In an unlikely turn of events on Sunday at the 2012 Ryder Cup, Team Europe came from four points back to defeat the United States 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.
The European squad won eight of 12 singles matches to equal the greatest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history. They have now won the last two Ryder Cups, five of the last six, and seven of the last nine.
Europe entered the final day of competition needing an improbable eight points to retain the Ryder Cup and somehow managed to get 8 1/2, thanks to singles victories by Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Paul Lawrie, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Francesco Molinari halved the final match of the day against Tiger Woods for a then-meaningless half point because the outcome of the event had already been determined.
For the European team, it will be forever known as the "Miracle at Medinah." For the United States squad, "Miracle" will be replaced by "Meltdown."
I certainly wasn't alone in thinking this outcome wasn't going to happen. I knew it was possible, but I didn’t see it coming. After all, the U.S. team had too much momentum, they had the “home-field advantage,” and they had the hottest golfers.
As it turned out, none of that mattered as the European squad loaded their best players onto the front of their Sunday singles match lineup in an attempt to draw even with Team USA. They proceeded to accomplish that and more.
It was an epic collapse by the United States team, who entered the final day of competition needing just 4 1/2 points in the singles matches to reclaim the Ryder Cup. But the Americans could only muster wins by Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner in a monumentally disappointing effort.
Here are four reasons the U.S. team fell apart on Sunday.
In a number of Sunday singles matches, the United States squad just wasn't as good as Team Europe, especially when it mattered the most—on the final few holes.
Phil Mickelson was one-up heading to No. 17 and lost the last two holes to Justin Rose. Jim Furyk held a one-up advantage through 16 holes but lost to Sergio Garcia. Steve Stricker was all square with Martin Kaymer until he missed a seven-footer for par at No. 17 to go one-down and wasn't able to win the 18th for a halve. Webb Simpson couldn’t save par from the bunker at No. 17 and then lost the 18th with a conceded birdie to Ian Poulter.
If just one of those matches goes in a different direction, the outcome of the 2012 Ryder Cup is also different.
Furthermore, take a look at some of the scores. Brandt Snedeker shot even-par and lost 5 and 3 to Paul Lawrie. Matt Kuchar shot even par and lost 3 and 2 to Lee Westwood. Simpson shot even-par and lost two-up to Poulter. Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods were each one over par.
None of those players will tell you they played their best golf on this final day of the 39th Ryder Cup. It simply wasn't good enough.
There were too many U.S. players not at their best when the team needed only a handful to be precisely that.
It's easy to nitpick at the things Team USA could've done better in their attempt to take back the Ryder Cup, but when you get down to the harsh reality, the Europeans simply played better golf and you have to give them credit for an outstanding effort.
Despite a late comeback effort by Bubba Watson, Luke Donald outplayed him for most of their match in winning 2 and 1. Donald won four holes and shot four under par.
Paul Lawrie won seven holes and shot five under par in beating Brandt Snedeker. Justin Rose won six holes and shot five under par, including birdies on the final two holes to beat Phil Mickelson. Lee Westwood won five holes and shot three under par to beat Matt Kuchar. Ian Poulter won six holes and shot two under par to beat Webb Simpson.
Heck, even Rory McIlroy, showing up 11 minutes before his tee time, did what he had to do—winning five holes and shooting five under par to beat the U.S. team's hottest player, Keegan Bradley.
That is some good golf. Give credit where credit is due.
During their final press conference Sunday evening, Team USA was still answering questions about decisions that were made Saturday.
There wouldn't be any second-guessing if the United States had won the Ryder Cup, but since they didn't, it's fair game to look at two choices that were made Saturday—that ultimately might have affected the outcome on Sunday.
U.S. team captain Davis Love III made what appeared to be a difficult decision in sitting his hottest duo of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for the Saturday afternoon four-ball session. But apparently, it wasn't his decision at all.
Lefty and his energetic protege were fresh off a surprisingly easy 7 and 6 victory over Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. It was the all‑time record for the largest 18‑hole victory in a team match. Mickelson requested to sit out the afternoon segment. He had previously told Love he and Bradley were going to invest everything they had in their morning foursomes match and not to count on them in the afternoon.
"Keegan and I knew going in that we were not playing in the afternoon," Mickelson said in the U.S. team's final press conference. "And we said on the first tee, we are going to put everything we have into this one match because we are not playing the afternoon. And when we got to 10, I went to Davis and I said, 'Listen, you're seeing our best; you cannot put us in the afternoon because emotionally and mentally we are not prepared for it. And I know you're going to get pressure, because we're playing so good. But we have other guys that are dying to get out there, and we have mentally put everything into this match; we won't have anything later, and so you need to stay to our plan.'"
So, that one's on Mickelson, but he knows what he is capable of and you have to respect that request—and his honesty.
But resting Tiger Woods on Saturday morning might be coming back to bite Love now. It's one we can look back on and second-guess, of course. Love admitted as much in his Sunday night presser:
"Tiger not playing was a tough call," he said. "Tiger had, I think we figured out if it was a stroke‑play event the first two days, Tiger might have been leading, and it's hard to sit a guy out that's making seven birdies a round. We felt like alternate‑shot, that that would be a good spot for him to rest. You know, would I have liked to have had everybody on our team play four matches the first two days? Yeah, because they were all playing really, really well."
Tiger played poorly Friday morning during the foursomes session, but managed to reel off seven birdies that afternoon in the four-ball event, losing one-up to a red-hot Nicolas Colsaerts. Colsaerts had eight birdies and an eagle in his partnership with Lee Westwood. So, it appeared Tiger had a lot of momentum heading into Saturday morning, but he never got a chance to carry that momentum over quickly.
Did these decisions affect the outcome Sunday? When you're scraping for one point in a loss, they're certainly fair arguments to consider.
It's no secret that the Team Europe was playing this 39th Ryder Cup for one of the greatest golfers of all time and a European Ryder Cup legend, Seve Ballesteros. His image was emblazoned on their golf bags and their clothing and his spirit was in their hearts. Some of the European players even said they felt Seve was with them throughout the week.
Following their miraculous come-from-behind win, European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal said:
"Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor for this event, for the European side, and last night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and I think they did."
That seems to be the case. Team Europe believed, then they achieved what seemed to be impossible. Did the spirit of Seve Ballesteros have anything to do with that? Who's to say it didn't?