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Sweet Redemption

September 30th, 2012 1 comment

by G. Rennie

What happened at Medinah Golf Club today defies rational description as Team Europe came back from a four point deficit to bury Team USA in the singles competition and win the Ryder Cup outright 14.5 to 13.5. Team Europe’s resurrection was numerically equal to the USA triumph a Brookline in ’99 but it surpasses that Ben Crenshaw inspired miracle since it has occurred on foreign soil.

So how to explain it? I can’t, it’s a mystery, a phenomenon of surreal quality. And ultimately a collective act of redemption. Each member of the European Team and their captains have a personal take and story yet the unfolding of this Cup is more poignant for some than for others.

Let’s start with Francesco Molinari. As a Ryder Cup rookie in 2010 he took a beating from Tiger Woods although he still got to taste a sweet team victory. Today he was placed in match 12, once again facing Tiger, in a match most thought would be an afterthought but, in the end, was filled with drama and an unexpected halve.

Next comes Paul Lawrie, the middle aged Scot who is the golfing equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield, the guy who gets no respect. Lawrie has been motivated in recent years with a determination to show his sons he really could compete at golf’s highest levels after many years in undeserved obscurity. More folks remember the guy who lost the ’99 Open Championship, Jean Van de Velde, than the gent who came from 10 strokes back to claim the Claret Jug. Lawrie’s only previous Ryder Cup play came at Brookline and today he went out and pasted Brandt Snedeker, the best putter on the PGA tour, in a vital match no one gave to Europe. Pretty sweet.

How about Sergio? He sprung onto the international golf scene at Medinah’s 1999 PGA as he skipped to a second place finish behind Tiger and started his string of five consecutive Ryder Cups for Europe.  But he failed to qualify for the Celtic Manor team last time out and his poor form didn’t merit a pick by Captain Monty. That wouldn’t do and Sergio got his game back together with multiple European Tour wins and a victory at last month’s Wyndham Championship to ensure a berth on the 2012 team. His 1Up victory on 18 over Jim Furyk came at a pivotal time when the unthinkable – a win by Europe – began to seem inevitable. How do you say sweet in Spanish?

In 1991 the first, and until this year the only German player in Ryder Cup history faced a treacherous, sliding downhill putt to claim victory. We all know that Bernhard missed that unmakable putt and it must have come to mind for all golf fans as Martin Kaymer stood over that eight footer with the chance to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe. I hope it eases the pain a bit, Herr Langer. Ausgezeichnet!

Everyone on both teams has a story, everyone has struggles and hopes, and perhaps some regrets. But perhaps no one had more of a karmic touch this week than the Basque captain of Team Europe, José Maria Olazabal. He and Davis Love served the game of golf wonderfully throughout their captaincies, preparing their sides well while always taking the sporting  high road in elevating this event to a competition and not a battle. Love is a great representative for golf, a gentleman and sportsman. But back in Brookline, in ’99′ when Justin Leonard sank that impossible birdie putt on the 17th green he came rushing out onto the green with a couple of dozen other USA team members and followers to celebrate. It was a celebration both premature and misplaced. Leonard’s competitor in that match had his line trampled and focus hijacked by this breach of etiquette and sportsmanship. Jose Maria was that unlucky man and he didn’t roll his lengthy bird bid in on top of Leonard’s.

But he got a huge karmic payback today. How else can you explain it?
Dulce! That’s Spanish for sweet.

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American Players Meltdown at Medinah

September 30th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

For weeks prior to this Ryder Cup there was an overwhelming sentiment that the American team was much stronger than its European counterparts.  Even with the number one player in the world the Europeans weren’t as deep as the Americans and the home field advantage would serve the Americans well as they won back the cup.

But true to form the Europeans found a way, as they always do at the Ryder Cup, to do the undoable.  Davis Love had done everything right over the first two days.  He sent all his players out on Friday and watched his rookies carry the day.  At Friday’s end he had a 5-3 lead, even with his veteran team of Woods & Stricker going 0-2.

