MEDINAH, Ill. – Conventional wisdom in the dark recesses of Saturday’s twilight suggested that at 12th in Sunday’s singles batting order the Ryder Cup would be over by the time Tiger Woods’ match reached a crescendo. They were right.
With America’s Achilles’ heel in the 18th fairway sheepishly kicking at the Medinah turf, much-maligned Martin Kaymer charged in a 6-footer 150 yards away to match the largest comeback in Ryder Cup history and return Samuel Ryder’s golden chalice back to the far side of the Atlantic Ocean.
On a surreal Sunday in this leafy Chicagoland enclave there was no Ben Crenshaw, no Justin Leonard, no ugly brawl in victory. This wasn’t Brookline, this was better – an away game in front of a hostile crowd with 12 angry men and the ghost of Seve Ballesteros gutting the United States’ cup chances one clutch putt at a time.
Kaymer’s par putt at the last put the finishing touches on a pitched match with Steve Stricker and completed an inspired European rally from a 10-6 hole few in this time zone figured possible, particularly with their star Rory McIlroy starting the day with a near-catastrophic time zone snafu.
On Saturday night, U.S. captain Davis Love III figured he didn’t have to remind any of his players about Brookline in 1999, the last time a team on the wrong end of a 10-6 Sunday start clawed its way to cup glory.
On Sunday, the Americans endured a crushing sequel, with the Europeans winning the day’s first five matches and closing the comeback with clutch victories by stalwarts Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. The late Ballesteros would have been proud.
On the eve of Sunday’s singles frame, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, whose understated style was in sharp contrast to his Spanish mentor, gathered his team and offered a simple message.
“Seve will always be present,” the emotional captain said. “He was a big factor for this event, for the European side, and last night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and I think they did.”
The September swoon seemed about right for the Chicago fans who are used to disappointment after more than a century of Cubs futility.
With the celebration in full bloom, Woods and Francesco Molinari finished their match with the American conceding a 4-footer to the Italian to halve his match and give the Europeans a 14 ½ to 13 ½ victory. That gives the Continent wins in eight of the last 10 biennial meetings.
It was a victory that six hours earlier seemed like wishful thinking, but from the outset of Sunday’s proceedings the vibe, and momentum, built exponentially for the Europeans.
Channeling Seve, and Marilyn Manson, the wild-eyed Poulter improved to 3-0 in singles play. If the Englishman played the Ryder Cup every week he’d have 19 majors, and an ulcer.
Whatever life remained in the European team room late Saturday was courtesy of Poulter, who birdied his last five holes – including 37 feet of birdie putts on his last three holes – in his fourball match against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson for a 1-up victory.
“Last night we took such a lot from those last two wins,” said Poulter, this Ryder Cup’s man of the match. “It was amazing to see the atmosphere change in that team room. You know what, guys were pumped up; for the first time this week we'd been beaten quite clearly, and we just felt there was that little glimmer of hope.”
It was a theme that built in Love’s ear throughout a cool, clear fall afternoon, with reports pouring in and none of them going the Americans’ way.
Paul Lawrie dropped a pitch into the hole at the fourth to take a 1-up lead on Brandt Snedeker and extended that advantage a hole later with an eagle putt. Luke Donald, in the day’s leadoff match, quickly pulled away from Bubba Watson, whose antics kept the raucous galleries on the edge of bedlam all week, and was 4 up through 12 holes.
By the time McIlroy closed out Keegan Bradley, 2 and 1, the rout was on. The world No. 1’s victory over the American rookie was compounded by the Ulsterman’s late arrival. With 10 minutes to spare and thanks to a police escort, that some could say led to Europe’s grand larceny of the Ryder Cup, McIlroy arrived at Medinah after he mistakenly thought Chicago was in the Eastern Time Zone. Had he missed that tee time the point would have gone to the Americans.
“If I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captain this week I would never forgive myself,” McIlroy said.
For Bradley the loss was the lone blemish on an otherwise stellar Ryder Cup card following a 3-0-0 start paired with Phil Mickelson in team play, and when the handwringing begins Monday morning it will likely be labeled one of Love’s missteps.
“Phil’s always got a plan,” said Love late Saturday when asked about his decision to sit Mickelson in Saturday’s fourball session despite a perfect start with Bradley. “He wanted to play two or three times the first two days and that’s his plan.”
Love’s “captain by committee” approach staked the U.S. to a four-point advantage heading into Sunday singles, but it also sent three rookies out in the final day’s first five matches which allowed the Europeans to quiet the crowd and pushed the Americans back on their heels for the first time all week.
But then captain criticizing ignores how well the Europeans played on Sunday, a truth embodied by the fact that Jason Dufner – who beat Peter Hanson, 2 up, in the fourth-to-last-match – was the only American to go the distance (18 holes) and come away with a victory.
“I wouldn't have done anything different,” Love figured in fading light.
On Sunday, however, the plan ran into a hot-putting group of Europeans with something to prove. Replete in navy blue and white, Ballesteros’ signature uniform, they played golf like the Spaniard, with passion and purpose.
“To be honest with you I was thinking about (Seve) on the 18th,” Kaymer said. “I was also thinking about Olazabal and how much that trophy means to him. We had to win that trophy for him.”
On Friday as foursome play got underway a team of skywriters carved a message into the fall sky, “Do it for Seve.” With an epic Sunday rally, they did.
Relive Day 2 matches Monday at 8 p.m. ET and the singles matches Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.