Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell drew energy from the massive home support as Europe produced a stunning late afternoon comeback to set up a final day thriller at Celtic Manor.
The Ulster duo experienced a rollercoaster day as they came out and grabbed a brilliant half with Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink in the fourballs only to lose sickeningly to the American pair on the 18th in the foursomes.
“It classic match play. Vintage,” said McIlroy of the US comeback from 1 down with three to play. “Matt hits it in there to 20 feet and Graeme hits a phenomenal shot into six and Stewart holes and looking like we are 1 up with one to play and all of a sudden we are 1 down with one to play, and that’s match play. That’s the beauty of it. You know, we have been on the wrong side of it this week but hopefully be on the right side of it tomorrow.”
But roared on by a 40,000-strong crowd, they picked themselves up off the floor to race into a three up lead after seven holes against Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson as Europe led all six matches in an unfinished third session that could see Colin Montgomerie’s troops turn a 4-6 deficit into a 10-6 lead entering the 12 singles.
“After losing the foursomes to Cink and Kuchar, we just told ourselves to walk out onto that first tee as if we had just won,” McIlroy said after darkness halted play.
McDowell added: “We knew we were going to be flat after what had just happened, so knowing that is half the battle and the crowd lifted us.
“The first tee gets you going. They lifted us and our energy levels were quite good considering the going is soft out there.
“We played 33 holes today and our best holes today were probably those last seven perhaps.
“We have a lot of work to do but they have had the momentum coming in after that second session. Now the board is looking good and our team room has been great.
“Guys will be feeling good tonight and we have a really good chance from here. We have just got to finish the deal in the morning and we have a great shot.”
Padraig Harrington grabbed his first Ryder Cup win since the 2004 singles when he teamed up with Ross Fisher to beat Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson 3 and 2 in the six-foursomes session that left Europe 4-6 behind ahead of the third session.
The Dubliner gave Fisher some great reads on the greens and he was pleased that he was able to come up trumps for his captain.
“It was Monty’s idea that I get out there and take Ross under my wing. He gave me responsibility and I reacted well to that,” Harrington said.
Fisher felt he had let Ian Poulter down as the lost to Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the fourballs and he was delighted to hole some putts alongside Harrington.
“I played well but having a guy that’s won three major reading my putts was massive,” Fisher said. “He is one of the world’s best putters and it just gave me so much confidence to hit my putts knowing Paddy is reading my lines. He helped me out with the line, I’d hit the putt and I holed some good ones.”
Montgomerie wisely decided not to break up the Fisher-Harrington partnership, putting them out in the first fourball of the third session against Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson.
Gaining in confidence all the time, the Dubliner immediately holed a 40 footer for birdie at the first and while Furyk matched him from closer range, it wasn’t long before the Europeans were in front.
Fisher birdied the third for a whin, the fourth for a half and the fifth for another win to put them two up before Johnson hit back to reduce the deficit to one hole with a two at the seventh.
Harrington had a chance to birdie the eighth from 10 feet but missed and then looked on as Furyk sized up a five footer that would have prevented Europe from sleeping on a psychological full house by leading all six matches overnight.
But the FedEx Cup champion failed to convert, leaving Europe feeling good about their chances of winning back the trophy today.
Harrington said: “Right up until the end I was feeling good but feeling shattered now and it’s kind of all hit us. I’m sure everybody else is the same. We haven’t played that many holes, but it has been a long day. It’s soft underfoot, so mentally, it’s tough.
“We are going to have another tough day tomorrow. We are going to have finishing off that session, whichever number it is of fourballs and obviously the singles are so important we have to be up and ready for those as well.
“They are going to come out strong in the morning. Would have been better for us in a perfect world if we would have kept finishing that session so we had the momentum. We are going to have to somehow maintain that overnight. It could be good be good for us if we go out there and finish it off strong tomorrow, means it’s very fresh in our minds going into the singles. But it’s all to play for.
“You know, it would be lovely if we could just say, yeah, the six blue numbers are going to convert to six wins tomorrow, but that doesn’t happen in reality. We are going to have to try and work as hard and grind as hard as we can, and you know, any lead is precious going into the singles and that’s what we have to look for.”