really thought about. We didn't know who their guys were going to be paired with but we kind of had that figured out, so we tried to act accordingly as well."

Asked whether any of his players had expressed disappointment in not being included in the morning pairings, Stricker immediately responded "not at all." 

"These guys have been incredible," he added. "I can't stress it enough, really, and it's about the communication that we've had, the captains and myself, and being upfront with them and just letting them know what we're thinking, so there's no curveballs.

"We've heard it multiple times from all the players: If you want to play me once, or all five, you know, that's up to you – meaning the captains – and just so we can try to win this Cup."

Friday's foursomes

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth (USA) v. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia (EUR)
Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa (USA) v. Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland (EUR)
Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger (USA) v. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (EUR)
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele (USA) v. Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter (EUR)

United States captain Steve Stricker has selected Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele among his wildcard picks for the Ryder Cup, but there is no place for Patrick Reed on the 12-player roster.

Spieth will appear at the biennial competition for a fourth time in a row, while Schauffele is set to make his debut against Europe in next month's tournament at Whistling Straits after recently winning Olympic gold.

Schauffele was one of three rookies chosen by Stricker on Wednesday along with Daniel Berger, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler, with Tony Finau – part of the USA side that lost in Paris three years ago – completing the captain's picks.

Speaking at a news conference to announce his final selection, Stricker said: "All six of these guys have been playing some really good golf for a long period of time. 

"It's more about a body of work. They have all played great throughout this year and very well deserving of these picks."

The top-six qualifiers – Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay – had already locked in spots for the USA, who are seeking to regain the trophy after that 17.5-10.5 loss in 2018.

Reed is the most notable name overlooked by Stricker, the 31-year-old having featured in every American team since 2014. 

He made his return from a month-long absence at last week's Tour Championship after being hospitalised with pneumonia in both lungs.

Asked to explain his decision to overlook Reed, who top-scored for USA in their 2016 victory at Hazeltine, Stricker said: "That was a very, very difficult call. I lost sleep over that one. 

"He's a tremendous competitor, he brings a lot of match play golf and his record at the Ryder Cup is pretty darn good.

"I think it was the uncertainty of his health and the lack of play that led to our decision down the stretch."

Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington will announce his final three picks on Sunday.

Patrick Cantlay claimed the $15million FedEx Cup play-offs after withstanding world number one Jon Rahm at the Tour Championship.

Cantlay earned a mammoth payday at East Lake, where the American outlasted Rahm by just one stroke at the PGA Tour's season-ending event on Sunday.

Last week, Cantlay defeated Bryson DeChambeau in a thrilling six-hole play-off to ensure he would start the Tour Championship as the leader at 10 under per the new FedEx Cup format.

Spanish star Rahm entered the event four strokes adrift but his flawless two-under-par 66 in the final round set up a nervy finish in Atlanta, Georgia.

However, Cantlay – who teed off with a two-shot advantage at the start of the final day – weathered his own nerves late on, birdieing two of his final three holes to hold off Rahm, having opened the door following a bogey on the 17th.


Cantlay had a one-stroke lead going to the par-five 18th hole and hit a clutch six-iron from 218 yards to within just 12 feet to secure a dramatic wire-to-wire victory and the biggest triumph of the 29-year-old's career.

He is now in contention for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award following his fourth victory of the season – no player has more trophies in 2020-21.

"It was tough, it definitely felt different than any other week. It was the longest lead I've ever held," Cantlay said afterwards.

"I tried to stay in the present day after day and I did an amazing job of that this week. I made a couple of mistakes I wouldn't normally make and was able to centre myself when I really needed to."

Kevin Na (67) finished third at 16 under as 2017 FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas (70) ended the tournament a shot further back.

Xander Schauffele – tied for fifth alongside Viktor Hovland (70) – birdied five of his final six holes en route to a six-under-par 64 for his 20th consecutive round of even par or better at East Lake.

DeChambeau closed with a final-round 66 to earn sole possession of seventh place at 13 under, while defending Tour Championship and FedEx Cup winner Dustin Johnson was two strokes further back after a three-under-par 67.

