This was the big prize. You could tell how badly the United States Ryder Cup team wanted to win this competition with its European counterparts from the moment the golfers got to Medinah Country Club in suburban Chicago for practice sessions early in the week.
The U.S. golfers were tired of being punching bags and were determined to prove it on the golf course.
For two days, it was nearly perfect, as the U.S. played golf with skill and emotion. In the team portion of the game that seems made for Europeans, the United States had a 10-6 lead.
All they had to do was finish off with a decent Sunday showing, and they would have taken the Ryder Cup for the second straight time on U.S. soil.
But instead of seizing the opportunity, the U.S. choked on it. The Europeans certainly played well, but it was the American players who had leads going into the 17th tee in seemingly all of the important matches and then gave them away.
That's not what is supposed to happen.
Remember the emotion on Friday and Saturday when Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were pumping each other up with fist bumps, high fives and roars usually heard at college football games?
Bradley had little of that in his Sunday competition with Rory McIlroy. Any time the nervous Bradley would play well for a couple of holes, McIlroy would spank Bradley and send him back to his caddy with a severe bruising.
Mickelson was able to hold it together for most of the match, but when he had a narrow miss on 17 for a close-out shot, Justin Rose rolled in a miracle that Mickelson simply could not believe. He had the etiquette to applaud, but he was clearly in shock. You just knew after that that Rose would win the 18th hole and the match, and he did.
How about big Bubba Watson calling on the crowd to whoop it up for his opening-tee shot on Friday?Watson played like a warrior during the first two days of the competition, but he was a soft baby lamb on Sunday. Luke Donald came out all business, jumped out to an early lead and never gave it back.
Brandt Snedeker was winning the FedEx Cup playoffs a week ago, but today, he showed he was just a wannabe. He was whipped 5-and-3 by Paul Lawrie. Is Lawrie an all-time great who will go down in the history books? No. He's just a solid golfer who was focused on what he had to do.
And then there's Tiger Woods. Despite all the difficulties he has been through, he is supposed to be one of the game's all-time great golfers. He's the best golfer on the U.S. team.
He was 0-2 on Friday. He was 0-1 on Saturday. He was in the clean-up position on Sunday, and it appeared for much of the late afternoon that his match would be vital in determining the outcome. When Martin Kaymer made his par putt on 18 against Steve Stricker to close out the competition, Woods' match against Francesco Molinari no longer mattered.
Woods was probably breathing a sigh of relief. He couldn't shake Molinari, and even though Woods was up by one going into the last hole, Molinari ended up halving the match.
Woods collapsed at the Ryder Cup throughout the weekend, and his teammates followed his lead on Sunday.
It's one more humiliation for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The Europeans win almost all of the time in Europe and more than hold their own in the U.S.
Call it a European rally or a U.S. choke. Either way, the European team is simply better and the U.S. golfers will have to live with it for another two years—and probably a lot longer.