When Martin Kaymer stood over his six foot par putt on the 18th hole Sunday, it was pretty clearly an all or nothing situation. A make would mean the Europeans clinched the cup with their 14th point overall. A miss would leave the Europeans with 13.5, and a likely point for the U.S. coming up the fairway in the person of Tiger Woods.
Rarely does a single player face that kind of do or die spot in a team event such as the Ryder Cup. Kaymer is a major champion, and former world number one, so has been on the biggest stage. This, however, was a totally different animal. To his credit, he held his nerve and poured it right in the center of the cup. Game, set, match, Europe.
To recap all of the events of this wild Sunday at Medinah in one blog post is something of an impossible task. In the end, Europe walked away with the cup by an official final tally of 14.5 to 13.5. They won 8.5 of a possible 12 points today, and equaled the all-time biggest Ryder Cup Sunday comeback.
Coming into the day, it was obvious European captain Jose Maria Olazabal had front loaded his lineup in the hope of building some early momentum and quiet the crowd. His strategy worked to perfection. The first four out for Europe – Donald, Poulter, McIlroy, and Rose – all won their matches and quickly leveled the overall score at 10-10.
The victory by Rose over Phil Mickelson may have been the one that really turned the matches for good in Europe’s favor. Rose stood one down on the 17th tee, and hit his tee shot some 40 feet left of the hole. After Mickelson chipped close and was conceded par, Rose needed to make the bomb for birdie in order to avoid being dormie headed to 18. His putt seemed to be carrying too much speed, but somehow grabbed the left edge and swirled in. With Mickelson still facing a tough par putt on the 18th green, Rose knocked in another birdie and took the full point for Europe. It was an incredible finish, and reminiscent of his good friend Poulter the night before.
Another of the crucial points for the European side came when Paul Lawrie completely thumped FedEx Cup champ Brandt Snedeker. Lawrie took the lead on the 4th hole, and cruised from there to a 5&3 win. However, the next two matches were taken by the U.S., with Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson both leading their matches from start to finish. Once both of these matches were on the board for the U.S., it seemed as though the Americans would be able to right the ship enough to squeak out the win.
At least until Jim Furyk added to his growing reputation of shrinking from the big moments. After giving away the U.S. Open back in June at Olympic Club, Furyk had a golden chance at redemption with a 1up lead heading to the 17th tee. It was not to be, however. Furyk bogeyed the final two holes and effectively gave away the point to the Europeans. When Furyk missed his par putt on 18, the Americans were officially on life support.
The only non-Johnson to win a match today for the U.S. was Jason Dufner. Dufner gave away most of his 4up lead against Peter Hanson but managed to hold on to a 2up victory. His win put the U.S. at 13 points total, needing 1.5 points from the final two matches. The maligned twosome of Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods would have to come up big if the Americans were to take back the cup.
Stricker played as close of a match as you can play against Martin Kaymer, with neither golfer ever holding more than a 1up lead. The quality of golf was far short of spectacular, but someone was going to win a point regardless. Both Stricker and Kaymer left themselves several feet for par on 17, and Kaymer was the one who rose to the occasion. When Kaymer sunk the a fore mentioned par putt to halve the 18th, the point was his and the matches were decided.
Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Woods actually had come up clutch on the 17th, and put himself in position to lock down the winning point. As it turned out, he lost the 18th and halved his match with Molinari, but you have to think the hole may have played out differently if the outcome had not already been decided. Woods has now competed in seven Ryder Cup matches and has only been on the winning side once, at Brookline in 1999.
So Europe keeps the cup. These matches will not be soon forgotten, and were highly entertaining regardless of your allegiances. Kudos to Davis Love III on the decision to keep the rough down – I think the playability of the course allowed for much of the excitement throughout the event.
The U.S. will have to wait two years for their shot at redemption, when the matches are contested at Gleneagles in Scotland.