Two-time champion Rory McIlroy (67) had to settle for a share of 14th spot – 14 strokes adrift of Cantlay.

Jon Rahm claimed the outright lead following the second round of The Northern Trust, but the world number one was not completely happy as he voiced his frustration with the FedEx Cup play-offs format.

Rahm carded a four-under-par 67 for a one-stroke advantage at the halfway stage of the opening FedEx Cup play-offs tournament on Friday.

In a tie with Justin Thomas for the three-shot lead following Thursday's round, Spanish star Rahm ended day two alone atop the leaderboard at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, where the top 125 players are competing.

Rahm – fifth in the FedEx Cup rankings heading into the first of three play-off events – has his fifth career second-round lead/co-lead on the PGA Tour, and third of the season.

He is yet to make a bogey through two rounds – it is the first time in Rahm's PGA Tour career that he has played the first 36 holes without a bogey (110th start).

Rahm, though, was irked at the end of play as he discussed the FedEx Cup format, which sees only one winner of the season-ending Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, having previously seen the possibility of separate champions.

"I don't think it's fair," Rahm said post-round. "I don't like that at all. No. I think you have the play-offs itself, and if you win the first two and if you don't play good in the last one ... you can end up with a really bad finish.

"I don't like it. I understand the system. And the way I was told by one of the PGA Tour officials, [if] I'm a Patriots fans and the Patriots win everything to get to the Super Bowl and they don't win the Super Bowl, you don't win the Lombardi Trophy, right?

"My answer was, they still finished second. They have to understand that golf is different. You could win 15 events, including both play-offs events, and [under the current system implemented last year] you have a two-shot lead. I understand it's for TV purposes and excitement and just making it more of a winner-take-all, and they give you a two-shot advantage, but over four days that can be gone in two holes, right."

Tony Finau's second-round 64 earned second position at 11 under, a shot better off than 2017 FedEx Cup champion Thomas (69), Keith Mitchell (64) and Xander Schauffele (62).

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka (64) and former world number one Jordan Spieth (62) – second in the rankings – are four strokes off the pace, while Bryson DeChambeau is two strokes further back following his 65.

Rory McIlroy – the 2019 FedEx Cup winner – narrowly avoided the cut at one under following his 70, but defending tournament champion and FedEx Cup holder Dustin Johnson (72) failed to qualify the weekend alongside Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson.

Harris English heads into the weekend at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational with a two-stroke lead after maintaining his spot atop the leaderboard Friday.

The American followed Thursday's 62 with a five-under-par 65 at TPC Southwind, where he won his first PGA Tour title eight years ago. 

Australia's Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer of Mexico surged into a tie for second place after carding 62s of their own in Memphis to sit at 11 under for the tournament.

Ian Poulter (66), Scottie Scheffler (65) and Sam Burns (64) are three back of the lead at 10 under, while Louis Oosthuizen (64) and Bryson DeChambeau (66) are well within striking distance at nine under. 

English started on the back nine and made three birdies going out before carding his first and only bogey of the day at the par-four second hole. But he managed to follow that disappointment with an eagle on the third before adding one more birdie later in his round.

Smith also eagled the third on the way to tying a PGA Tour record, as he needed just 18 putts to complete his bogey-free round. 

That included a two-put at the last, not long after Smith figured out he was on the verge of history. 

"I was walking down 17 and was counting my putts up and I thought, 'No, that can't be right,'" Smith said. 

Further down the leaderboard, defending champion Justin Thomas (67) is seven strokes back of the lead at six under along with two-time major winner Dustin Johnson (65).

Phil Mickelson (66) is at five under, whie Hideki Matsuyama (69) and Patrick Reed (69) are well back at three under. 

Rory McIlroy (66), Sergio Garcia (68), and Collin Morikawa (71) are at two under, one stroke better than Brooks Koepka (69). 

Jordan Spieth (69) enters the weekend at even par and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele (73) is at two over. 

Harris English won his first PGA Tour title at TPC Southwind eight years ago, and he has another triumph in his sights after opening with a 62 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. 

