ROME: Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm led Europe to the brink of regaining the Ryder Cup from a battling United States on Sunday as the hosts moved to within half a point of victory, leading 14-7 despite a blistering American charge. Luke Donald’s Europe started the day four points from lifting the trophy they lost in a record-breaking 19-9 thrashing at Whistling Straits two years ago. They raced out of the blocks in the Rome sunshine before the USA enjoyed a surge to quieten the huge home crowds, at one point leading in seven matches and tied in the other.

The Americans need to win all seven remaining matches to tie the event and break the record for the biggest Sunday Ryder Cup comeback, having trailed 10.5-5.5 at the start of the day. 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.

Rahm grabbed a crucial half-point from a thrilling opening tussle with Scottie Scheffler by making birdie on the par-five 18th hole after the world number one thinned a chip across the green. “We’ve had a couple of really good matches. He’s a heck of a competitor,” said Spaniard Rahm. You know, my hat’s off to him and I’m glad I could get a halve.” Viktor Hovland had already romped to a 4 and 3 victory over Collin Morikawa to take his personal tally for the event to 3.5 points, the same as Rahm.

Patrick Cantlay—the pantomime villain after reports he was refusing to wearing a hat over wanting to be paid at the event before his caddie Joe LaCava angered McIlroy on Saturday—edged out Justin Rose 2 and 1. McIlroy, who ends the week with four points, closed out a 3 and 1 win over Sam Burns despite a late rally from the American. Tyrrell Hatton overcame some nervy late moments to see off British Open champion Brian Harman on the 16th hole and put Europe on the cusp and seven points ahead.

But the resurgent USA, hoping to lift the trophy in Europe for the first time since 1993, were ahead in the next four matches on the course, with Max Homa 1-up on Matthew Fitzpatrick up ahead playing the 18th. The United States also cut Tommy Fleetwood and Robert MacIntyre’s leads in the bottom two matches to only one hole to keep their hopes of a stunning turnaround alive.

Cantlay jeered

McIlroy was livid on Saturday over the behaviour of 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. 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 Fitzpatrick, by handing Rose his first loss of the week. Rahm and Scheffler played out a ding-dong battle in the top match, trading the lead multiple times until the US star moved 1-up with birdies on the 14th and 15th holes.

The European made a wonderful two-putt under pressure on the last green, though, to secure what could prove a crucial half-point and stay unbeaten this week. Hovland eased some of the early tension with a dominant win over Morikawa, before Hatton held off a fighting Harman. – AFP