Ryder Cup: Making Sense of an Epic American Collapse and More Epic Euro Comeback
The United States lost the Ryder Cup to Europe 14.5 to 13.5 in a fashion so fantastic, golf fans will be talking about the epic 2012 collapse for generations.
The U.S. team, captained by Davis Love III, headed into Sunday's singles matches up 10-6 after dominating the competition Friday and Saturday. Despite the nearly insurmountable lead for Team USA, everything seemed to change late Saturday evening when, trailing 10-4 and looking at a very early and extremely anticlimactic denouement on Sunday, Europe won two extremely important points in the final two matches, led by undefeated Ian Poulter and his maniacal (read: kind of creepy) focus.
Still, despite the two points for Europe, the United States habitually dominates singles play, and thus had the Cup firmly within their grasp heading into singles matches.
With little else to worry about, the biggest story of the morning was Davis Love III putting Tiger Woods, point-less for America in three sessions on Friday and Saturday, last in the lineup of 12 matches to close out Sunday. Woods was the anchor for a team that only needed four-and-a-half points in the preceding 11 matches, certain to be a non-factor for the Americans.
(Sidebar to pull back the curtain on this writing gig for a minute: Sometimes we plan for certain situations that don't actually happen. That's why sports are great; but planning to write about sports isn't as easy as we sometimes hope. Take, for example, the fact that this column was going to be all about how American golf no longer needs Tiger Woods. About how Woods could be such a non-factor in the Ryder Cup and the United States could still go out and not just beat a strong European field, but dominate them too. This was going to be about how young stars like Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker are becoming the new faces of American golf.)
Well, Bradley, Watson, Simpson and Snedeker—key contributors to Team USA's lead on Friday and Saturday—all lost their matches early on Sunday, making it all the more likely that Woods would, in fact, be needed to save the Americans.
It became rather ironic when Woods wasn't actually needed, as Captain Love could not have known his troops would collapse so badly the tournament would end in Europe's favor before Woods even reached the 18th green.
Love obviously tried to hide Steve Stricker by putting him in the second-to-last match, hoping it would not come down to matches that far into the afternoon. As the early matches ended and more and more European flags adorned the scoreboard, it became more and more obvious that Stricker and Woods were likely going to factor into the decision.
With Stricker's struggles all weekend—going 0-4-0 in his matches—and Jim Furyk's up-and-down play, two of Love's most controversial captain's picks were making him look foolish. Furyk missed putts down the stretch he needed to beat Sergio Garcia. Stricker all but handed his match to a struggling Martin Kaymer with his inconsistent play.
Somewhere, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler are throwing darts at a photo of Davis Love. If it wasn't for Dustin Johnson's undefeated record, including a win in singles, the captain's picks would have been a near total bust.
It wasn't just the captain's picks who lost on Sunday. Phil Mickelson played well enough to win most matches, but was bested by Justin Rose, who sunk three straight birdies to come from behind and steal a point. Had Mickelson even managed to halve the point, it would have changed everything behind him.
While Jason Dufner handled his match over Peter Hanson—the match Love told NBC he expected to be the clincher when he planned out the day—the U.S. player behind him, Matt Kuchar, was easily beaten by Lee Westwood.
The United States entered the final day of the Ryder Cup needing just four-and-a-half points and managed wins from Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Dufner and that's it.
The half point from Woods came after the Cup was already secured by Europe, making that half point completely and utterly irrelevant. (Hey, that would have helped my original story had the result ended up reversed.)
When something like the Miracle at Medinah (nice effort by NBC's Dan Hicks after Johnny Miller offered something idiotic like the Colossal Collapse in Chicago) happens in sports—something we know will be analyzed and dissected every two years for eternity—the immediate reaction is to point fingers and assign blame.
Was it Woods? Was it Stricker or Furyk? Was it Davis Love taking care of his old friends or bungling the pairings? Was it Mickelson's inability to close out Rose or Watson's poor start in the first match on Sunday?
Was it the last Saturday afternoon losses that started the spiral? Was it resting Bradley and Mickelson on Saturday—they were red-hot after winning 7&6 on Saturday morning—in favor of keeping Stricker and Woods together?
Was it the ghost of Seve Ballesteros, who died last May but was talked about throughout the telecast on Sunday like he had a direct hand in the result while watching from above?
Really, it was all of that and none of it.
In a way, the European team just played better on Sunday. That's match-play golf. Mickelson missed a chip on 17 that would have surely iced his match, and Rose seized the opportunity by hitting a miraculous putt that would have run 15 feet past if it didn't bounce into the back of the cup. The turnaround in that match wasn't as much Lefty's fault as it was an amazing effort from Rose.
Poulter flat out beat Webb Simpson, just like he and Rory McIlroy did to Dufner and Zach Johnson to end play on Saturday. Heck, McIlroy may have had the most important point of the day on Sunday, beating Bradley after showing up to the course just 11 minutes before his tee time.
McIlroy nearly missed his tee time because he thought Chicago was Eastern time, not Central, and if it wasn't for the good nature of an Illinois State Trooper—who escorted McIlroy to the course and obviously must hate America—the No. 1 player in the world would have almost certainly been M.I.A.
So yeah, it wasn't the Americans' fault they choked away a nearly insurmountable lead in the Ryder Cup any more than it was Europe's fault for playing so well down the stretch.
But that cop—it was totally that guy's fault.
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