The American has a two-stroke lead over four pursuers, as Ian Poulter, Carlos Ortiz, Jim Herman and Matthew Wolff carded six-under-par 64s Thursday in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Bryson DeChambeau, Scottie Scheffler and Marc Leishman were three shots back after shooting 65, with DeChambeau making his first start since missing the Tokyo Olympics following a positive COVID-19 test. 

Among the group two shots behind them at five under were defending champion Justin Thomas, Open Championship winner Collin Morikawa and the red-hot Louis Oosthuizen, who has top-three finishes in four of his last five starts.

Among other notables, Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama are at two under, with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Olympic champion Xander Schauffele at one under, and Brooks Kopeka and Sergio Garcia at even par.

Jordan Spieth is at one over and Rory McIlroy at two over, leaving him 62nd in the 66-player field. 

But they will all start Friday chasing English. The 32-year-old carded seven birdies on a blistering front nine, then faltered a bit with bogeys at 10 and 12 before closing his round with birdies at three of the last four holes. 

"It was one of those rounds where I was hitting it really good off the tee and making a lot of good putts," English told reporters. 

English won at Memphis in its previous incarnation as the Tour's St. Jude Classic in June 2013, then added another title that fall. 

That was his last PGA Tour win before this year, which has seen him take the Tournament of Champions in Maui in January and the Travelers Championship in June. 

 

 

Xander Schauffele landed Olympic gold on the golf course for the United States after a dramatic final round saw Rory Sabbatini's 61 almost snatch top spot on the podium.

A terrific third shot at the 18th left Schauffele with a short putt for victory, after he found deep rough off the tee and could not go for the green in regulation.

He held his nerve to protect his one-shot advantage, finishing on 18 under par as Sabbatini took a spirited silver for Slovakia.

The battle for the bronze at Kasumigaseki Country Club went down to a seven-man play-off, with Chinese Taipei's world number 208 CT Pan landing the third-place medal and Hideki Matsuyama, Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy among those left disappointed.

By the time they reached the fourth extra hole it was down to a two-man battle between Open champion Morikawa and Pan, who had both posted closing 63s. Morikawa found sand with his second shot, the ball becoming plugged, and although he just about got it on the green, the putt he left went astray, leaving Pan to roll in an eight-footer for the medal.

Schauffele and Matsuyama were in Sunday's final group to start, just as they were at The Masters in April when Japan's newest golf star became his country's first men's major champion.

This time it was Schauffele's time to triumph, with the 27-year-old Las Vegas resident, who was born in San Diego, just about doing enough as a four-under 67 sealed the title.

And he could relax at last, the tension of the past hour all forgotten.


THIS ONE'S FOR DAD

Schauffele, whose mother was raised in Japan, was asked if it was his biggest career win and replied: "I'd like to say so, yeah."

His father, Stefan, has been with him in a coaching capacity this week, and Schauffele said: "I really wanted to win for my dad. I am sure he is crying somewhere right now. I kind of wanted this one more than any other.

"You are trying to represent your country to the best of your ability and then you add family stuff on top of that and I'm probably going to have a nice call with my grandparents tonight. I am sure they are back home, everyone is back home watching. I was feeling the love from San Diego and Las Vegas this whole time.

"I'm a little speechless right now, quite honestly."

 

Schauffele almost lost his ball when he drove into trees on the right side of the fairway on the par-five 14th, hitting a provisional ball in case there was no sign of the first.

That ball was soon located though, with Schauffele taking a penalty to bring it into a just-about playable position.

Matsuyama found the green in two but Schauffele was still short after four and was grateful to make six. Matsuyama went close with his eagle putt but had to settle for birdie, moving one shot behind Schauffele who slipped back to join Sabbatini on 17 under.

"It got a little dicey there," Schauffele later said. "When you are trying to win you need some things to go your way. I took a pretty big risk trying a hack-it-through-a-bush type shot and it missed my gap. I literally did the Matrix through these trees and it could have easily hit a tree and gone out. So, today was definitely my day."


