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Team USA takes 10-6 lead in Ryder Cup heading into final day

USA's Phil Mickelsreacts as he makes putt fifth hole during foursomes match Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Saturday Sept. 29

USA's Phil Mickelson reacts as he makes a putt on the fifth hole during a foursomes match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Updated: November 1, 2012 9:51AM

Will Team Europe be buoyed by the five consecutive birdies on the last five holes by Ian Poulter in the afternoon matches Saturday that essentially saved it from irrelevance? That question will be answered Sunday at Medinah.

Just when it appeared as though the final day of the Ryder Cup was going to be anticlimactic after a dominating morning performance by Team USA, the momentum shifted slightly toward Team Europe when it won the last two matches in the afternoon.

Team USA held a commanding 10-4 lead before Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald withstood a furious back-nine rally by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to win 1 up, then Poulter and Rory McIlroy came from behind to defeat Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner 1 up. That left a happy but cautious Team USA with a 10-6 lead.

‘‘I think we all understand 12 singles matches are a lot of points,’’ Team USA member Matt Kuchar said. ‘‘You’ve got eight points the first two days but 12 on Sunday, so there is room for a lot of ebb and flow.’’

‘‘Massive task, but there’s a chance,’’ Team Europe member Justin Rose said.

Poulter’s final birdie putt on No. 18 gave life to a relatively lifeless Team Europe, which was pounded in the morning matches, losing three of four points for the second consecutive session. The fiery Poulter sank a birdie putt on No. 17 on top of one by Johnson to keep Team Europe ahead by one in the match. He then did the same thing after Dufner made a birdie on No. 18, sinking an eight-footer.

Keeping the lead from widening was important for Team Europe. No team has come back from more than a 10-6 deficit, and only one team — Team USA in 1999 — has come back from that margin.

Poulter said he felt like he had to do something for the team.

‘‘We needed to get something going,’’ he said. ‘‘It was very flat on the back nine there today . . . and it was really hard. [Team USA] kept putting it in play and making it difficult for us to get back at them. We had to make birdies. I mean, five in a row, it was just awesome.’’

Woods, who sat out the morning session, was spectacular on the back nine in the afternoon, making five birdies. But an attempted comeback from four holes down fell short when Stricker lipped out a birdie putt on No. 18 from about 10 feet. If that putt would have dropped, it would have given Team USA another half-point.

Nonetheless, Woods — who hasn’t won a point in three matches — said he still likes the position Team USA is in.

‘‘We want to get off to a quick start and get as many points as we can out of the get-go,’’ Woods said. ‘‘Hopefully we can do that.’’

Team Europe was assaulted out of the gate in the morning by the dynamic duo of Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, who improved to 3-0 as partners by routing Lee Westwood and Donald 7 and 6. Mickelson finished the match with a 125-yard wedge on No. 12 that rolled to within concession distance for his par.

It was vintage stuff from the two, who have turned into Ryder Cup favorites. Team USA captain Davis Love III opted to hold Mickelson and Bradley out of the afternoon matches so they could rest for their singles matches. Mickelson had indicated he wanted to take the afternoon off, knowing he’ll be fresh for singles.

Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson were dominant in their afternoon match against Rose and Francesco Molinari, making nine birdies en route to a 5-up victory. Simpson made seven of the birdies, including four in a row.

That victory was followed by another by Dustin Johnson and Kuchar. That made it seem as though Team USA was on its way to another dominating afternoon. But Team Europe won the final two matches.

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