The United States need to pull off a record-breaking recovery in Sunday’s singles to have Ryder Cup aspirations to either retain or win the cup.
Twice in cup history there have been comebacks from 10-6 down – in Brookline and again with the Miracle in Medinah. This time, they have five points to claw back with day two ending at 10.5-5.5.
The Saturday afternoon fourballs was the visitors’ best session so far as they won it 3-1 in dramatic fashion courtesy of some late heroics from Patrick Cantlay, with birdies on the final three holes amid darkening skies in Rome.
It ended with acrimony and a cacophony of boos as McIlroy took umbrage with Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava celebrating Cantlay’s putt before either of the Europeans had attempted theirs.
The late point gave Zach Johnson’s side a glimmer of hope going into the last day where there will be 12 points on offer and in which Europe only need four to regain the cup.
Rose, meanwhile, had saved his putting heroics for the 18th on Friday for an unlikely half, and this time it was the 16th where he sunk the decisive putt for a 3&2 victory rather than a share of the spoils for Europe’s soil point of the session.
McIlroy left Whistling Straits two years ago in tears having felt he had let his team-mates down. In Rome, it has been a total volte-face and he was very much the mastermind in a renewed partnership with Matt Fitzpatrick only to be undone late on.
The opening two matches were never anything other than red, both American pairings going ahead on the opening hole and never overhauled.
Of the American players, the pick of them with Cantlay was Max Homa, who recorded the solitary point in the morning foursomes and was again on form in the fourballs with six birdies and an eagle to beat Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard 2&1 with playing partner Brian Harman.
And the other US point came courtesy of Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa 4&3 over Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, who finally ran out of steam after such a prolific partnership to date.
While Burns had been dreadful on day one, he was a player reborn in the fourballs on the front nine in particular, cupping his ears to the crowd after silencing them on the 6th hole. Any suggestion he might live to forget it were erased by Morikawa taking the reins of their partnership on the back nine.
In truth, the ice-cool Scandinavians finally ran out of energy having produced a stunning result in beating world No1 Scottie Scheffler and US PGA champion Brooks Koepka in the morning foursomes.
In match three, Rose’s playing partner Robert McIntyre, who has struggled at points, played his part too notably with a birdie putt on 13 and a par putt in 15th when Rose suffered something of an anomaly of a hole.
Rose, the old man of the team at 43, said afterwards he had barked encouragement at his rookie partner throughout the final holes to keep them in the hunt.
For McIntyre’s part, the Scot said: “Yesterday, I felt I kind of let Justin down a little bit. Today, thankfully I helped him out a bit.”
With McIlroy and Fitzpatrick leading their match at the time, it felt the day was heading Europe’s way before Cantlay, under immense pressure, sunk a putt on 17 to tie the match and take it to a decisive final hole where he was again the man of the moment.