HANGING TOUGH, DESPITE THE ROUGH

It was a hectic leaderboard all day long. Sabbatini had come from way back in the field thanks to his 10-under round and was waiting in the clubhouse to see what reward that would bring him.

Home favourite Matsuyama bogeyed the next to fall two back but gave himself a chance of birdie at the short next hole with a tee shot to around 10 feet, only to miss by a whisker.

Ireland's McIlroy was then two inches away from a birdie at the last that would have taken him to 16 under and secured bronze, yet he went into the play-off instead, as did Matsuyama.

Schauffele made birdie at 17 to edge in front on his own, and after the wretched tee shot at the last threatened to undo his gold medal mission, the American saved his best for last.

The third shot was almost right at the pin, finishing four feet away. Schauffele made no mistake, succeeding Justin Rose as Olympic champion, with the sport having returned to the Games programme in 2016 for the first time in 112 years.

The play-off also featured Chile's Mito Pereira, Great Britain's Paul Casey and Colombia's Sebastian Munoz, with Pan the unlikely figure to emerge with the bronze.

Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele battled it out for Masters glory and now they will go head to head in a scramble for Olympic gold on Sunday.

Japanese superstar Matsuyama trails American Schauffele by one shot going into the final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club, and they will join Paul Casey in the final group out.

A home triumph for Matsuyama at the Tokyo Games would be an extremely popular result in Japan, but the top 10 are separated by only four strokes, so medals remain firmly in the sights of a host of players.


AS AUGUST ARRIVES, AN AUGUSTA REPEAT

Almost four months have gone by since Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win a major, when he edged home at Augusta National on a tense final day.

He partnered Schauffele for the final two rounds at the Georgia course, and the same thing has played out this week, with the August 1 finale to the golf event sure to make for absorbing sporting theatre.

The big-name front-runners also had Mexican Carlos Ortiz for company on Saturday, but it was Schauffele who stayed at the head of the pack after following Friday's 63 with a hard-fought 68 to reach 14 under, with Matsuyama on 13 under after a 67, having completed a second-round of 64 earlier in the day.

Schauffele "hung tough", the American said, relying on solid putting to dig him out of trouble as he struggled with his long game.

It was Matsuyama who led going into the final round at The Masters in April, when he held a four-shot cushion but ended up winning by only one after a 73. Schauffele's hopes disappeared when he found water and made six at the par-three 16th that day.

Despite the gold medal being a tantalising target, Schauffele said Saturday had been a routine day on the course.

"Tomorrow may feel a little different," he said. "There's a little bit more on the line than what we normally play for and you're trying to represent your country to the best of your ability."

He was impressed by Matsuyama, who is playing his first event since testing positive for COVID-19, which forced him to miss the Open Championship.

"He seems to be fine," Schauffele said. "Teeing up, he seems strong, he seems normal and he seems himself. Luckily he wasn't hit too hard by it.

"He was firing on a lot of cylinders when he won the Masters. He's maybe not in his realm of perfection, hitting it as well as he'd want to, but he's one back.

"Hideki's a great player, our current Masters champion. I plan on wearing that [green] jacket some day as well. I assume we'll be playing in more final groups for years to come."


JAPAN EXPECTS, CAN HIDEKI DELIVER?

After the blow of Naomi Osaka losing early in the women's tennis, her fellow global superstar is coming good on the golf course.

Matsuyama has been surprised by his recovery from COVID and would love a medal from Tokyo's Games, expressing obvious pleasure at being in the mix so soon after being ill.

"I definitely could not have believed that," he said. "The endurance part of my game has been struggling a little bit, but thankfully it's held up in the last few days. Hopefully it will hold up tomorrow as well."

The host nation awaits a home golfing champion, and Matsuyama is up for the challenge of taking on Schauffele and the chasing pack.

He was asked how the Olympic experience compares to the pursuit of a major.

"There's not much difference to it, but in the Olympics the fact is that third place is still celebrated, as well as second, so there's a nice thing waiting for you even if you get third place," Matsuyama said.

