Moments abound as Europe makes Ryder Cup comeback
Every once and a while, something happens in the world of sports that’s unexplained. Something that you don’t expect to happen, and yet, against all odds, the world’s best athletes are elevated to gods and reduced to mere mortals. Late on Saturday at the Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter gave us a small example of this. It was a great performance to be sure, but we’ve seen golfers go lights out before. Sunday’s Ryder Cup though was one of those rare moments where it seemed like everything stopped, and everyone had eyes on Medinah, watching as Team Europe was staging one of the most incredible comebacks in sports history. Team Europe came back from an 10-6 deficit to defeat Team USA 14.5-13.5, and it is a day I’ll never forget as a sports fan.
Sure, there are times when the sports world focuses on golf. The four majors, especially the Masters, brings out a ton of casual golf fans. Throw Tiger Woods into the mix and even more come out of the woodwork. But, these days, golf has taken a backseat to more exciting, faster moving and violent sports. For a few brief fleeting hours, golf was the focus of the entire sporting world. Of course, we had this same situation not even a week ago when the replacement referees in the NFL were driving the final nail into the coffin of their employment, and destroying the last little bit of leverage the NFL had with the locked out referees. The difference this time though was that the focus wasn’t on the negative outcome of the event, it was on the purely amazing sequence of events that only sports can provide. Golf fan or not, supporter of Europe or the United States, those that watched the final day of the Ryder Cup were treated to moments that will be lodged in their minds forever. From the weirdness of Rory McIlroy not knowing what timezone he was in, to the mesmerizing performance of Justin Rose and the heartbreaking collapse of Jim Furyk, Sunday at Medinah provided more storylines, drama and intrigue than you’ll see for a long time.
Yes, the Americans rallied from an 10-6 deficit to win at Brookline in 1999, so I guess on some level, that should minimize the odds of how unlikely this result was, but it doesn’t, at least not to me. Europe started out hot, led by former world number one Luke Donald, who more than anyone embodies the steady and measured play that Europe has become known for. Poulter started slow by his standards against Webb Simpson, but when he needed to, he took over his match. McIlroy, once he got to the course, took it to Keegan Bradley, and even though they were tied at times, McIlroy always seemed like he was in control. Rose and Phil Mickelson enjoyed a fantastic back and forth, which was probably the best overall match on the day, and while Mickelson had a 1-up lead heading to 17, it definitely felt more like a Rose win than a Mickelson loss when it was all over. Paul Lawrie dominated Brandt Snedeker, and for the first time in the event, Lee Westwood looked like the former world number one that he is, taking care of Matt Kuchar.
There will be plenty of discussion about Furyk and his leaky performance against Sergio Garcia. Like Mickelson, Furyk also had a 1-up lead heading to 17 before missing a pair of short putts leading to bogeys, and allowing Garcia to win both holes with a pair of pars. Furyk was definitely the most contentious of Davis Love’s captain’s picks, with recent collapses at both the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone. Those tournaments are big enough, but there’s a different kind of pressure in a Ryder Cup, and it seemed like Furyk wasn’t able to handle it. Another one of Love’s captain’s picks, Steve Stricker, certainly didn’t look much better at any point during the event, not winning a single point for his team, and losing the penultimate match against Martin Kaymer.
Kaymer, by the way, provided another pair of moments that may not have been noticed, but they are worth mentioning. Go back and look at any Ryder Cup preview articles on the European team and Kaymer was likely listed as the team’s weak link. Another former world number one, Kaymer has been battling poor results, and is going through a swing change. Captain Jose Maria Olazabal clearly didn’t have a ton of faith in him, sitting him down for all but one session, before having to play him in the Sunday singles, and when he needed to, he hit solid shots and drained tough putts, including the won to clinch the victory for his side.
As for Tiger Woods, it was a disappointing few days. He never got on track with Stricker, and when he finally started to play well on Saturday afternoon, it was too late to overcome the strong play of Donald and Garcia. It was the same Tiger we’ve been watching all year, great shots and terrible ones, and shockingly, he didn’t have a chance to play a part in the win or the loss in the anchor position on Sunday. For a Ryder Cup with many moments to remember, not having anything memorable from Tiger feels a little off, but welcome to the world of golf in 2012.
As Jason Sobel pointed out on Twitter, the narrative in North America was that it was an American win in 1999 at Brookline, but this time, the focus won’t be on the greatness of Europe on Sunday, it’ll be on an American collapse. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair or unfair. The reality is, it’s a probably a little bit of both, with great and poor play on both sides. Yes, Europe retained the Ryder Cup, but what I’ll remember is the way that it happened. Moments of dizzying highs and tremendous lows. Golf may never recapture what it had on Sunday, but much like 1999 at Brookline, 2012 at Medinah will never be forgotten.