The U.S. took a 3-1 lead Friday morning after the alternate-shot matches, a format that most assumed would be the Americans' worst event. At lunch-time Floyd, who had promised to give all 12 of his players a game every day, made the tactical error of splitting up all four of his morning pairings. The result was a 4-0 sweep in the afternoon by the Europeans. Ballesteros and Olazabal initiated the blitz by annihilating Watson and Mark O'Meara 6 and 5. Ballesteros personally put an end to the proceedings by going eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie on the back side. Said the 23-year-old Olazabal, "When Seve gets his Porsche going, not even San Pedro in heaven could stop him."
The final indignity of the first afternoon came on the 474-yard par-4 18th. With their match against Brand and Torrance even, first Azinger and then Strange played his second shot short of the lake that guards the green. Strange, who had had a good lie in the fairway and a fair chance of carrying the hazard, had held a fairway wood in his hand for a full three minutes before deciding to lay up. Smart move in medal play; gutless in match. Both he and Azinger made bogeys, and they lost the match one down when Brand saved par from a greenside bunker.
The spellbinder of the second afternoon was the match of the cleanup hitters—Strange and Tom Kite versus Ballesteros and Olazabal. On the first tee Kite, who is from Austin, Texas, drove his ball and then said to Ballesteros, "Remember the Alamo." It was Kite who should have remembered that bit of Texas history, for the Spanish-speakers won there, too. To win at The Belfry, Olazabal and Ballesteros had to save par from greenside bunkers on both 17 and 18, with Ballesteros sinking five-and seven-footers.
The rookies, Azinger and Beck, came through with two wins on Saturday. In their afternoon match they birdied 11 of the 17 holes in beating Faldo and Woosnam 2 and 1. "Cruel," said Faldo, whose side had nine birdies of its own. "From 50 yards in we started believing we had to hole every shot. Sometimes for a half."
The Azinger-Beck win was a big boost for American morale. Though the unbeatable duo of Ballesteros and Olazabal blew away Green and Calcavecchia 4 and 2, McCumber and Kite closed out Bernhard Langer and Canizares 2 and 1. When Stewart, the PGA champion, and Strange, the U.S. Open champion, led the obscure British duo Clark and James one up after 15 holes, the afternoon seemed destined to end in an 8-8 tie.
But it didn't. Clark, whose 11 career victories are six more than Stewart's, holed a 12-foot birdie on 16 to even the match. Then, on 17, a reachable 575-yard par-5 with a big green, first Stewart and then Strange took turns pushing fairway woods into a grove of small pines to the right of the green, making their third shots virtually unplayable. James won the hole with a birdie and parred the difficult 18th to win the match and give Europe a 9-7 lead going into Sunday's singles. It was the third time Strange, who now had won only one-half point of a possible four, had lost a match one down. Asked to explain how two of America's best players could play such dreadful shots, Floyd said, "Pressure will affect the greatest player in the world at times. Sometimes it has a good effect, sometimes a bad one. They were very poor shots. What more can you say?"
But going into the single down 9-7 was far better than the 10½-5½ deficit the Americans faced in 1987. Said Azinger, whose opening singles pairing against Ballesteros was crucial to U.S. hopes, "We're going for a clean sweep."
Had the American team had 12 Azingers. it might have pulled it off. When Azinger birdied 9 to go 2 up on Ballesteros, the scoreboard showed the American team leading in five matches and trailing in two. The rest were even.
Match play is marvelous for its mind games, and no one plays them more effectively than Ballesteros. Putts he would have conceded earlier in the match he now made Azinger mark. On the 13th tee he asked Azinger's caddie to move back twice, glared at him as only Ballesteros can, then hit a monster drive some 350 yards down the fairway. "That was great," Azinger told his caddie, Billy Poore. "You showed him we're not backing down. But don't do it again, O.K.? I don't want him mad at us." Too late. Ballesteros had been mad since the 2nd hole, when Azinger refused to let him change his ball to putt. Azinger holed a putt from off the green on 15 to go one up, but on 18 he pulled his drive into the water—a portent of things to come. He recovered in time to make a miraculous 5, which was good enough to halve the hole and win the match when Ballesteros—even he—put his second shot into the drink.
At that point the scoreboard showed virtually nothing but red—which was the U.S. color that day. Kite had demolished Clark 8 and 7. Beck vanquished Langer 3 and 1. In all, the Americans had won three matches, led in four, trailed in one and stood even in four. "It looked like our side might overwhelm Europe," said Floyd later.