Cink, Stricker shine

NEWPORT, Wales — A surprising 6-4 lead for the United States team at midafternoon Saturday looked less rosy a few hours later as the Ryder Cup headed toward Sunday's hoped-for dramatics.

Because of the deluge of rain that hit the course Friday and caused a seven-hour delay, Saturday turned into a patchwork, nonstop march of foursome and four-ball teams. After the completion of six foursome matches (in which two-man teams alternate shots), the U.S. and captain Corey Pavin were where they weren't supposed to be — ahead.

So when Stewart Cink turned in some late-round heroics, allowing him and Matt Kuchar to overtake Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy and post that 6-4 lead, there were many furrowed brows among the nearly 50,000 fans who braved the muddy paths to cheer their players on.

But several hours later, as the six new pairings on the course were called home because of darkness, things looked brighter for Europe. On the course were two foursomes and four four-ball (best ball) teams. The Europeans led all six matches. Were that to hold up, the Europeans would lead 10-6 going into the 12 singles matches.

The U.S. can retain the Cup it won at Valhalla in Louisville in 2008 with 14 points. Europe needs 141/2. So golf fans in the U.S. could awaken Sunday and turn their TVs on to happy moments for either team.

If it is the U.S. team on top, two players will be most responsible.

Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, made three shots near the end of his team's victory that were perfect examples of the twists and turns of match-play golf.

After hitting a bad bunker shot on No. 15 that flew the green and into deep rough on the other side, Cink hit a perfect iron to the 16th green, where Kuchar made the putt, McDowell missed and the match was back to even.

Then McDowell hit a near-perfect iron to about five feet on the par-3 17th and things looked good for Europe — that is, until Cink sank a 30-footer. That so unnerved McIlroy that he missed the putt that would have halved the hole and then butchered any chance of Europe halving the match when he dumped an iron shot into a greenside trap on 18.

"The look and action of everything and everybody around the green on 17 said it all," Cink said. "What happened on 17 was a match-play poison dart."

Said Kuchar: "When I was matched with him, I called him a horse. Now, I'd make that a thoroughbred."

The other U.S. thoroughbred was Steve Stricker, who teamed with Tiger Woods and did most of the heavy lifting in their second straight match victory.

Woods, asked about his partner, especially his putting, said, "It's fun to watch. All you have to do is put him in position, and he's got that go-in look."

Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan also won, Johnson clinching it with a long putt on No. 17 to beat Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson. Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler halved their match with Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer and the European teams of Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher and Ian Poulter and Luke Donald triumphed.

bdwyre@tribune.com

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