Ryder Cup: Listing Europe holed by US enterprise
Jose Maria Olazabal's captaincy has been placed under scrutiny by a withering American performance in the third session
A dispiriting opening day bled into further decline on the second. Despite a late rally Europe must turn Medinah into Brookline and emulate the best of the American effort in 1999 to retain the Ryder Cup.
The remarkable Ian Poulter apart, Jose Maria Olazabal's plaintive oration on Friday evening failed to rouse his bereft players. Europe start the final day needing eight points to reach the magic 14. Only Ben Crenshaw's team 13 years ago have overturned a 10-6 deficit to win and that is the challenge facing Olazabal's fading force.
The overnight deficit of two doubled after the Saturday foursomes, leaving Europe listing at 8-4 down and needing to win all the afternoon fourballs to start today's singles level. Only Poulter and Justin Rose mustered any kind of resistance in the morning, claiming a point in the opening match of the day. In the gloaming it was Poulter again who birdied the last five holes to secure a vital point in the last match. Poulter's resistance alongside Rory McIlroy added to the point gained by Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who eclipsed Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.
Long before that stab of blue appeared on the board late in the day, the American onslaught in the morning accounted for Lee Westwood and Donald, engulfed 7&6 by the volcanic eruption that is Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson. There would be no repeat fairytale for Friday's hero Nicolas Colsaerts, who went down with Garcia to the more prosaic but equally effective Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. As McIlroy and Graeme McDowell went to the last needing to win the hole for a half, Olazabal was at the small mercies stage. There wouldn't be any.
How quickly the promise of dawn drained. As Poulter and Rose made their way to a tee box that was already rocking, a very clever pilot had scrawled the motif "Go Europe" and "Do it for Seve" across an autumnal blue sky. Europeans in the crowd were assailed by romantic notions inspired by the great man's memory and his meaning to this event.
Poulter bestrode the morning as only he can, bristling in magenta top and shoes. Having taken down Woods and Stricker with his sidekick Rose on the opening morning, his absence during the fourball drubbing of the afternoon was an obvious error on the part of Olazabal. Restored to the combat zone, Poulter had the crowd in a frenzy. The Americans waved their flags and sang the national anthem. The Europeans, sharpened by years of adversarial practice, replied with "You only sing when you're winning" and "You've only got one song".
Poulter loved it. So too did Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson without ever convincing that they understood entirely what was going on. The Americans do this stuff by numbers. The Europeans, at least the English enclave, intuit it absolutely. Poulter, a Gooner to the core, was all over it. More than that, he upped the volume with extravagant hand gestures so that, for the first time in the history of the Ryder Cup, a tee shot was struck against a soundtrack that might best be described as the cacophonous opening of throats.
A victory of sorts for Europe but next on the oche was Bradley, the very embodiment of the spirit that is supposed to be annexed by the visitors. Bradley's association with Mickelson is brief but the 2011 PGA champion has quickly established himself as catalyst to which Europe has no answer and an irresistible tag team took lumps out of Lee Westwood and Donald. Hegemony was established over the opening two holes, both of which they won, and utterly cemented by the turn, where the Americans went five up.
The principal task now for Westwood and Donald was to keep their oppressors on the pitch for as long as possible in the hope fatigue might set in later in the tournament. Alas it was all over on the 12th green, the margin of victory equalling the Ryder Cup record. An astonishing outcome, sealed depressingly by the failure of Westwood and Donald to get down in three from 25 feet.
The scoreboard was blood red throughout the early exchanges. Behind the turbo-charged Bradley, Dufner and Johnson were going about the massacre business with a little more restraint, reaching the turn one hole to the good having been two up after four. In the last group Furyk and Snedeker were up at the first and maintained the advantaged to a greater or lesser degree all the way home, aided no end by the inability of the European flagbearers to breech par until the 14th hole.
There is always Poulter and Rose. The English lancers took the first hole, surrendered the lead at the third, lost parity at the fifth then caught fire from the ninth. The chief stoker was, of course, Keegan Poulter. Or maybe that should be Ian Bradley. The conflation of Poulter with the American talisman is the highest compliment one golfer can pay another at Medinah. Having resumed the lead at the 10th Poulter went bananas at the 12th, sinking a curling 15-footer via the side door to extend it. The full, double-fisted salute and face-distorting yell, "Come on!", had kids, and some adults for that matter, reaching for mummy's hand at greenside.
The Americans came back at them, taking the 16th. Pars at the 17th ensured the match would go to the last. Watson jammed his approach to 10 feet, heaping the pressure on Poulter, who was slightly closer but to the left in the first cut of rough. The shot required a conference with Rose, who wandered over with his yardage book to determine the play. They didn't consult hard enough. Poulter found the green but not the intimacy with the pin that Watson managed. It was now all on Simpson to half the match.
Standing a few feet away, the tension of the day was etched across the strained features of Olazabal. His captaincy was inviting increasing scrutiny. This was the only match his pairings looked like winning. He needed a break. Simpson handed him one, but in the context of the first three sessions it smacked only of reprieve.
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