Europe’s stunning comeback to win the 39th Ryder Cup 14.5-13.5 Sunday afternoon at Medinah Country Club was the biggest recorded ever on foreign soil, and equals the great American comeback at Brookline in 1999.
Trailing by the same 10-6 margin, Team Europe needed eight out of the 12 total points from the singles session to pull it off and they ended up winning 8.5.
The comeback that the Golf Channel called tonight on Live from the Ryder Cup “The Miracle at Medinah" happened for five reasons, and those who follow the game could have seen it coming.
Historically, the last day of play has been something that benefits the American team. As a team, they normally do not bond as well and play together as closely like their European counterparts. So when the Americans held onto a four-point lead going into what most had assumed looked like the strongest part of their game, it looked pretty much like a done deal.
When you add the potential distraction of Rory McIlroy nearly missing his tee time before his match this afternoon, one could certainly get the sense that Europe was playing as not the one solid and cohesive unit we had all been used too.
Like objects in a car mirror, looks can be deceiving.
If there was a moment late Saturday that one could have looked at and said maybe it was possible, it was watching the end of Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy’s match with Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
Two-down after 12 holes, the look on Poulter’s face changed and he started getting in that zone on the greens like he did on the front side at the PGA Championship at Kiawah on Sunday. Not only did everything seem to go in at will, he looked more and more entranced as they took the lead.
There are moments in sports where leaders emerge and Saturday, Poulter lifted McIlroy on his shoulders and took a point most thought would go to the Americans.
The lasting image of McIlroy’s face of not being sure if Poulter was going to hug or slug him after the win was priceless.
Sunday, Poulter was rewarded by being second man out against Webb Simpson, but he struggled early getting two-down after four holes. Like Saturday, Poulter kept his patience and just waited to make is move.
Like Simpson, Poulter just is not all that long off the tee and missing the fairway was not a penalty if not in the sand.
By the eighth hole, Poulter had squared the match and in the end, he justified Captain Olazabal’s faith in him with a big two-up win
Paul Lawrie came into Sunday as the feel-good story of a player that has waited 13 years to return to the Ryder Cup and opened up looking lost after getting hammered with Peter Hanson Friday afternoon by Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson five-and-four.
Saturday afternoon, he was paired with the white-hot Nicolas Colsaerts and lost his second match of the weekend. This time it was a better two-and-one loss to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Still, something must have caught Olazabal’s eye Saturday as he was put fifth in the order and drew Brandt Snedeker.
The players least likely to score were put in the bottom of the order, and if there was a comeback to be had. then Lawrie had to at least secure a half point. Turns out he had the largest winning margin of the day by scoring the biggest early upset with a five-and-three win.
Martin Kaymer, on the other hand, had been in a season-long slump and—despite earning his place on the team—very little was expected from Kaymer, or Lawrie for that matter, coming in.
Kaymer had only played in one match coming into Sunday and that was a loss with Justin Rose to Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson, so his placement of 11th in the order was not all that much of a surprise and pretty much was as close to a concession as one can make.
Yet, as word of Europe’s comeback trickled through the course, Kaymer found the form that earned him the 2010 PGA Championship and started to outplay the seemingly tired Steve Stricker.
Whatever problems Kaymer had going in were gone and his play on the last two holes sealed the Ryder Cup.
All through the week, American Captain Davis Love III told everybody and anybody that no one player would play all five matches. The claim was that they would be too tired for singles play and maybe not be as fresh.
Love will be second-guessed for a number of things, but his decision not to go for the jugular and sit Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley Saturday afternoon, especially after they easily had won all three of their matches, will be the toughest to explain.
Poulter and McIlroy may have pushed the door open by taking that second point Saturday, but Love opened that door by not riding his hot hand and sending a non-effective Tiger Woods and Stricker out there instead.
Also, in a move that would later haunt his sleep Sunday, the selection of Jim Furyk was a bad one based on how poorly Furyk played under pressure this summer at the US Open and the WGC-Bridgestone down the stretch.
He took a player as a captain’s pick that had shown twice this summer that he was not able to handle the stress.
The odds of Sunday’s comeback were not great. Add the fact they did not have the home course advantage like Ben Crenshaw had at Brookline when Team USA sprinted back to win the Ryder Cup in 1999, and those odds grow longer.
Jose Maria Olazabal—channeling his own playing days and the spirit of dear friend Seve Ballesteros—stacked the top of his order with the players he felt were playing the best at the moment and did that ever pay off.
He needed to have a big lead by the time Sergio Garcia started his match out of the eighth slot against Jim Furyk to have a chance, and those eight matches split Europe’s way 6-2.
He gambled putting Lawrie fifth and a flat Lee Westwood 10th and momentum took care of the rest.
That tight blood brother team that we are all so used to seeing with Europe showed up on Sunday, and once that momentum changed towards the Europeans, it was too late and they stormed through.
Olazabal gets full credit for that and would have been applauded if they fell short as it was obvious he was going to at least go down swinging.
While everything was set up right for Europe to try and pull this off, it still takes a partner to collapse to pull it off and did Team USA ever do that.
On a team that really had no true ace, there really was no one that could go out early and stop Europe’s big four.
Perhaps tired after seven out of nine weeks of high-pressure golf, or just not able to actually execute on a course set up for their abilities, the American team looked really flat on Sunday afternoon and could not depend on the tail end of Furyk, Sticker and Woods to get the 1.5 points they needed to win by a razor-thin margin.
In the end, Europe pushed back and the American’s blinked.