Golf-United States tighten grip on Ryder Cup, lead Europe 9-3

Golf - The 2020 Ryder Cup - Whistling Straits, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, U.S. - September 25, 2021 Spectators watch during the Foursomes REUTERS/Brian Snyder

KOHLER, Wisconsin (Reuters) -The United States tightened their grip on the Ryder Cup with another dominant foursomes session to build a commanding 9-3 lead over Europe at chilly Whistling Straits on Saturday that left the holders facing an uphill battle.

U.S. captain Steve Stricker, whose 12-man team began the day with a 6-2 cushion, did not tinker with his line-up and the trust paid off as the pairings who went 3-1 in Friday's alternate-shot encounters returned the same result.

Europe, in need of an early spark, earned the first point of the day but the Americans dominated the remaining three matches in a session that tested the nerves and skill of every player on the links-style course.

The formidable Spanish duo of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, who earned Europe's only win on Friday, struck first when they overcame an early deficit to secure a 3&1 win over Brooks Koepka and Ryder Cup rookie Daniel Berger.

The Americans were three up after three holes and looked set to run away with the match but the Spaniards clawed their way back and finally pulled ahead when Garcia drained a seven-foot birdie putt at the 12th to put him and Rahm up for good.

"We need more," said Garcia. "What we did is not enough."

But the United States, powered by a boisterous home crowd that was lacking a sizeable European contingent due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, shut down any hopes the visitors had of mounting an early comeback.

Dustin Johnson, who won both his matches on Friday, holed out from just off the green as he and Ryder Cup rookie Collin Morikawa went three up after three holes en route to a 2&1 win over Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton.

The European duo engineered a back-nine fightback and were one down after Casey holed out for eagle at the par-four 14th but they were ultimately unable to close the gap any further.

"Very proud of how we fought," said Casey. "There was one stage we didn't think we would get them as far as we did, and then I guess we had a chance to take them all the way and make it a great battle."

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth were down three after six holes but used a back-nine charge to take control and then held on to secure a 2UP win over the Ryder Cup rookie tandem of Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger.

In the final match of the session, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay earned a 2&1 win over Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Any concerns about the American team having six Ryder Cup rookies have been put to bed as all 12 players have earned at least a half-point.

In a bid to shake things up, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy was left out of a Ryder Cup session for the first time in his career after dropping both his opening-day matches.

"His health is good. He's in a strong frame of mind," said Europe captain Padraig Harrington. "We know we need a big performance with him in the singles tomorrow. Yeah, he needs to rest like everybody else."

The two sides will play a four-ball session on Saturday afternoon when the Americans will try to inch closer to the 14-1/2 points needed to reclaim the gold Ryder Cup.

The biennial team competition, postponed last year due to COVID-19, will culminate with 12 singles matches on Sunday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating; Writing by Frank Pingue; Editing by Ed Osmond and Clare Fallon)

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