ROME: Tommy Fleetwood clinched the crucial half-point as Europe regained the Ryder Cup from a battling United States on Sunday, taking an unassailable lead despite a blistering American singles charge.
Europe led 14-11 overall with Fleetwood 2-up against Rickie Fowler with two holes to play after the American dumped his tee shot on the short par-four 16th into the water. Fleetwood struck his drive into the heart of the green and calmy stroked his eagle putt to the holeside to ensure Europe a seventh consecutive home victory.
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland led the way with early victories in the Rome sunshine and Jon Rahm also snatched half a point from Scottie Scheffler on the 18th green. Luke Donald´s Europe started the day four points from lifting the trophy they lost in a record-breaking 19-9 thrashing at Whistling Straits two years ago.
They raced out of the blocks in the Rome sunshine before the USA enjoyed a surge to quieten the huge home crowds, at one point leading in seven matches and tied in the other. The Americans were attempting to pull off the biggest Sunday Ryder Cup comeback, having trailed 10.5-5.5 at the start of the day, and win on European soil for the first time since 1993.
Still only four teams have come from behind on Sunday to win the trophy since continental Europe joined the event in 1979, with the Americans´1999 ´Battle of Brookline´ success and Europe´s ´Miracle at Medinah´ coming from having been 10-6 behind.
Rahm grabbed a crucial half-point from a thrilling opening tussle with Scheffler by making birdie on the par-five 18th hole after the world number one thinned a chip across the green. "We´ve had a couple of really good matches. He´s a heck of a competitor," said Spaniard Rahm. "You know, my hat´s off to him and I´m glad I could get a halve."
Viktor Hovland had already romped to a 4 and 3 victory over Collin Morikawa to take his personal tally for the event to 3.5 points, the same as Rahm. Patrick Cantlay -- the pantomime villain after reports he was refusing to wearing a hat over wanting to be paid at the event before his caddie Joe LaCava angered McIlroy on Saturday -- edged out Justin Rose 2 and 1.
McIlroy, who ends the week with four points, closed out a 3 and 1 win over Sam Burns despite a late rally from the American. Tyrrell Hatton overcame some nervy late moments to see off British Open champion Brian Harman on the 16th hole and put Europe on the cusp and 14-7 ahead.
Matthew Fitzpatrick missed a 19-foot birdie putt to win the Ryder Cup on the last hole as Max Homa kept the fate of the matchplay showdown just about in the balance. Homa, who was the USA´s best player at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club with 3.5 points, bravely opted to take a penalty drop from the rough for an unplayable lie but made a clutch up and down for par.
Brooks Koepka saw off Swedish sensation Ludvig Aberg 3 and 2 and Xander Schauffele beat Nicolai Hojgaard by the same scoreline. McIlroy was livid on Saturday over the behaviour of Cantlay´s caddie LaCava on the 18th green and said he would use his anger as "fuel for the fire".
McIlroy scotched reports LaCava had met him on Sunday morning to apologise after his win, saying: "I haven´t met Joe." Cantlay was roundly jeered on the first hole and mocked again for a reported protest against the lack of pay for Ryder Cup players, with fans waving their caps at him.
But he continued his good form from Saturday, when he made three straight birdies in his match with Wyndham Clark to beat McIlroy and Fitzpatrick, by handing Rose his first loss of the week.
Rahm and Scheffler played out a ding-dong battle in the top match, trading the lead multiple times until the US star moved 1-up with birdies on the 14th and 15th holes.
The European made a wonderful two-putt under pressure on the last green, though, to secure what could prove a crucial half-point and stay unbeaten this week. Hovland eased some of the early tension with a dominant win over Morikawa, before Hatton held off a fighting Harman."Not many people gave us a chance after Whistling Straits. We were big underdogs. We started to show some form in the last six months, and I couldn´t be happier with the team I got," said Donald, a four-time winner as a player.
"I think these guys will be around for a long time, and we´re going to put up a great fight in two years´ time." Donald remained tight-lipped on whether he would stay on as captain for the next Ryder Cup as he has built a strong bond with the players.
The 45-year-old stepped in for Henrik Stenson in August last year after the Swede was sacked for joining the Saudi Arabia-backed rebel LIV Golf tour. "I´m gonna enjoy this one right now, I´ll figure out that one later," he told American broadcaster NBC. His players led chants of "two more years, two more years" during the trophy presentation at the first tee as fans loudly applauded their heroes.
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