2012 Ryder Cup Sunday Singles: Previewing Every Match
From beginning to end, Saturday's proceedings at Medinah Country Club fostered levels of excitement and emotion even rare for a Ryder Cup.
Cue the video of Ian Poulter whipping the crowd into full-cheer mode and swiping at his first tee shot while those fanatics continued to scream. A tactic to thwart Bubba Watson's use of the same idea, it was a brilliant opening display on what would be a remarkable day.
Doesn't suit your fancy? Then I offer you the energy that jitterbug Keegan Bradley and a reborn Phil Mickelson brought in ambushing world Nos. 3 and 4, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. An enthusiasm best exemplified by Bradley's most jubilant of reactions after sinking a birdie putt to go 5-up heading to the 10th tee.
The treacherous 17th proved to be just as dramatic as advertised, only in a different way. The splashes that were sure to come under such pressure were largely absent, as players instead treated the par-3 like a dartboard, firing lasers all around the hole as they battled feverishly for dominance.
Tiger Woods, again, posted five birdies on the back nine and, again, fell just short as his clutch shots down the stretch didn't seem to faze his determined opponents.
If all that still wasn't enough, the wide-eyed Ian Poulter provided a display of serious bravado, birdieing 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 to turn a match the Euros looked ready to lose into a full point that has kept keep them within striking distance.
It was indeed an eventful day, one of the most exhilarating in Ryder Cup history, and it wasn't even the finish.
That will happen Sunday. Twelve singles matches will determine who will win the 39th Ryder Cup. If you thought Saturday produced drama, wait until the two teams fight it out to the final bell Sunday.
What should we expect from this crucial set of showdowns? Can the Europeans pull off the reverse Brookline miracle in Chicago? Here's a breakdown of what to look for in each match and my (likely) useless predictions about who will come out victorious:
1. Bubba Watson vs. Luke Donald
A serious contrast of style here. Watson freewheels it with booming drives and a great ability to recover from spots that may not be deemed even part of planet Earth.
On the other hand, Donald pokes his ball out a mere 270-280 yards and uses precision with his irons (and especially his world-renowned putting game) to bury opponents.
It's key for Watson to get hot early here. He's an incredibly streaky player who feeds off of positive energy like few others in the game. But, if he can't separate himself, a plodding, patient Donald could pounce as Watson's self-doubts kick in.
Watson has looked great in a team format the first two days, but in singles he won't fair quite as well.
Prediction: Donald 3&2
2. Webb Simpson vs. Ian Poulter
Both these men have serious fire in their guts. Poulter may be more outward about it, but Simpson also has that drive to win a match at all costs.
Like Watson, Simpson doesn't stop making birdies once he starts. In 27 holes of four-ball this week, the 27-year-old has pieced together 11 birdies on his own ball, including a streak of four in a row midway through his Saturday afternoon match.
Poulter topped him though, rallying in his Saturday afternoon match with five consecutive birdies to close.
This will be a serious test of wills.
While Simpson is streaky like Watson, he's far better at putting behind setbacks. He did have to finish second on the PGA Tour twice before winning after all.
Poulter has won all three of his previous Ryder Cup singles matches, but win No. 4 will have to wait at least two years.
Prediction: Simpson 1-up
3. Keegan Bradley vs. Rory McIlroy
For the Saturday afternoon matches, U.S. Captain Davis Love III made an interesting decision in sitting Bradley and Phil Mickelson. Together they had won all three of their matches, closed out their last one with ease at 7&6 and generally appeared the best team among the bunch.
But, it seems Love erred on the side of caution, resting the duo that afternoon in order to get their best play out in singles. This will be the first sign if that strategy is working.
Bradley has look as invested in this event as any player in the past two decades and has looked unflappable in three matches thus far.
However, how will he deal with the adversity of facing the world's No. 1? McIlroy has put a stranglehold on that spot after a month of incredible play and appears a man on a mission in these Ryder Cup matches.
What will happen when McIlroy skies a 220-yard second shot five feet from the cup? Or if he puts Bradley down in a match, something the young American has rarely faced this week?
In the end, Bradley is the ultimate gamer. With an afternoon off to hone his game for Sunday, he should be in top form and relishing the chance to take down Europe's crowned prince.
McIlroy has tried to put together a good performance at Medinah, but the returns are middling so far at best. Not much will change on Sunday as Bradley throttles Europe's No. 1 (no need for Tiger here).
Prediction: Bradley 5&4
4. Phil Mickelson vs. Justin Rose
Clearly, both captains went with the strategy of putting their biggest guns first. They both want to establish momentum for their side early, Love wants to crush any hopes of a European comeback and Captain José María Olazábal wants to spark them.