"At a major championship, only the winner will be celebrated. I'm not sure tomorrow what my motivation will be, but I'm going to focus on playing good golf.

"I played with Xander in the third and fourth day together at The Masters. I'm sure Xander will come out determined to win the gold medal, so hopefully on my end too I'm going to come out strong on the mental side."


HOW LOW CAN THEY GO?

If Schauffele and Matsuyama are both to be overtaken on Sunday, it may take a score in the low 60s to snatch away gold.

Tommy Fleetwood showed that is possible with a 64 in the third round, as the Great Britain player climbed to a share of ninth on 10 under, alongside Ireland's Shane Lowry.

His team-mate Casey sits alongside Ortiz on 12 under, tied for third, with four players sharing fifth spot: Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Colombian Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira of Chile and Austrian Sepp Straka.

McIlroy said:"I've got a great chance going into tomorrow. It's a bit of a packed leaderboard so all to play for.

"It's going to be brilliant. A lot of us are trying to do something that none of us have ever done before.

"There's a lot of us that are going to be going through experiences that we've not experienced."

World number one Jon Rahm is just two shots off the lead at the Scottish Open after a five-under 66 in the first round. 

Six players, including Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter, matched the recently crowned U.S. Open champion's score during Thursday’s play at The Renaissance Club.

Lee Westwood and Rahm's playing partner Justin Thomas went one better, though, to leave them just behind surprise leader Jack Senior, who carded a seven-under 64.

Rory McIlroy was also in action in the same group as Rahm and Thomas, the Northern Irishman finishing on one under, and Rahm revealed he was in awe of the duo, who have both previously sat on top of the world rankings.

"Playing with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy with their CVs puts you in your place," he said. "I'm still really far from what they have accomplished. It's certainly motivational, you know?

"I was able to accomplish a dream, something that some people have taken longer to do and to do it at 26, playing some good golf, it's good stuff.

"It's all a motivation to keep playing better and win the tournament.

"I'm not going to lie, I think I might have missed that first tee shot because I'm there sitting with Rory, great player, Justin, great player, and I get announced as world number one, Race to Dubai leader and U.S. Open champion.

"I was just a little surprised by it. I didn't expect it. My ego might have got a little too big, tried to hit a little too hard on one."

World number five Xander Schauffele and Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington were in a group of 14 players sat on four under par.

The 121st edition of the U.S. Open takes place at Torrey Pines, a course that previously staged the major in 2008.

Tiger Woods famously triumphed in a dramatic play-off against Rocco Mediate 13 years ago, battling through the pain of a knee injury to secure the trophy for a third time. It was his 14th major triumph, but few would have predicted he would have to wait a further 11 years to add to his collection.

Woods will not be part of the field this week, but reigning champion Bryson DeChambeau will hope to match the feat of Brooks Koepka – winner in 2017 and 2018 – by defending his title.

Besides those two rivals, who else could be in contention for success in California? Time to get out the crystal ball…


LOVE HIM OR HATE HIM, REED CAN TOP THE BILLING AGAIN – Peter Hanson

A divisive figure he may be (even among his own Ryder Cup team-mates), but there is no doubting Patrick Reed's skills on the course. Moreover, he was a winner at Torrey Pines only five months ago at the Farmers Insurance Open – doing so by a convincing five-shot margin.

Four top-10 finishes have followed since, including at the Masters and his most recent tournament the Memorial. At that latter event, he led the field in scrambling and par-three scoring and Reed is tied-sixth for top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season. His scoring average of 70.039 is tied 11th and it would be no surprise to see him in contention for a second major this weekend.

XANDER TO 'SCHAUFFELE' OFF WITH TROPHY – Rob Lancaster

Californian Xander Schauffele should feel right at home at Torrey Pines, a venue where he has not always excelled but did finish in a tie for second at this year’s Farmers Insurance Open back in January. He has not won on the PGA Tour since January 2019, though only a play-off defeat denied him retaining the Sentry Tournament of Champions title the following year.

