This might have been worst U.S. Ryder Cup loss

By Randall MellOctober 1, 2012, 2:14 am

MEDINAH, Ill. – The Americans never stood a chance.

Even with a commanding 10-6 lead going into the Ryder Cup’s Sunday singles, they were doomed.

There were just too many mystical forces working against them in a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 loss at Medinah Country Club.

There were the Europeans playing in Seve Ballesteros’ Sunday blue, the garb once fancied by the man who became a legend escaping from more tough spots than Houdini. The Euros had his emblem on their shirt sleeves. They had his silhouette on their golf bags. Mostly, they showed they had his indomitable spirit in their marrow.

“I think if Seve could have written this script, he would have written it exactly like this one,” Europe’s Graeme McDowell said.

Ballesteros would have liked the way Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia dug themselves out of holes Sunday to win vital matches. Rose was 1 down to Phil Mickelson with two holes to play but poured in birdie putts at the 17th and 18th holes to win. Garcia was also 1 down at the 17th but likewise won the final two holes to defeat Jim Furyk.

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“I have no doubt in my mind that Seve was with me today,” Garcia said. “Because there’s no chance I would have won my match if he wasn’t there.”

There was another force working against the Americans.

There was September in Chicago.

The Americans confirmed no lead is safe in this city in September. Cub fans know this better than anyone, and now the folks who live here have another epic collapse to remember, one as stunning as the Cubs’ blown pennant in ’69.

The way the Americans struggled Sunday, you had to wonder if they were playing on the same type of turf used at Wrigley Field.

You had to wonder if a guard at the front gate of Medinah turned away a restaurant owner wanting to bring his billy goat inside with him to watch Sunday’s finish.

And now you have to wonder if that Chicago cop who helped a desperate Rory McIlroy make his tee time with a police escort will be looking to rent a room from Steve Bartman.

Apparently, beating the Americans has become as easy as rolling out of bed.

Saying he confused the U.S. Central Time Zone with its Eastern Time Zone, McIlroy arrived just 10 minutes before his tee time with the police escort. He didn’t hit a single shot on the practice range but was 2 up on Keegan Bradley after six holes and went on to beat him, 2 and 1.

“We’re all kind of stunned,” American captain Davis Love III said. “We know what it feels like now from that ’99 Ryder Cup. It’s a little bit shocking.”

Love was on that ’99 team that won at Brookline in the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. The Europeans on Sunday equaled that historic comeback in winning for the fifth time in the last six Ryder Cups, the seventh in the last nine.

With the Europeans charging early Sunday, you had to wonder if ’99 U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw was watching somewhere with a bad feeling about this.

Olazabal was on that European team that lost so epically. He was in the middle of the chaos when Justin Leonard holed an improbable bomb at the 17th at Brookline to set up the United States’ victory. Leonard rolled that putt in against Olazabal.

Asked on Saturday night, if, like Crenshaw, he had a “good feeling” about what was going to happen on the final day, Olazabal said he believed.

“I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and they did,” Olazabal said.

Sunday was a sad day for the Americans, but it was a great day for golf, a spectacular Sunday of dizzying dramatic turns.

The Ryder Cup proved yet again it is the best event in golf, a spectacle even more magical than the Masters, if that’s possible. The golf is so much larger in the Ryder Cup, it feels like it ought to be played on Mount Olympus. The thrills are so much grander, the heartache so much more severe.

Unfortunately for the Americans, they’re becoming more familiar with the heartache.

Steve Stricker felt the sting of another Ryder Cup as deeply as anyone.

With the first five players Europe sent out Sunday winning, the match boiled down to Stricker on the final hole in the second-to-last match. After lipping out a 6-footer for par at the 17th to fall 1 down to Martin Kaymer, Stricker knew the match’s outcome was on him. He had to win the 18th or Europe would retain the cup.

Stricker watched Martin Kaymer halve the hole by sinking a 6-foot putt at the last to deal the Americans yet another Ryder Cup disappointment.

“I just didn’t get it done,” Stricker said. “I’m a little stunned. I can’t really believe what happened to us.”

The Americans have been dealt some bitter blows in the Ryder Cup. There were the back-to-back record routs in 2004 and ’06, but this might have been the worst loss of all. The collapse coming with the Americans feeling as if they had one hand on the cup makes the loss that much harder to swallow.

Tiger Woods endured his fifth consecutive Ryder Cup loss.

No other American Ryder Cupper has ever played on five consecutive losing teams.

Mickelson has now played on seven losing Ryder Cup teams. No American has been on more losing teams.

Mickelson’s Ryder Cup record is now 14-18-6. Woods is 13-17-3. No Americans have lost more matches than Mickelson and Woods.

American veteran Jim Furyk felt the sting, too. He bogeyed the final two holes to lose to Garcia. In a year in which Furyk endured losing the U.S. Open and the WGC-Bridgestone with late stumbles, Furyk drove home just how important the Ryder Cup has become.

“This is the lowest part of my year,” Furyk said.

It was a wild, wondrous Sunday that ended with it feeling like the Americans never stood a chance.

Relive Day 2 Ryder Cup matches Monday at 8 p.m. ET and the singles matches Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

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McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

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McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

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A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”