There was no Miracle in Minnesota for the Europeans. It was more Humdrum at Hazeltine as the Americans won the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008. It was a long awaited and well deserved victory, even if their fans let the side down at times with their boorish behaviour. We will have to put it down to their desperation to win back the famous old trophy. The victory was also redemption for American captain Davis Love III, who was the losing captain at Medinah in 2010 when Europe made the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history to win.
With Europe three points behind going into Sunday’s singles, captain Darren Clarke had no choice but to front load his team, putting out the big guns, Messrs. McIlroy, Stenson, Rose and Garcia, together with top performing rookies Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, to try and give Europe a strong start. It seemed to be working as Europe started brightly and were soon colouring the board blue. But there was always a feeling that the outcome of the mouthwatering opening tie between the two teams’ rabble-rousing star performers, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy, would decide the destiny of the trophy.
The front nine of the match produced one of the most staggering displays of golf ever seen, with both men storming to 5 under after only 8 holes. At times it was more akin to a boxing match, as the two slugged it out, trading birdies and the odd eagle, blow for blow, and whipping up the already frenzied crowd into near meltdown. The match reached its zenith on the 8th when McIlroy holed a monster 60ft putt and cheekily taunted the fans by cupping his ear in defiance. Patrick Reed clearly took it as a challenge. His response? A 25ft birdie of his own! Take that! Reed nearly imploded with delight while the crowd went bananas. McIlroy could only smile wryly at Reed’s one-upmanship. The two men bumped fists like ragged boxers acknowledging a grudging respect for each other.
The extraordinary level of play was physically and emotionally draining and couldn’t possibly last. McIlroy needed to win if Europe were going to stand any chance of a comeback, but on the back nine he started to wilt under the relentless onslaught of the pumped up American, who just couldn’t miss. Although McIlroy courageously took it to the last hole, Reed was never going to yield. With McIlroy’s defeat ended the European challenge.
No one had told Sergio Garcia though. If Mcllroy’s battle with Reed was a Rumble in the Jungle, then Garcia’s fight with Phil Mickelson was the Thriller in Manila. It was like a crazy golf putting contest as they exchanged birdie after birdie, hitting an incredible 19 birdies between them (10 for Phil, 9 for Sergio) to finish with 9 under par 63s. And all for a half point each! Sadly for Europe, the tide had already turned decisively in favour of the Americans, making the outcome of the match an anti-climax. The American team were simply too strong for the Europeans, winning 7 1/2 of the 12 singles, to triumph emphatically by 17 points to 11.
The intensity of the American players and fans was the defining feature of the tournament. The Americans were worthy winners. They wanted it more and the course was set up for their superior short game. Europe looked out of sorts throughout the contest and never really recovered from the opening morning 4-0 whitewash. Some of their most experienced players, such as Westwood, Willet and Kaymer, didn’t show up, and there were probably too many rookies in the team, though conversely, their biggest positive was the outstanding performance of rookies Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who competed like seasoned veterans, and too often showed up their more senior compatriots. Some of Darren Clarke’s decisions were also questionable, particularly for the crucial Saturday afternoon fourballs, breaking up the winning Spanish combination and playing the clearly out of form Willett and Westwood, whose capitulation in the final two holes was possibly the pivotal moment that tilted the Ryder Cup in America’s direction.
Nevertheless, an American victory was a good thing for the Ryder Cup. Sport needs competition to thrive, and the Ryder Cup has been too one sided in recent years. The US needed a win, not only to maintain their interest and motivation in the competition, but perhaps the Europeans’ as well. Europe looked a little jaded and played like a team bloated with success. Losing the Ryder Cup will, hopefully, reignite their desire to win it back at the first attempt. The fervour of the American gallery, though it spilled over into boorishness a little too frequently, also demonstrates a healthy passion and deep regard for the Ryder Cup, which can only be good for golf. Bring on Paris in 2018!