Mickelson, a perennial Ryder Cup flameout, has looked like a kid in a candy store playing with Bradley. Three matches, three victories and Lefty has been stalwart for this team.
Rose has been less brilliant, but decidedly steady, posting two victories and two losses. The Englishman isn't the most flamboyant character, but he has a steely reserve. He may not look the part, but he won't back down from a fight.
That spirit is a big key in singles match play and should serve Rose well. Yes, Mickelson has looked great this week, but now he's on his own. Without his buddy Keegan by his side, Mickelson just won't have the youthful energy necessary to topple Rose.
It'll be close, but Rose will be the victor.
Prediction: Rose 2&1
5. Brandt Snedeker vs. Paul Lawrie
Can't say these two have much in common.
Snedeker is a rising star on the PGA Tour while Lawrie is a one-time major winner who has come back to life in recent years. The 31-year-old American is a fidgety player who thinks the faster, the better. The 43-year-old Scot is calm and deliberate, not necessarily a slow player, but one who takes ample time over shots. Snedeker lives by the flatstick, Lawrie finds comfort in his irons.
All in all, these two are about as different as opponents could be. So, which personality will win out?
Well, Snedeker has been more impressive in his two matches, fighting to the wire both times. Lawrie couldn't get to the 15th tee in his first match, and, while he did get to the 18th in his second, he fell to 0-2 after failing to win that hole.
This may seem to point in favor of Snedeker, but for some reason Lawrie seems the better pick. Snedeker can get too excited at times, a huge flaw for one playing a Ryder Cup singles match Sunday.
Few fear Lawrie, but the sneaky Scot who once came from 10 shots back in one day to win the Open Championship will surprise on the most important of days.
Prediction: Lawrie 3&2
6. Dustin Johnson vs. Nicolas Colsaerts
Kudos to both captains for putting these two together. Not only are both these guys long hitters, they may in fact be the professional game's two longest hitters.
It will be bombs away for this pair off the tee, as drives climb past the 350-yard range and may even reach 400 (Colsaerts did in fact hit a drive 403 yards Saturday afternoon).
Also don't sleep on either player on the green. Johnson made a clutch 20 footer to preserve a win in his match Saturday afternoon, and Colsaerts experienced the high and lows of the short game. The Belgian poured in almost every putt he looked at Friday (a la Retief Goosen at Shinnecock Hills in 2004), but could get virtually nothing to drop on Saturday. In the afternoon alone, he lipped out five
putts, two of them horseshoeing out completely.
So watch them (especially Colsaerts) putt as well, otherwise you might miss something special (whether it be agonizing or spectacular).
The edge here will go to Colsaerts who, although he made very little Saturday, has been hitting good putts for two days. His flatstick is definitely less of a crutch than Johnson's balky putter.
Prediction: Colsaerts 4&3
7. Zach Johnson vs. Graeme McDowell
If not for a miraculous closing charge from Ian Poulter, the short-hitting Johnson would've finished Day Two at 3-0 for this year's Ryder Cup. Instead, he is 2-1, but his game has looked sharp all week.
The same cannot be said for McDowell. After putting a solid performance together in victory with McIlroy Friday morning, the Northern Irishman has been out of sorts since. He lost his next two matches and overall looked in poor form.
If anything though, McDowell is a fighter. He will be determined to win his singles match and to finish on a strong note in what has so far been a less-than-stellar performance.
The 33-year-old just has to play better than what he has plopped out in the previous two matches.
Expect him to, but it will be a bit too little to beat Johnson. A grinder in his is own right, the Cedar Rapids product will end his already impressive week on a strong note, although it won't quite be a full point.
8. Jim Furyk vs. Sergio Garcia
This is actually a rematch of sorts, as Furyk handled Garcia rather easily on the final day of the 1999 Ryder Cup. Not everything is the same 13 years later, though.
Furyk now has a major and a solid career resume and Garcia is not the star that he was once destined to be.
Garcia, a Ryder Cup stalwart, has looked in poor form this week, as he has gained just one of three possible points thus far.
At 1-1, Furyk, a controversial captain's pick, has been OK, or downright fantastic if you're comparing his play this week to the rest of his putrid Ryder Cup record.
One of the game's best putters, the 42-year-old Furyk seems perfectly suited for one-on-one match play, and he has gone 4-2-1 in his seven Ryder Cup singles matches.
Garcia has actually been pretty mediocre in this format, going 1-4 in singles over the years.
The tide will turn Sunday though. Garcia is a dormant volcano waiting to erupt and on this Sunday, he will be doing the handling.
