Ryder Cup

Amid champagne and chaos Europe drink in their golden moment

Droplets of victory rained down on Francesco Molinari and anyone in touching distance, which within seconds was much of the European team. Ed Malyon was there to see it

Sunday 30 September 2018 17:21
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Europe drank in a richly-deserved victory in Paris
Europe drank in a richly-deserved victory in Paris

With thousands crowded around the 16th green, the ending seemed as if it would be the most fitting one possible; Francesco Molinari putting for five points from five, the weekend’s outstanding performer finishing off the American fightback that had long since faded into impossible mathematics.

Molinari’s tee shot on the petite par-three had plopped his ball slap bang in the middle of the green, perhaps 15 very makeable feet from the pin.

Then it was Phil Mickelson’s turn. Then there was a splash. Then there was chaos.

Mickelson’s tee shot started right and dragged into the water. He removed his cap, recognising defeat having endured it all weekend, and reached out a hand to the Italian and then, finally, the celebrations could begin.

For the 10 minutes or so preceding Mickelson’s tee shot it had been a matter of when, not if.

Spectators, media, assembled players, vice-captains and officials all tried to work out who it would be that holed the putt that guaranteed what everybody scattered across this picturesque corner of France already knew - that Europe were taking back the Ryder Cup.

Had Henrik Stenson holed his putt on 13 then this already meandering denouement could well have shifted away from the clustered greens of 15, 16 and 18. The winning moment could have fallen to Sergio Garcia, the criticised wildcard pick who ended up winning in the foursomes, fourballs and singles. It could just as easily have fallen to Ian Poulter - Mr Ryder Cup and in all certainty a future captain - on the 18th as he disposed of world No.1 Dustin Johnson moments earlier.

Instead of the swish of a club, however, it was the shake of a hand. Molinari saluted Mickelson and then the party began, a leaping, human huddle that bounced into the crowd, soaking the Open champion with beer and yet the lager shower couldn’t have felt more welcome. Droplets of victory rained down on Molinari and anyone in touching distance, which within seconds was much of the European team and associated hangers-on - which, at the Ryder Cup, means a lot of people.

The celebrations spilled out of the tee box and down the slope where Tommy Fleetwood, defeated in the singles but one of the weekend’s undoubted winners with four points from five and a new, Poulteresque reputation, was conducting the crowd that encircled him. The Englishman has enjoyed the sort of weekend that spawns legends and changes careers. Few players have improved their reputation as much as the Southport native at this competition, his partnership with Molinari is now part of Ryder Cup lore and America now fears him. He looks every bit the future major winner.

Before long Fleetwood was stood atop a buggy, dancing to the sound of his own name. The buggy drove away but he remained standing, arms aloft as he was wheeled through the throngs that had now fully invaded the 16th hole. Like an emperor astride a rolling chariot, Fleetwood’s rockstar looks had never seemed so apt.

There were moments on Sunday when there had been a wobble. Team USA were on the march and had Paul Casey not holed a brilliant putt on 17 to take his match with Brooks Koepka to all-square then the Americans would have won the first three matches, a red tide rolling into Le Golf National.

Bjorn and Molinari revelled in their golden moment (Getty )

Instead, Casey halved and Jon Rahm staved off a comeback from Tiger Woods. The Spanish rookie’s tee shot found the long, narrow fairway on 17 that the Americans have struggled with all weekend and Woods was in the rough that would scare most on the PGA Tour rigid. Rahm finished him off and screamed to the skies in an emotional victory.

It is impossible to avoid the fact that this course, brilliantly sculpted for maximum atmosphere and to cram in as many spectators as possible, caused the visitors a lot of problems. So much of the pre-tournament talk was of whether the ‘boomers’ of the US team could cope with its narrow holes, abundant water and thick rough. The answer was in the scoreline as a team of lower-ranked, unfancied Europeans completed what was, in the end, a fairly comfortable victory.

For Alex Noren, there was still work to do even as champagne was handed out among the European team. His all-rookie tussle with Bryson DeChambeau continued for an hour after Mickelson’s ball had dropped in the water and settled the biggest intercontinental gathering in Versailles since 1919. Noren’s stone-cold putt on 18 dropped in the cup and finally it was his turn too. Poulter, McIlroy and the team ran to embrace him and then the party could properly begin.

Europe deserved their win in Paris 

The captains will reflect on what they did right and wrong. For Jim Furyk that means looking at three of his four wildcard picks - Mickelson, Woods and DeChambeau - who scored zero points from nine. Thomas Bjorn on the other hand can be delighted, every single European player posted a win for the first time since 2004 and his wildcards picked up nine-and-a-half points to Furyk’s two. In a Ryder Cup where the margin of victory was seven points, it cannot be ignored.

And perhaps it was fitting too, that after such a monumental team effort, that it wasn’t just one European player who had the glory moment. They’ve all had them at different times this weekend, and as Mickelson’s tee shot splashed into the water, their victory was confirmed. Molinari might have deserved it but so did Bjorn and all of Europe. At a time when the continent is threatening to splinter, such a glowing show of unity and success was the most welcoming distraction and the celebrations will go long into the night. As they’ve sung all weekend: Allez Allez.

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