The 39th Ryder Cup will be remembered for different reasons by the European and the American public.
The USA leading by 10 points to six with the singles matches to play and needing only 4.5 points out of 12 matches to take the trophy were seemingly headed for an easy ride. It was inconceivable to imagine that players of the ilk of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, and Steve Stricker, to name a few, would succumb to a struggling European team who had shown a lacklustre performance in the first two segments of the tournament. But succumb they did, led to victory almost singlehandedly by the best match-play artist the world has seen for many years – Ian Poulter – who with his maniacal stare took command of this Ryder Cup refusing to go down to the American team.
Who could blame Davis Love for thinking it was a done deal before that final day’s play, as the task was almost insurmountable for the Europeans? Davis had set up the course perfectly for his big-hitting players by shaving the rough and increasing the pace of the greens to lightning speed. For two days he seemed to have achieved his target, as the Europeans lipped out putts and were constantly out-driven by their opponents. But captain of the European team, Olazabel, who had dedicated the Ryder Cup to the great Severiano Ballesteros must have made an inspirational pre-match speech to his team, as they teed off on the final day with a new commitment.
Donald led the field, taking on Bubba Watson and clinically dispatching him to give the first match to the Europeans. The atmosphere was charged as the Americans tumbled one after another, with the blues dominating the early matches. The raucous USA crowd started to quieten ominously as the momentum switched to the Europeans. In the final match, Tiger Woods was pitted against Italian Molinari. On paper, Woods should have had the edge. A multiple major winner and coming off a season with three wins on the PGA Tour, it should have been no contest. But this was match-play and Woods had not been in touch with his game for the preceding two days. Standing in the 18th fairway, Woods was all square with Molinari, but the Ryder Cup had already been decided by German Martin Kaymer holing his par putt on the final green to reach 14 points for Europe and Woods could only watch somberly as the celebrations reigned ahead of him. Fittingly Woods lost the final hole missing a four-foot putt for par, but his heart was not in the putt.
Perhaps the fact that Jim Furyk bogeyed the final two holes to give Sergio Garcia the victory by one hole was more to the point, and may have been the beginning of the end for the American dream of lifting the trophy from Europe. But it could all have been so different had a State Trooper not given Rory McIlroy an escort through morning rush hour traffic to Medinah Golf Course after he overslept and was in danger of missing his tee time. But make it he did and polished off the newly adopted American hero Keegan Bradley who had paired so brilliantly with Phil Mickelson for the first two days.
Certainly the 39th Ryder Cup will go down in the history books as one of the greatest come-backs of all time, but it highlights the difference between Stroke-play and Match-play and the excitement that the game of golf can provide. The presence of Michael Jordan, Steve Phelps and Justin Timberlake throughout the week also shows the diversity of the game and can only contribute to the attraction of a sport that has reinvented itself as cool and accessible to all.
The final result 14.5 Europe to 13.5 USA cannot in fact do justice to an effort that will be cherished by all the players who took part in this epic match in 2012 – with the spirit of Ballesteros presiding.
(Photo: Martin Vojta/sxc.hu)