GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — With two days in the books at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, Europe had a five-point lead and history on its side in the Ryder Cup.
No team has ever come back from that large a deficit going into the singles session. The United States has not won on the road before a flag-waving crowd in 30 years.
And yet the tension Saturday evening told a different story.
Patrick Cantlay, with no cap but plenty of mettle, birdied his last three holes to hand Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy his first loss of the week. Cantlay's last putt was 45 feet, and it fired up the rest of the U.S. team — maybe too much.
McIlroy took exception with Cantlay's caddie, Joe LaCava, getting in on the celebration as McIlroy and England's Matt Fitzpatrick had two birdie looks to halve the match. Later, McIlroy had to be held back near the clubhouse as the bickering over behavior continued.
"He politely asked Joe to move aside. He was in his line of vision," European captain Luke Donald said. "He stood there and didn't move for a while and continued to wave the hat. So I think Rory was upset about that."
U.S. captain Zach Johnson wrote it off as Ryder Cup passion. Whatever it was, the moment brought a spark to the weekend, with the 44th edition of these biennial matches otherwise ruled by the Europeans.
The hosts won the foursomes session in the morning handily, backed by the most lopsided match in Ryder Cup history, which brought Scottie Scheffler — the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking — to tears. And even with Cantlay's gutsy finish, Europe still had a 10 1/2-5 1/2 lead going into the 12 singles on Sunday.
Cantlay gave them a glimmer of hope.
"If there's any tournament in the world that's about momentum, it's this one," Johnson said.
Momentum still has a monster mountain to climb at Marco Simone.
"Listen, we are in a great position, five points ahead going into the singles at home," Donald said. "I like where we are. I like the feelings in the locker room."
Scheffler was set to face Spain's Jon Rahm in the opening singles showdown on Sunday. It's a rematch from the 2021 Ryder Cup at Wisconsin's Whistling Straits, where Scheffler started with four straight birdies and won easily. This year, Rahm and Scheffler have exchanged turns at No. 1 in the world.
Europe needs to win only four points from those 12 matches to get to 14 1/2 overall and regain the cup. The Americans need at least 8 1/2 to retain the cup, because a tie is good as a win for the reigning champions — which is exactly how Europe's women took the trophy for the third straight Solheim Cup last weekend despite finishing at 14-14 against the U.S.
Johnson, for his part, wasn't about to reprise former U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw's famous "I have a good feeling about this" speech from the eve of the final day of the 1999 Ryder Cup, when the Americans rallied from a 10-6 deficit to win near Boston.
"We've got 12 guys. We've got 12 points (available). I believe every guy on my team can win a point," Johnson said. "I'll just leave it at that."
Cantlay was the prime target for thousands of European fans who waved their caps at him because he has been the only American without one during the competition. And perhaps it was in response to an unsubstantiated Sky Sports report that he refused to wear the cap out of protest because he wants to be paid. The report also claimed Cantlay had fractured the team room.
Cantlay said he didn't wear one because it wasn't the right fit — just like at Whistling Straits, when he was also hatless.
As for team unity? The Americans gathered around the 18th green, and when that 45-foot putt dropped and Cantlay slammed his fist, his teammates waved their caps at him.
That included LaCava, who exchanged words with Ireland's Shane Lowry on the green. McIlroy was seen to be visibly angry outside the clubhouse as Jim "Bones" Mackay, the caddie for U.S. player Justin Thomas, tried to intervene.
"A few scenes there on 18," McIlroy said, "and just fuel for the fire tomorrow."
The big picture remains Euro blue and bold, with still only a scattering of American red on the scoreboard.
Europe overwhelmed the U.S. again in foursomes, no example greater than Sweden's Ludvig Aberg, a Ryder Cup rookie who just turned pro over the summer, and Norway's Viktor Hovland. They needed only 11 holes and a span of 2 hours, 20 minutes to beat Scheffler and Brooks Koepka, whose PGA Championship victory this year made him a five-time major champion.
The 9-and-7 victory was the largest in Ryder Cup history over 18 holes. Scheffler was seen wiping away tears as he watched the afternoon four-ball matches.
"We're meeting two strong guys, No. 1 in the world and five-time major champ, so we tried to not give them anything," Hovland said. "And we played really, really solid. Obviously, we didn't meet a sharp Scottie and Brooks, but we played some really nice golf today."
Max Homa and British Open champion Brian Harman, the sparkplug team of this U.S. roster, earned the only foursomes victory by the Americans in the morning. They went out again in the afternoon, and Homa delivered five birdies, an eagle and the match-clinching par over England's Tommy Fleetwood and Denmark's Nicolai Hojgaard.
Europe keeps getting the best from its top players. Rahm and England's Tyrrell Hatton took down Cantlay and Xander Schauffele in foursomes to go 2-0-1 in team play. McIlroy has contributed three points. England's Justin Rose, at 43 the oldest player in these matches, picked up a win and a halve while shepherding around Scottish rookie Robert MacIntyre.
As for the Americans? Homa, in his Ryder Cup debut, is the only player to have gone all four matches so far. Thomas and Jordan Spieth fell hopelessly behind early in foursomes and couldn't catch up, and they were run over by MacIntyre and Rose late in their four-ball match.
"It is a massive hole, don't get me wrong," Homa said. "But I believe in every single one of these people to put a point on the board. So hopefully, we'll go out there tomorrow and just go crazy."
Rickie Fowler sat out both sessions Saturday for the Americans. Schauffele, who again missed pivotal putts in foursomes that could have turned the match, went 0-3 in team play. Koepka played once, and it felt like he lost twice.
He was on the losing end of the record performance by Aberg and Hovland, and then Rahm showed him to be petty during a news conference.
Koepka had accused Rahm of acting childishly by smacking a board, saying, "We're adults." No one knew the reference until Rahm explained it was after he missed a crucial 10-foot putt Friday evening. The show of anger — mild by his reputation — sparked the Masters champion.
"I let off some frustration, hitting the board sideways," Rahm said. "I kept walking, never stopped, that was it. If Brooks thinks that's childish, it is what it is. He's entitled to think what he thinks. I don't know what else to say."
Europe has done all its talking with points on the board. It was nearly payback from two years ago in Whistling Straits, where the Americans built an 11-5 lead on their way to a record romp over Europe with a 19-9 victory.
That's where the hosts of this Ryder Cup were headed until Cantlay's big putt.
"Hopefully have a ray of light," he said, "and we can build on this session and try and pull off a big victory tomorrow."