2012 Ryder Cup nearly ended in a tie

By Jason SobelSeptember 19, 2014, 12:00 pm

When is a tie not a tie? When is a tie celebrated with the thrill of victory from one party and mourned with the agony of defeat from the other? When is a tie met with unequal and opposite reactions?

This is not an existential riddle on the theory of competition. It’s what can happen at the Ryder Cup every time – and almost did two years ago.

For those who have blocked the final day at Medinah from their memories, here’s a quick recap: The U.S. team entered Sunday’s singles matches ahead 10-6, but quickly started to lose momentum. Luke Donald won the first match for Europe, then Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy. All told, the Europeans won each of the first five matches on the ledger and three of the next six. When Martin Kaymer holed a 6-foot putt on the final green, it was all over. Europe had won the Ryder Cup.

Well, sort of.

With 14 points, Europe had actually only retained the Cup. Amidst the team’s tear-soaked hugs and rabid champagne-spraying and cries of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole…” one final match remained on the course.

Tiger Woods versus Francesco Molinari.

The previous night, in what can be viewed as either full confidence in his unassuming Italian ball-striker or front-loading his lineup, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal decided to place Molinari in the anchor position, setting up a singles rematch from two years earlier.

“It was actually great for me to see that he and all the vice captains had enough trust in me to put me in that position,” Molinari recently said in an email, “even if I knew that there was a big chance that the match could be over before coming down to our match.”

It’s a tenuous position, playing in that final match on a Ryder Cup Sunday afternoon. The available point could mean everything, the entire contest hinging on the outcome. Or it could mean nothing at all, fate being determined before the twosome has a chance to intervene.

While on the course throughout the day, Molinari tried to sneak a few peeks at leaderboards to figure out whether his point would be necessary.

“I remember definitely looking at one on the 11th fairway and seeing Tiger doing the same,” he recalled. “I did the math quickly and I saw that there was a chance for the match to come down to the last two games. I didn’t really get much info from the vice captains, only on the 16th fairway. Miguel Angel Jimenez came close to me after the tee shot and told me, ‘We need your point.’”

Some 25 minutes later, focused on his match while simultaneously trying to catch a glimpse of his teammate, Molinari watched Kaymer and opponent Steve Stricker up ahead on the 18th green.

“I was on the 18th fairway,” he explained. “It was hard to understand what was going on at first, because I first saw Stricker holing his putt and I didn’t know if it was for a win or a halve. Then I watched Martin putting his ball down and studying his putt, so I understood he could still win the point. When he holed the putt, it was a very strange moment because I could see everyone going mad in front of the green. I was watching them from a distance and obviously a part of me wanted to run down the fairway to celebrate with them.

“It took a lot of the pressure off, pretty much all the pressure I had.”

Europe had retained the Ryder Cup with what equaled the largest comeback in history. That was it. It was over.

Except … that wasn’t it. It wasn’t over.

Molinari was torn between running down the fairway and soldiering on, until his captain commanded that he wanted him to keep playing.

A win, Olazabal told him, would be better than a tie.

“I think there was a lot of confusion made of what happened next,” Molinari said. “I didn’t know what to do. ‘I was thinking, ‘Should we just pack in and not play the last? Should I concede the hole? Should I speak to Tiger to see what he wants to do?’ I turned towards Jose Maria, who was on the fairway in tears. He came close to me and said that I had to keep focused on what I was doing because the match was not over yet and if I could win the hole, we would have won the match instead of halving it.”

Here’s where the situation gets a little sticky. According to those on the European side, a win was better than a tie, even if the end result was the same. However, according to those on the U.S. side, a loss was the equivalent of a tie, because both ensured they wouldn’t take the Cup.

And so, amidst a jubilant celebration for Europe and shell-shocked lamenting for the U.S., the final match continued.

Woods was 1 up on the final hole, but unceremoniously made a bogey. That left Molinari with a 4-footer for par to halve the match and give Europe a 14½-13½ victory. Before he had a chance to hit the putt, though, his opponent offered a quick, “That’s good.”

Woods was asked about the concession directly after the match and explained his rationale thusly: “It was over. We came as a team and the Cup had already been retained by Europe, so it was already over.”

“I was surprised,” Molinari said, “but again, after Martin had holed his putt there was a surreal atmosphere around us. I wasn’t really expecting anything as it was a whole new situation for me.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe no one would have cared whether the teams tied if the final result was the same anyway. Maybe conceding that final putt simply saved the competition from any messy asterisks which would have been necessary for the history books.

A tie in this circumstance wouldn’t have really been a tie. It would have caused unequal and opposite reactions from the separate parties. Lost in the mixed celebration and sadness following the last Ryder Cup, though, is the story of how it very nearly happened this way.

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.