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

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.