Crucially, the 27-year-old has a track record of doing well in this major. Since 2017, he has not finished outside the top six, including ending up in a four-way tie for third place at Pebble Beach in 2019 when Gary Woodland triumphed. Indeed, an American has been crowned champion in the past six editions – this year could see Schauffele hit another home run.

RAHM THE MAN FOR THIS MAJOR – Benjamin Spratt

Jon Rahm is a man in form heading into this event. Perhaps. It is slightly difficult to gauge exactly how the Spaniard is shaping up, having just recovered from COVID-19, but he was flying the last time we saw him on a golf course. Rahm led by six shots at the Memorial Tournament when he was remarkably required to withdraw following a positive test result.

The premature end to that event will not have hit Rahm's confidence, though, and the 26-year-old should not be lacking in that department heading to Torrey Pines. His first PGA Tour title came on the South Course at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, while he was a runner-up at the same event three years later.

IN-FORM CANTLAY CAN LEAD THE WAY – Jonathan Wright

An outside bet perhaps but one certainly worth considering, Patrick Cantlay shot up to number seven in the world after winning the Memorial Tournament in a play-off with Collin Morikawa this month.

That triumph may have come after Rahm had to withdraw, but Cantlay topped a strong field with his best performance of a season in which he has won two PGA Tour titles, claimed five top-10 finishes and leads the way in the FedEx Cup standings. The combination of good form and playing on the home should give the Californian great confidence.

FINAU WILL FINALLY END HIS WAIT – Russell Greaves

Tony Finau is a perennial contender at the majors and it's high time he finally got his hands on a title.

The omens bode well for the 31-year-old, who has 10 top-10 finishes in majors. Finau claimed was among the top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2017, 2018 and 2020 before ending as joint runner-up this year. He obviously enjoys this course.

He is carrying solid form into this one, too, having earned seven finishes inside the top 10 on tour this season.

Corey Conners withstood hammering winds to claim a two-stroke lead following the opening round at the US PGA Championship as Brooks Koepka impressed but Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson struggled.

Prior to Thursday's first round in South Carolina, Conners' best position after any round of a major was equal sixth through 54 holes at this year's Masters at Augusta.

Conners bettered that at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, where the Canadian defied the wind to set the early pace with a five-under-par 67.

Without a victory since his solitary PGA Tour triumph at the 2019 Texas Open, Conners was almost flawless in gusty conditions, holing six birdies with just one bogey.

Conners' lead marks his third career 18-hole lead/co-lead on the PGA Tour (0-for-two to date) and first at a major. Earlier this season, the 29-year-old was tied for the first-round lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and finished third – his best result of the season.

Koepka ended day one in a share of second position alongside Keegan Bradley, Viktor Hovland, Aaron Wise, Sam Horsfield and Cam Davis.

Koepka has been plagued by injuries since winning back-to-back PGA Championships in 2019 and a fourth major title in three years – the American star underwent knee surgery in March before missing the cut at last month's Masters.

But Koepka impressed on Thursday, overcoming a slow start to shoot a three-under-par 69.

Koepka double-bogeyed his opening hole on the back nine, however, the four-time major champion only dropped one shot after that as he tallied six birdies.

He has opened the PGA Championship with a score in the 60s in each of the last six years, the longest such streak at any major in the modern era (since 1934), eclipsing Jack Nicklaus (five – 1972-1976 Masters).

Defending champion Collin Morikawa is a stroke further back alongside the likes of five-time major winner Phil Mickelson.

Big-hitting American and reigning U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau signed for an even-par 72 at the close of the first round, level with Jon Rahm and Justin Rose, while Masters holder Hideki Matsuyama, former world number one Jordan Spieth – eyeing a career Grand Slam – and Xander Schauffele shot 73s.

Jason Day and Patrick Reed were also further down the leaderboard as two-time PGA Championship winner McIlroy and world number one Johnson were powerless in the wind.

McIlroy – seeking a first major trophy since 2014 – recorded a three-over-par 75, which included six bogeys and just three birdies.

Justin Thomas also went three over for the day, while Johnson finished with two double-bogeys and a bogey in a forgettable four-over-par 76 display.

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