Unbelievable theatre, unimaginable tension, barely credible outcome.
From the outer limits of probability Europe conjured the magic number 14 to retain the Ryder Cup. The impulse is to write that twice to make doubly sure. All around Medinah folk of a European persuasion were asking how this could happen. Perhaps the answer was tattooed across the sky. Midway through the afternoon “Spirit of Seve” appeared overhead in tiny puffs of cloud. It became possible to believe as Europe's heroic top order came in one after another in a blaze of scoreboard blue that the great man was indeed pulling celestial strings. First, Luke Donald then in quick succession Paul Lawrie, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose impaled the American foe to bring Europe level in this incredible contest.
At 11 apiece a triumph that at the start of play had looked beyond Europe's battered golfers was suddenly, tantalisingly within their grasp. Lee Westwood made it 12 points and Sergio Garcia came from behind to beat Jim Furyk at the last. Garcia pointed to his left sleeve, where the players wore a tribute to Seve Ballesteros, feeling certain that the father of the European Ryder Cup team had his hand on the rudder of fate. Jose Maria Olazabal, the Europe captain, dared not look. It came down to the last two matches, Martin Kaymer versus Steve Stricker and Francesco Molinari against Tiger Woods.
Kaymer needed a half at the last to secure the winning point, and spare Molinari, who had fallen one behind at the 17th . Easier said than done after finding sand off the tee. Stricker was feeding off adrenalin, too, and from the middle of the fairway could get no closer than 20 yards. His birdie putt sailed 12 feet past. Kaymer followed him past the hole leaving him an eight-footer to retain the cup for Europe. It never looked like missing. Cue delirium.
Europe were required to overturn history as well as a four-point deficit. Only eight times in 38 previous meetings had this team, firstly as Great Britain and Ireland and subsequently Europe, prevailed in mano a mano combat on the last day. The degree of difficulty simplified the challenge. It was win or bust straight out of the box. Olazabal top-loaded his line-up sending out his four best players in a high-risk strategy to put points on the board. No one could argue with that.
As much as they tried to guard against complacency, the American team betrayed a sense of comfort in their easy deportment at the start of play. Vice-captain Freddie Couples was bouncing around the first tee like a puppy, conducting the bonding session with the American supporters boxed behind the tee. Most of the seating had been taken three hours before the whistle went. As many as 40,000 were expected through the gate. There was the inevitable communion with America's mascot-in-chief Michael Jordan, who resembled a tower block with a coat on so much did his impressive physicality dominate the setting.
Europe responded with subtelty in the shape of Pep Guardiola. The former Barcelona coach was in the house with his wife and two children.
Keegan Bradley has been the screaming face of American endeavour. In deed and mood he had set the agenda over the opening two days. Hitherto unanswerable, the singles pairings threw McIlroy his way. At least it would do eventually.
Between them Captain Olazabal and his four lieutenants left their prize asset in bed. This was the morning when everything had to run like clockwork, no mistakes, everyone on his game. While preparations were under way at the course McIlroy was watching from his hotel room believing his tee time was an hour away. The Golf Chanel clock ticks on Eastern time. McIlroy was on Central time, an hour back. Oops.
While Bradley was sprinting around the tee box, working the crowd with his Arnold Schwartzenegger impressions, his opponent was speeding to Medinah via police escort. With less than 10 minutes to his tee time, McIlroy bolted from the front passenger seat to the putting green. No time to loosen up on the range. A quick swig from a water bottle and a munch on an energy bar and McIlroy was on the gantry making his way from the putting green to the tee.
This insane development with Europe in the midden bettered any of the cock-ups fashioned by Sir Nick Faldo at Valhalla four years ago. Never mind. Donald was out first after returning a point in the gloaming alongside Sergio Garcia on Saturday night.
Ranged against him was Bubba Watson on a course that was made to measure for the long-hitting Masters champion. He hadn't reckoned with Donald's surgical precision, silencing his noisy assailants in the stands, who taunted him over his majorless state. Donald had the major winner at four-down before prevailing at the penultimate hole to claim the first point of the day for Europe and reduce the deficit to three.
That would soon come down to two courtesy of the brutally efficient dispatch of Brandt Snedeker by Lawrie. Up ahead Europe's go-to sorcerer, Ian Poulter, was locked in a tense duel with Webb Simpson. Poulter was understandably slow to rise after the intensity of the previous day and fell two behind at the fourth and again at the sixth, but he was all square at the 12th and fully engaged once more.
They came to the par-three 17th locked together but when Simpson found sand off the tee the initiative passed to Poulter at the last. It proved to be the point that tied the teams after McIlroy speared Bradley at the 17th. Having overslept at the PGA and won by eight, McIlroy was not overly concerned. He led from the fourth hole, and though pegged back briefly at the 12th, hit the accelerator with birdies at 14 and 15 and won it at the penultimate hole. Golf, bloody hell.
- More about:
- Colin Montgomerie
- Lee Westwood
- Phil Mickelson
- Rory McIlroy
- Ryder Cup
- Sergio Garcia