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Love should have deviated from plan with Phil, Keegan

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Ian Poulter’s eyes defined the 39th Ryder Cup.

But did you see Phil Mickelson’s?

You don’t win 40 PGA Tour events without a love of the chase, so Mickelson got bug-eyed himself, oohing and aahing at his new BFF, Keegan Bradley, and clapping for Justin Rose as the Englishman sank a mile of putts coming home.

Phil’s been on both sides of a sprint like that. At the Ryder Cup, he was at his sporting best.


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Before Phil met Keegan, the U.S. Ryder Cup team had been searching for an equivalent to Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. Seve and Ollie arrived at the perfect time for the Ryder Cup. They helped turn an exhibition into a compelling art, displaying so much fire that they could will 10 other men to victory.

Which is exactly why you don’t sit Phil and Keegan in Saturday’s afternoon fourball match, not with the Medinah gallery at full tilt and the Europeans on the ropes.

If you’re Davis Love III, you rip up the script after Mickelson and Bradley’s 7-and-6 victory over Lee Westwood and Luke Donald in the Saturday morning foursomes. You don’t rest them, not with a 3-0 record. You worry about Sunday on Sunday. You get all of Saturday’s points while you can.

As the story goes, Love decided before the competition that no one would play five matches. When Phil and Keegan arrived to the first tee on Saturday morning, they said they would put everything they had into that match because they weren’t playing in the afternoon. At the 10th hole, already comfortably ahead of Westwood and Donald, Davis approached Phil.

“You’re seeing our best,” Mickelson said he told his captain. “You cannot put us in the afternoon. Emotionally and mentally we are not prepared for it, but we have other guys who are dying to get out here.”

Love and Mickelson are two of the game’s gentlemen. The U.S. was cruising. Phil was being diplomatic. But Love should have waved him off and deviated from his game plan. You worry about Sunday on Sunday. You get all of Saturday’s points while you can.

Phil and Keegan didn’t get an opportunity to win a fourth point on Saturday afternoon, to ride that wave of momentum just a little bit longer. And neither won his match Sunday, even with that afternoon rest.

It’s all hindsight now, of course. Few outside of the European team room saw Sunday coming, with Luke taking out Bubba Watson, Justin Rose channeling Justin Leonard, and Poulter morphing into a latter-day Seve.

The U.S. had many other opportunities to snuff out Europe’s rise. Tiger Woods went 0-3-1, extending his mediocre record in the biennial matches. Steve Stricker, chosen as a wild-card pick for his putting, misfired on the greens most of the weekend. Jim Furyk, with a chance to salvage his season, dropped a crucial point to Sergio Garcia in singles.

Soon, Medinah was covered with the waving blue flags of Europe.

Days later, it’s still hard to know exactly what happened. Maybe it’s a cosmic makeup for the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline. Or maybe it’s just golf.

Whatever it is, Love, Mickelson and Bradley will be thinking about it for a long time.

They won’t be alone.