Prediction: Garcia 5&4
9. Jason Dufner vs. Peter Hanson
This match will have "must avoid" stamped on its forehead for the TV networks. Do I mean to say that these two will put together a boring match devoid of good golf shots? No, in fact, with the ball-striking prowess of Dufner there should be plenty to cheer for.
It's really the personalities of these two that are so off-putting for a TV audience. They are both mild-mannered guys with very little affinity for showing emotion (especially Dufner). Tiger Woods did call Dufner one of the funniest people he's ever met, but that won't resonate with viewers unless they have proof.
Anyway, there isn't much to make of here. Dufner is an incredible ball-striker who doesn't have the greatest dedication to putting (although he is far from terrible at it). Hanson isn't as crisp with his irons, but he's more well rounded. Neither his ball-striking or putting is lacking.
What does it all add up to?
Pretty much a tie. Maybe this match will be boring after all.
10. Matt Kuchar vs. Lee Westwood
These two certainly have to be on the opposite ends of the confidence spectrum. Kuchar has putted fantastically in his two matches, helping to win both. Westwood has missed more putts in two days than some pros miss in a year, resulting in two losses in three matches (his third match was a win, but he might as well have been Nicolas Colsaerts' butler considering the absolute zero he did to help him out).
After being benched Saturday afternoon, Westwood will likely being searching for a big day in singles in an effort to redeem himself a bit.
Match play does come down to putting, though, and Kuchar has far and away the advantage here. Westwood could hit every single green Sunday, but if Kuchar is holing his 20 footers and Westwood is missing his chance from five feet, that great approach is of no use.
The frustration will continue for Westwood, as Kuchar flashes his rye smile in victory.
Prediction: Kuchar 2&1
11. Steve Stricker vs. Martin Kaymer
As noted before, the captains of each team are trying to put their best players out first in order to provide a spark. That leaves the golfers playing the worst to carry the rear.
This Stricker/Kaymer battle definitely doesn't refute that point.
In the 2009 edition of the Presidents Cup, the debut of the Stricker/Woods team was a smashing success, as they rolled to a 4-0 record and appeared to solve the dilemma of who exactly should be partnered with the 14-time major champion.
But four years later, this duo has crumbled. In three matches at the 2012 Ryder Cup, they have yet to score a point, falling well behind in their matches early and making late charges to the finish that ultimately comes up short.
It's been evident that Stricker has not been on his A-game this week, and when he missed a six-foot birdie putt to halve his Saturday afternoon match, he let a big opportunity go for the Americans.
Kaymer, once a world No. 1, hasn't been terrible in this Ryder Cup, but he has too small a sample size. He's played only one match (which he lost), hardly enough to judge how his game is progressing this week.
He has, however, only been in one match for a reason. The German, who was such a steady force two years ago, has really plummeted in the golfing world and doesn't appear worthy of being a Ryder Cupper. It may be harsh, but Captain Olazábal certainly agrees if his aversion to putting Kaymer in is any indication.
Neither player looks very good right now, but Kaymer looks entirely incapable of taking down a world-class player in Stricker in match play. No surprises here for the soft-spoken Wisconsin man.
Prediction: Stricker 4&3
12. Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari
An interesting placement here for Tiger Woods. It may seem that Captain Love, by putting Woods in the anchor spot, is trusting him to pull through if the Ryder Cup comes down to this final match.
Not so much. In all likelihood, the Ryder Cup will have been decided before this match, something Love knows, so sticking Woods here is a sign that the captain just doesn't want him to hurt the American team.
After all, the former world No. 1 is 0-3 in this Ryder Cup (granted he hasn't played as poorly as his record says) and has really been a disappoint for an American team that has looked more energized than ever before.
He'll be facing a Molinari character whom he beat handily two years ago in Ryder Cup singles (Woods played the first 15 holes in 9 under par in that match), but don't expect the same result.
Woods has been awesome in Ryder Cup singles (4-1-1), however his nightmare this week will continue Sunday. He will walk off the grounds of Medinah without contributing a single point to the American victory.
Prediction: Molinari 1-up
Final: U.S. wins 15-13
It appears that the Americans will lose the singles 7-5, but will win the matches 15-13. For the second consecutive time, the Americans will take care of business on home soil. More importantly, it seems a new era of the Ryder Cup is upon us.
The American finally seems to be putting as much heart into this event as the Euros. The turning point was probably the back-to-back 18.5-9.5 shellackings at the hands of Europe in 2004 and 2006. Since those embarrassments, the Americans have been as determined as ever to prove their dominance in this event.
The new breed of young American stars seem to be latching onto the Ryder Cup as if their life depends on it.
This victory is not just a good sign for American golf, but possibly an indication that the Ryder Cup is heading into a Golden Era.
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