CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) - Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello produced a remarkable Ryder Cup rally on Saturday, typifying another fighting display by Europe as they won the foursomes to cut the deficit to the U.S. to 6 1/2 - 5 1/2.
The two Spanish lionhearts, evoking memories of compatriots Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, looked down and out when powerhouse American pair Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed were four up with six holes to play.
However, a couple of mistakes by Spieth and Reed and two late birdies from their opponents meant Garcia and rookie Cabrera-Bello scrambled a half-a-point that may turn out to be critical on Sunday evening as the U.S. aim to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat in the biennial team event.
On a warm, calm day at Hazeltine National, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and big-hitting Belgian debutant Thomas Pieters disposed of Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler 4 and 2 in match one.
Americans Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka never trailed as they defeated Henrik Stenson and rookie Matt Fitzpatrick 3 and 2 while the all-English alliance of Justin Rose and Chris Wood edged to a one-up win over Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson.
Most of the fireworks came in a feisty match four that provided thrills and spills aplenty for a raucous home crowd.
Occasional gamesmanship was a feature with Garcia and Cabrera-Bello setting the tone when they made Spieth putt out for par from three feet at the short eighth.
As the spectators voiced their disapproval with boos, Garcia blew a kiss in their direction.
Spieth and Reed retaliated at the par-four 12th where they refused to concede a putt of just over two feet and, as Garcia lined it up, a fan yelled out: “It’s an easy putt Sergio. Don’t worry about it”.
Garcia’s attempt for par lipped out and the galleries packed around the green erupted in thunderous roars.
The incident seemed to galvanise the Spaniards and Reed needed to sink a nerve-tingling par putt from four feet at the last to avoid defeat.
“They had an amazing start and we kept telling each other, ‘just keep at it, keep putting pressure on and hopefully at some point they’ll slow down a little bit’,” said Ryder Cup veteran Garcia.
“I had to take a lot of breaths on 17 and 18 because emotions were so high. All credit to my partner in his first Ryder Cup.”
Pieters and McIlroy, who also won their afternoon fourballs on Friday, vindicated captain Darren Clarke’s decision to send them out first by combining for six birdies in 16 holes.
“To go out first, put a point on the board, that’s what we wanted to do,” said McIlroy.
“We wanted to start the session in the right vein. Thomas and I have similar games and I think that helps in foursomes.”
The U.S. tandem of Snedeker and rookie Koepka won the opening hole of match two with a par four and eventually eased past Stenson and Fitzpatrick.
The Americans found a turbo-charged gear on the back nine, rattling off four birdies in a row from the 13th to seal the European pair’s fate.
British Open winner Stenson and Fitzpatrick wasted a big chance on the 12th when Koepka played a shot more typical of a weekend amateur, shanking his approach to the green into the galleries, but the hole was eventually halved in bogey fives.
“The hardest thing we have to deal with this week is not getting too excited but we did a great job of staying patient,” said Snedeker.
“It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination and we found a way to win.”
Olympic gold medallist Rose and Wood, making his first appearance in the competition, also never trailed against PGA Championship winner Walker and 2015 British Open champion Johnson.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes