Momentum. That is what the Ryder Cup and matchplay is all about. In the foursomes and fourballs on Friday and Saturday Europe were fighting against a red tide as the scoreboard, and the cup itself, seemed to be getting away from them. Europe managed to stem this tide on Saturday afternoon in the fourballs; it paved the way for a great comeback. In a historical Sunday Singles session in Chicago they awoke a different team full of passionate intensity. In the end they won the singles 8 ½ to 3 ½. An almost unprecedented turnaround that meant they took the Ryder Cup back across the Atlantic having triumphed 14 ½ to 13 ½. Sport doesn’t need a script writer.
On Saturday afternoon in the fourballs Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald reached the turn four up. On the back nine Tiger Woods finally found his Ryder Cup legs as Steve Stricker and himself pressed the European pair down the much vaunted closing holes; this would be no easy point. The Americans were just one down standing on the 17th tee. A rejuvenated Woods duly stuck his tee shot to five feet. As dusk descended on Medinah the Ryder Cup was slipping away from Europe but some twilight defiance from the Europeans saw them clinging on. First it came in the form of cool-hand Luke who stuck his tee shot on 17 inside Tiger’s. The two made birdie. Europe remained one up. Stricker had a putt for the half point on 18. Uncharacteristically he missed. The Europeans had managed to weather the onslaught from the American elder statesmen and claim the first blue point of the afternoon. Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter’s match took on an added significance; it was the glimmer that Olazabel’s men needed. If Europe could sneak in 10-6 down they were still in with a chance. A similar deficit had been overturned in Brookline in 1999 by the Americans – a 4 point margin was not insurmountable. Poulter has blue blood running in his veins. This was evidenced in his five straight birdies to give Europe the point. Momentum, the critical invisible hand in this biennial match, had finally taken on a blue hue.
As Sunday dawned the improbable was possible. And nobody believed it more than the 12 Europeans. Olazabel stacked his big guns at the top of the order knowing that if he could get some early points on the board they could mount a serious challenge. But the role of captain quickly becomes that of facilitator once he has sent his troops out with emotive words echoing onto the first tee. Seve’s towering presence was clearly utilised for this purpose. Now though the talking was over and it was time for the golf.
Luke Donald, with his typically understated way of doing things, led from the front. He was 4 up with 4 holes to play – dormie 4 in golf parlance. The best Bubba Watson could do was a half point but that was unlikely. However Bubba, ala his first tee-box antics, would not go quietly. He birdied 15 before chipping in on the 16th whipping the crowd into a frenzy with his fist pumps. The magic stopped there as they halved 17 in 3s and Donald secured Europe’s first point.
Poulter’s steely determination and passion have confirmed him as a Ryder Cup great. He has mirrored Seve this week, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The pressure he exerted on rookie Webb Simpson told on the short par three 8th when Simpson had a shank – this was the worst shot seen over the three days. Clutch putts have been Poulter’s preserve all week and this singles match was no different. He finished with two threes to beat current US Open Champion Simpson.
The tardy McIlroy seemed unaffected as he dispatched of Keegan Bradley 2 & 1. Bradley had been imperious on the greens over the three days and was the best rookie this week forging an unbeatable partnership with Phil Mickelson. But in the singles the world number one proved too much for Bradley. Paul Lawrie wiped the floor with the 10 million dollar man Brandt Snedeker beating him 5 & 3. Justin Rose versus Mickelson was a classic. 1 up with 2 to play Mickelson removed the flag from off the green on 17 and as is his remit he nearly holed the chip. The home supports raucous celebrations were curtailed as Rose sank a 40-footer to win the hole. They were all-square going down the last. Mickelson over-shot the 18th green with the adrenalin levels running high. Rose stuck his approach in to twelve feet and rolled the putt in to his own disbelief – afterwards he said he couldn’t help but glimpse down at the silhouette on his sleeve. From here Europe knew it was on. The Johnson’s settled the American ship with two points. It was the only red of the day so far. However a monumental European comeback was evinced when Furyk’s match slipped away from him on the final two holes. His putting has kept him from the winner’s podium on the tour this year and it did him no favours here as Garcia finished with two pars to beat him in a match that the American should not have lost. Westwood confirmed his world ranking by delivering a point having to tap-in a gimmie on 16 for a 3 & 2 win.
Martin Kaymer on the 18th green had two putts to retain the cup for Europe. He made it difficult for himself knocking the first 6ft by the hole. Stricker sank his for a four heaping the pressure on the German. Kaymer confidently stroked the putt into the cup. His face was a cross of jubilation and relief as he was rushed by his teammates. As the final match came up the last Tiger had a short putt to win his match; he missed it. In what was a sporting gesture reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus with Tony Jacklin Tiger gave Molinari his putt and Europe the outright win – much to the bookies dismay.
Europe’s momentum, generated by Poulter on Saturday evening, had never abated. A historic Chicago Sunday saw Europe take the Samuel Ryder Cup back with them across the Atlantic in what was the greatest of escapes.