Rome: Rory McIlroy brushed aside Saturday’s controversy by leading Europe’s early charge towards regaining the Ryder Cup from the United States on Sunday with all 12 matches on the course.
Luke Donald’s hosts need to take four points from the closing singles after building a 10.5-5.5 lead and appeared well on the way to their target after making a fast start.
The USA are bidding to pull off the biggest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history and lift the trophy on European soil for the first time in 30 years.
Only four teams have come from behind on Sunday to win since continental Europe joined the event in 1979, with the Americans’ 1999 ‘Battle of Brookline’ success and Europe’s ‘Miracle at Medinah’ coming from having been 10-6 behind.
Europe are eyeing a seventh straight Ryder Cup triumph on home soil.
McIlroy was livid on Saturday over the behaviour of Patrick Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava on the 18th green and said he would use his anger as “fuel for the fire”.
LaCava reportedly apologised to the Northern Irishman on Sunday morning and McIlroy raced into a 3-up lead through eight holes on Sam Burns in the fourth match on the course.
With Jon Rahm letting an early 2-up lead on world No 1 Scottie Scheffler slip to all-square, Europe were looking to McIlroy to get an early point on the board.
Viktor Hovland also started strongly for the home side, moving 2-up through 10 against Collin Morikawa.
Cantlay was roundly jeered on the first hole and mocked again for a reported protest against the lack of pay for Ryder Cup players, with fans waving their caps at him.
But he continued his good form from Saturday, when he made three straight birdies in his match with Wyndham Clark to beat McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick, by going two holes in front of Justin Rose.
Fitzpatrick holed a succession of long putts to move 1-up in his game with in-form American Max Homa.
Tyrrell Hatton also put some European blue on the board early, stretching two holes clear of Brian Harman.
Nicolai Hojgaard was also ahead for Europe, although the USA were fighting hard and led in four matches themselves.
Justin Thomas led 1-up on Sepp Straka and repeatedly motioned to tip his cap at the crowd, despite not wearing one in apparent solidarity with Cantlay.
‘Ray of light’
World No 5 Cantlay’s heroics late on Saturday had given the USA a glimmer of hope of a remarkable victory having been dominated for the first day and a half.
His wonderful 30-foot putt on 18 to cut the gap to five points had sparked the controversial antics of LaCava.
“Hopefully have a ray of light and we can build on this session and try and pull off a big victory tomorrow,” said Cantlay.
The US won a session for the first time this week at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Saturday’s fourballs.
Burns and Morikawa cruised to a 4 and 3 victory over Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, who ran out of gas after dishing out a record-breaking 9 and 7 foursomes hammering to Scheffler and Brooks Koepka.
Homa and Harman were the only bright spots in the morning foursomes for Johnson’s team.
The pair followed that up by 2 and 1 over Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard.
Robert MacIntyre and Rose cruised to a 3 and 2 victory over Thomas and Jordan Spieth to keep Europe in control.
Scottish rookie MacIntyre was playing Clark in the anchor match on Sunday, but Donald will be expecting his men to complete the job before that contest nears its climax.