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Late putting woes sink U.S. as Europe storms back to steal the Ryder Cup

Posted on 30 September 2012 by Drew Forrester

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…

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U.S.A. on the verge of bringing the Ryder Cup “back home”

Posted on 29 September 2012 by Drew Forrester

I’m sure Jose Maria Olazabal will be going to YouTube tonight to make a quick copy of Ben Crenshaw’s speech from the ’99 Ryder Cup in Boston.

His European team is in the exact same position as that ’99 USA squad, trailing 10-6 heading into the Sunday singles matches at this year’s edition of the Ryder Cup at Medinah CC in Chicago.

Until his team picked up two late points on Saturday afternoon, Olazabal wouldn’t have needed the Crenshaw video.  They would have needed a miracle, not a pep talk, had Ian Poulter and Luke Donald not pulled off rock-star putting displays late in their respective better-ball matches.

As it stands now, a 10-6 deficit is going to be difficult to overcome, but, as the European captain will no doubt remind his team, it has been done before.

The U.S. team needs 4.5 points (out of 12) to reclaim the Cup.  Europe needs 8 points to retain the Cup, as the defending titleist needs only to TIE the competition to win.

Here’s the match-by-match breakdown of Sunday’s singles competition.

Luke Donald (Europe) vs. Bubba Watson (USA) — Donald has more Ryder Cup competition than Watson, but the current Masters champ has played well this week at Medinah.  Advantage: Donald 

Ian Poulter (E) vs. Webb Simpson (U) — Poulter has been the best overall performer in the matches thus far, with his 5-birdie barrage at the end of Saturday’s play going down as one of the most electric back nines in Ryder Cup history.  Simpson, the U.S. Open champ this summer, has been solid for Davis Love III as well.  This should be one of the better match-ups of the Singles competition.  Advantage: Poulter

Rory McIlroy (E) vs. Keegan Bradley (U) — McIlroy has not played well at Medinah, particularly with his wedges and short-game clubs.  Bradley, meanwhile, has been the best ball striker on the U.S. team through the first two days.  How will he perform WITHOUT Mickelson at his side is the big question, but a win over McIlroy will prove that he can play well without the aid of a veteran cheerleader.  Advantage: McIlroy

Justin Rose (E) vs. Phil Mickelson (U) — Mickelson looked sharp in three rounds with Bradley and seems to have gained confidence in his new putting grip.  Rose hasn’t been sharp at all, with his unreliable short game hurting him Friday and Saturday.  Advantage:  Mickelson

Paul Lawrie (E) vs. Brandt Snedeker (U) — Lawrie is playing in his first Ryder Cup since 1999.  Snedeker is playing in his first one, ever.  Snedeker was hot and cold partnering with Jim Furyk, but when you’re the best putter on TOUR, like Brandt is, you’re always capable of pouring them in over 18 holes.  Advantage:  Snedeker

Nicolas Colsaerts (E) vs. Dustin Johnson (U) — The bombers get together for what should be a wild match of long drives and plenty of birdies.  Colsaerts was a captain’s pick and has proved a worthy one, as was Dustin Johnson, who teamed up with Matt Kuchar for the first two days of play.  Johnson did not play well in the Saturday afternoon match, but was bailed out by Kuchar’s hot putter.  Advantage:  Colsaerts

Graeme McDowell (E) vs. Zach Johnson (U) — McDowell has battling “the lefts” all week at Medinah and has been one of Europe’s least effective performers.  Johnson, meanwhile, had his own troubles with a faulty driver on Saturday afternoon.  Advantage:  Johnson

Sergio Garcia (E) vs. Jim Furyk (U) — Another match that could go either way, as both players have been hot and cold in the first two days.  Furyk has the experience edge over Garcia, but the Spaniard rises to the occasion in the Ryder Cup, a lot like his captain and the late Seve Ballesteros.  Advantage: Furyk

Peter Hanson (E) vs. Jason Duffner (U) — Hanson came in playing poorly and was used just once by Olazabal.  Dufner has been the second best American player overall, behind only Bradley.  Advantage:  Dufner

Lee Westwood (E) vs. Matt Kuchar (U) — A shaky short game has hurt Westwood in these matches and his putter has been among the coldest on the European team.  Kuchar has been terrific, combining great iron play with a scorching hot putter.  Advantage: Kuchar

Martin Kaymer (E) vs. Steve Stricker (U) — Kaymer, like Hanson, came into these matches on bad form and hasn’t impressed at all, playing just once in the first two days.  Stricker has hit the ball well, but his usually-solid putter hasn’t been up to par at all.  That won’t last for three days.  Advantage: Stricker

Francesco Molinari (E) vs. Tiger Woods (U) — Molinari is capable of playing solid golf but his putter has been erratic at Medinah.  Woods hasn’t played nearly as bad as his 0-3 record would indicate.  After a horrible round driving the ball in the Friday morning matches, Tiger rebounded with rounds of -5 and -6 in the better ball matches (with the typical match play concessions) and single-handedly kept the Saturday afternoon match alive with his great play.  Advantage:  Woods

Summary:  It’s just too much of a hurdle for the Europeans to overcome, although Olazabal was smart in sending out his three best players to start the singles matches.  He’s obviously hoping to get some early points and build some enthusiasm.  Love III countered with his better players (in this competition) early and then built some reserve on the back end with Kuchar, Stricker and Woods.  For Europe to mount a threat, they need strong performances from the guys who have played the worst (Hanson, Kaymer and Lawrie) thus far in the competition.  


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