Ryder Cup 2012: 5 Reasons USA Lost
A little more than half a day later, we can start to dissect the Miracle at Medinah—the unbelievable comeback by the team from across the pond over our boys.
The genesis of this loss may have been in May, 2011, when a golf legend, and the man who may have played the biggest part in converting the Europeans from doormat to dominant, passed away.
The ghost of Seve Ballesteros seemed to roam the undulating fairways of Medinah Country Club, like a Spanish poltergeist nudging putts into the holes from the beyond for the Europeans.
Back on this plane of existence, though, and with all due respect to the fiery icon for whom the Europeans shed multiple tears over the last three days, the answers are a little clearer and far less supernatural.
Reason 1: Ian James Poulter
The only player on either team who played four or more matches and won them all, Ian Poulter dominated the USA every time he set foot on the course.
It started Friday morning when he partnered with Justin Rose to take down Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods in foursomes (aka alternate shot).
After taking the afternoon off, Poulter was back Saturday morning, again partnering with Rose to beat two major championship winners in foursomes. Masters champion Bubba Watson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson made a good match of it, but lost to the powerful English duo by 2 holes.
Going into the Saturday afternoon fourball matches, the USA were up 8-4, and had won the first two of the session's matches to take a 10-4 lead.
That was when Poulter went absolutely nuts. While Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia were steamrolling Woods and Stricker, Poulter (partnered with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy) birdied the last five holes to take a critical point, and pull the European side to within four of the USA.
In the second singles match on Sunday, Poutler hung around long enough against Simpson to get to the 17th tee. A great par while Simpson was making bogey on the par-3 17th, and then an excellent birdie on the 18th sealed the deal and the rout was on.
Without Poulter's inspired play all weekend, especially on Saturday and Sunday, and the outcome may have been very different.
Reason 2: Sitting Mickelson and Bradley on Saturday
In Friday foursomes, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley won easily over Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, 4 and 3.
In Friday fourballs, they won over Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, 2-and-1.
On Saturday morning, they housed Donald and Lee Westwood, 7-and-6.
So, what did Captain Davis Love III do with such a hot team? He sat them on Saturday afternoon, citing his intention to sit everyone at least once during the first two days of the contest.
I'm sorry, but that is a huge mistake. You don't take a team off the course who is playing well. Certainly they were playing better than Woods and Stricker, who did not win so much as half a point in three team matches and could only muster half a point between them in singles play.
Woods and Stricker only lost one down on Saturday afternoon, even as poorly as they were playing. That was the same margin Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson lost by during that same session. It's impossible to know if Mickelson/Bradley would have won one of those matches, but I would have liked their chances.
Reason 3: The 17th and 18th Holes
Eighteen of 24 matches made it to the 17th tee. Of those 18 matches, the USA managed only 6.5 points.
We were told the course was set up well for the Americans to play well. Did that include the 17th and 18th holes?
To be fair, the 17th hole was playing extremely hard. Players were forced to try to hit a left-to-right shot into a brisk right-to-left wind, over water, to a green not set up to receive long iron shots. That being said, the Europeans seemed to have no trouble playing these holes well. Or at least well enough to win them.
While the Americans were winning matches big (eight points won on matches that never saw the 17th tee), the Europeans were proving their metal on those last two holes.
Of the 14.5 points the Europeans took, 12.5 of them were won on the last two holes.
Did the American players not practice on these critical holes? It certainly seemed like it.
Reason 4: Putting Woes on Sunday
Over the first two days, the Americans seemed to make nearly every putt they looked at. It was a clinic in putting by the USA.
On Sunday, the Americans couldn't buy a putt. Guys who are known for being great putters missed critical putt after critical putt.
Brandt Snedeker is the leader on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting, a stat designed to show how many strokes a player saves against a statistical baseline of strokes taken from a given distance. In other words, if you are the leader in this stat, you are more likely to make a putt from a given distance than anyone else.
He got spanked by Paul Lawrie, 5-and-3.
Match Kuchar and Jim Furyk are both in the top-10 in Total Putting on the PGA Tour. They both lost, missing putts they had to have to win important holes down the stretch.
Steve Stricker, long known as one of the best putters on Tour, blew a putt on the 17th (that freaking hole) that would have taken him to the 18th tee all square. As it was, his opponent, Martin Kaymer, was dormie-1 and needed only to half the final hole to secure the Cup for the Europeans.
Stricker's first putt on the 18th (after what can only be described as a poor approach), was misread, mishit or both. I guess we should be thankful he made the seven foot par putt to force Kaymer to have to make his par putt.
Not that it mattered, but even the so-called "best clutch putter ever," Tiger Woods, didn't make a birdie on the back nine on Sunday.
Reason 5: Roster and Match Lineups
Davis Love III picked Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker to round out his team.
Those four guys earned a measly five points. Dustin Johnson was responsible for three of those points. He played in three matches and won them all.
You can make a strong case that he should have played at least one more match based on the setup of the course designed to favor the long-hitting Americans. Johnson is one of the longest hitters on Tour.
Moreover, Furyk and Stricker were specifically taken for their ability to putt the ball, but we've already covered that.
It's hard to know if someone else would have performed any better, but it's hard to imagine anyone playing any worse than Snedeker (1-2-0) and Stricker (0-4-0).
And then there is the pairings for the team matches.
Why were Woods and Stricker, who had proven to be ineffective on Friday, allowed to play on Saturday afternoon? Why were Mickelson and Bradley sat when it was clear they were playing well and might well have beaten anyone?
That brings us to Captain Love's lineup on Sunday. Knowing European Captain Jose-Maria Olazabal would front-load his lineup to try to turn the tide early, Love sent three Ryder Cup rookies out in the first five matches.
The Americans lost all five of those matches, including a drubbing of Ryder Cup rookie Snedeker at the hands of Paul Lawrie, and remarkable comeback by Justin Rose who was down by one hole on the 17th tee. He would beat Mickelson, 1-up.
Olazabal wisely put his players that were not at the peaks of their games further down in Sunday's lineup, and placed his hot players out early. Not one player in the first four Europeans on the course on Sunday had an overall losing record.
It paid dividends as the American crowd were silenced early and left little to cheer for later as the American putters grew colder and colder.
And now we are left with two years to wonder if any lead will ever be safe at the Ryder Cup.
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