When Davis Love III added Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker to the U.S. Ryder Cup team a month ago, he did so with the thought that both were reliable in pressure situations.
It turns out he was wrong.
Furyk bogeyed the final two holes on Sunday afternoon and Stricker mis-hit an easy chip at 17 as both players lost pivotal matches in the final hour of the competition to help Europe pull off a stunning reversal en route to a 14.5 – 13.5 victory at Medinah CC.
As efficient as the United States players were around and on the greens on Friday and Saturday, they were that dodgy on Sunday, with poor chipping and putting contributing more than anything to their miserable afternoon in the singles matches.
Only four U.S. players earned points on Sunday. Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner won their matches outright and Tiger Woods halved his match with Francesco Molinari after the outcome had been decided just moments earlier.
Everyone else lost.
And the Europeans were simply spectacular on Sunday, led by Ian Poulter, who clearly earned “Man of the Cup” honors with his 4-0-0 record and unreal putting display on Saturday and Sunday.
Surprisingly enough, three of the European players who had stunk it up throughout the first two days turned heroic on Sunday. Paul Lawrie pounded Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood whacked Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer outlasted Stricker by making a 6-footer at 18 to clinch the Cup.
The proceedings officially changed with the Justin Rose/Phil Mickelson match. Leading 1-up at 17, Mickelson nearly holed a tricky chip shot from above the green before settling for a tap-in par. Rose than slammed in an improbable 40-foot putt that would have gone by the hole at least six feet had it not gone in. Then at 18, Rose rolled in a 12-footer for birdie to steal a full point from Mickelson and the USA. If you weren’t concerned before that point, you started to think “the U.S. might be in trouble” when Rose stroked his winning putt on the final hole.
It didn’t get better after that.
Furyk stumbled down the stretch the same way he did in this summer’s U.S. Open. He missed a par putt at 17 that would have guaranteed a half-point, then three-putted from 45 feet behind the hole at 18, badly whiffing on an 8-foot putt at the final hole and handing Garcia a full point.
Stricker was over-par for the day, as was Woods, and his usually-reliable putter failed him at 17 when he wasn’t able to convert a par-putt from below the hole. Kaymer, who was playing so poorly coming into the event that captain Jose Maria Olazabal told him on Wednesday he’d probably only play once on Friday and Saturday, bumped in a downhill 4-footer for par at 17 and then made the clinching putt at 18 after running his first one six feet past the hole.
Depending on which team you were pulling for, the weekend will be remembered as “The Miracle at Medinah” or “The Meltdown at Medinah”.
The U.S. team won’t live this one down for a long time.
They were in complete control heading to Sunday. At one point on Saturday, Davis Love III’s team was ahead 10-4 and seemingly in rout mode. But the Europeans won the final two matches on Saturday, including the historical putting display from Poulter, who finished the better-ball session with five straight birdies to pull his team to within four at 10-6.
That set up the singles pairings, where the two captains tried to position their teams in the best possible position for either a Sunday revival (Europe) or a Sunday reclamation (USA). Jose Maria Olazabal went with strength early in an effort to close the gap and get momentum on his side. Love III countered by putting his veterans and best putters near the back end of the 12-man field in the event he needed some reliable performers to close the deal late in the day.
As fate would have it, both captains were right, hunch-wise. Olazabal got terrific early play from Luke Donald, Poulter and Rory McIlroy and Love’s “veteran triangle” of Furyk, Stricker and Woods seemed a safe bet to secure a handful of points if necessary.
Only Woods – who certainly didn’t play well on Sunday but was better overall than his 0-3-1 mark showed – managed a half-point out of the three, which turned out to be the killer blow for the U.S.
Love III will be questioned over and over about his decision to leave the red-hot duo of Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson out of the Saturday afternoon matches. But the captain put a plan together earlier in the week and stuck with it. He told every player they wouldn’t play all four of the Friday-Saturday team matches and he held true to that decision. And when the U.S. team led 10-6 heading into Sunday’s singles competition, no one was really questioning the decisions Love III made on Saturday.
The story of the 2012 Ryder Cup will likely center on the outrageous play of Ian Poulter and the trio of Furyk, Woods and Stricker collecting a TOTAL of 1.5 points in three days. Unfortunately for guys like Dufner and the two Johnson’s, no one is going to remember how well those three played on Sunday with the whole world watching them.
It’s the best event golf has to offer, even more nerve-wracking then the back nine at Augusta on Sunday.
And this weekend at Medinah, we were reminded once again how truly special the best 24 golfers in the world can be…