ROME (Reuters) - Europe were galloping towards reclaiming the Ryder Cup as they turned the scoreboard blue with a burst of birdies in the early singles matches against the United States on Sunday.
With the Marco Simone course again bathed in sunshine and thousands lining the fairways, Europe set about taking the four points they needed to seal the deal in ruthless fashion.
Europe captain Luke Donald top-loaded his singles order with world number three Jon Rahm, number four Viktor Hovland and number two Rory McIlroy, who was involved in some unsavoury scenes the night before, in the opening four matches.
Outplayed virtually from the start of the 44th edition of the Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson's U.S. team had given themselves some hope by winning Saturday's afternoon fourballs 3-1 to trail by five points heading into the 12 singles duels.
Their charge was stopped in its tracks though as by the time Rahm and opponent Scottie Scheffler reached the turn in match one, Europe were ahead in four of the first six matches.
Spaniard Rahm was actually pegged back by Scheffler on the ninth to be tied, but Norway's Hovland was two-up against Collin Morikawa, McIlroy was three-up against rookie Sam Burns, Matt Fitzpatrick led Max Homa and Tyrrell Hatton was leading Open champion Brian Harman by three holes.
Only Patrick Cantlay, whose inspired play in a stormy four-balls against McIlroy and Fitzpatrick the night before earned the Americans a point, was ahead, leading Justin Rose by two shots.
The U.S. have not won in Europe for 30 years and, trailing 10-1/2 5-1/2, are attempting to pull off the biggest final-day comeback in the history of the competition.
After the early action on Sunday, however, avoiding their worst-ever defeat could be a more realistic target.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)