Ian Poulter claimed rowdy American golf fans are “spoiling” the 41st Ryder Cup, which sees Team USA head into the final day at Hazeltine with a three-point lead as they bid to win the event for the first time since 2008.
Rory McIlroy in particular was the target of abuse on a dramatic second day in Minnesota, where Europe’s star player had one fan removed after he’d confronted the individual over a comment aimed at him as he walked from the seventh green to the eighth tee.
As the day went on, the cheers that greeted missed European putts or wayward shots such as McIlroy finding water at the 16th in the afternoon fourballs became louder and louder, with some of the fans definitely crossing the line with some of their jibes.
“The US players are policing their fans as they are embarassed of their behaviour,” wrote Poulter on Twitter shortly after play had finished. “Shame some spoiling this...”
Finding himself caught up in the occasion, McIlroy screamed with joy at the top of his voice over and over during the day as he won both his matches in the company of young Belgian Thomas Pieters.
Asked afterwards if he felt the crowd had been spirited, tough, over the line or even ugly, he replied: “Probably a combination of all of those but I’d say most of all tough.
“It’s a tough environment for us to come and play in. We expect that. It’s same for the US guys when they come to play in Europe.
“You have to keep your concentration out there. It’s been a long day and sometimes emotions run high.”
Delighted that he’d managed to put two points on the board for Darren Clarke’s team, McIlroy added: “It fueled me a lot. The more they shouted, the better we played. I hope they shout at us all day tomorrow.”
The day ended in disappointment for Europe as a missed short putt by Lee Westwood at the last left denied them a half that would have meant just a two-point deficit heading into the singles.
“I’m obviously disappointed with this afternoon’s result,” admitted Clarke of losing the penultimate session 3-1 after getting back to within a point of the Americans earlier in the day to trail 9.5-6.5.
“We hung in there this morning, got back close again and we had a few chances there. The American guys played very well. That’s the nature of The Ryder Cup. That’s what happens.”
It means Europe, who are bidding for an unprecedented fourth win in a row in the event, have lost the momentum they’d built up since suffering a 4-0 whitewash in the opening session on Friday.
“We had a little momentum and tomorrow we’re going to have to work hard and play very, very well,” added Clarke. “It’s been done before from a worse position (they trailed by four points when pulling off the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ four years ago). We have a big task ahead of us but the guys are capable of doing it.”
Westwood, who is making his 10th consecutive appearance in the event, had missed a string of putts on the back nine before the one at the last from around two-and-a-half feet.
“We holed the putts in the morning and this afternoon we missed the putts - that’s the way it goes,” said the European captain.
If Poulter was Europe’s talisman in Chicago in 2012, then the Americans have found their own one here in Patrick Reed.
The 26-year-old basically delivered one of the home team’s three wins in the second fourballs session on his own as partner Jordan Spieth was reduced to cheerleading.
Reed holed from the fairway for an eagle-3 at the sixth and also made six birdies in a 2&1 win over Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose in the bottom match.
“Just one of those days that I knew that I felt great,” said Reed as the American pair bounced back from the disappointment of having to settle for a half point earlier in the day despite being four up with six to play on Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Team USA captain Davis Love is now hoping his players can finish off the job here, having also been at the helm as Europe equalled the biggest fightback in the event’s history four years ago to deny him on that occasion.
“We’re ahwead - and that’s what we wanted,” said Love. “Our guys played great this afternoon and we are all pulling together really well.”