The good fortunes of the American team continued on Saturday morning as they won three of the four matches and extended their lead to 8-4.  They continued their winning ways in the afternoon with victories in the first two matches of the afternoon session.  It was here that the match turned for the Europeans.

The third match of the afternoon pitted Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.  After a few early birdies from Garcia, Donald dragged him along for the victory as he single handedly fought off a charging Tiger and Stricker.  Their one up victory stemmed the tide and halted the American winning streak of five consecutive matches.

Following that match were Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy versus Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.  Dufner and Johnson were 2-0 as a team at that point and play a very different style of golf than their European opponents.  The Euros style was flashy and long with a more gambling style.  The Americans played a shorter, fairways and greens type of game.  But the Americans were a machine during their first two matches and went out to an early lead with two quick birdies.  They kept a lead until the Europeans woke up on the thirteenth hole and woke up with a passion.  Six straight birdies (five from Poulter) stole the point from the Americans and left them wondering what had just happened.

At that point, the Americans which had been staring at a 12-4 lead had the momentum stolen from them and were left with a comfortable 10-6 advantage.  But leaving the course that night it was the Europeans that felt they had the momentum and they were right.

Olazabal instilled in his players a belief that they still had a chance, that if they played well and got off to a good start they could make their own comeback history.

Both captains had the same thought process and they frontloaded their Sunday singles line up.  Love sent out his hot players early hoping to settle it as soon as possible.  Olazabal did the same knowing early points were the key to staying alive and building momentum for his later matches.

Ollie’s plan worked as the Europeans took the first five matches but with veteran American players in the middle of the lineup the Americans still had plenty of big guns to out duel the Europeans.

The back of the American lineup looked formidable but Woods and Sticker had been shut out so far as had the last two Europeans, Kaymer and Molinari.  But with the reputations of the two Americans they would surely better their less then worthy opponents.

But when Sergio Garcia out lasted a fading Jim Furyk and a suddenly hot Lee Westwood took down a previously undefeated Matt Kuchar the fate of the cup rested with the last two matches.

Stricker had the lead early but lost it to Kaymer on the back nine and went into the seventeenth all square.  His bogey there meant he needed to win the eighteenth outright for Tiger to have a chance at winning the cup.  He may have been too pumped up as his approach to eighteen went well past the pin.  Maybe the pressure got to him because a horrible mis-read left him an eight foot par putt. To his credit he sank it and Kaymer was left with his six footer to clinch the cup.

As Tiger and Molinari and millions of others watched, Kaymer rolled it dead center to claim the cup for Europe.  Tiger never had his chance to make history as the Euros exploded into mass celebration.

Some may question Love’s strategy but that strategy had earned the Americans a four point lead going into Sunday. Either Olazabal or Love would have signed up for that prior to the start of play.  But a very gracious Love said maybe in hindsight he would have made some changes but his actual strategy had set the Americans up very well.

The bottom line here is that players have to play, a captain can only do so much.  The Americans went into Sunday with a big lead but didn’t get it done, not even close.  The Euros earned 8.5 points to a mind boggling 3.5 for the Americans.  That’s just a plain old ass-kicking.

Davis Love didn’t lose this Ryder Cup, his players lost it.

 Click here for Doug Ferguson’s take on Sunday’s final.

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Martin Kaymer’s Unlikely Finish: Ryder Cup Hero

September 30th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Martin Kaymer wasn’t supposed to be in Chicago this week.  His play over the past year had left much to be desired.  The former world number one had seen his game tailspin as he tried to develop a draw as opposed to his natural fade.  In this year’s majors he couldn’t contend as he did when he won the 2010 PGA Championship.  His finishes looked like a journeyman not a world class player: T44 at The Masters, T15 at the U.S. Open, T109 at the Open Championship and a missed cut at the PGA.  He was struggling, and struggling mightily.

But at the end of his season a T5 at the BMW Italian Open  gave him enough points to sneak onto the European Team as the very last and lowest qualifier.  There isn’t much doubt that Captain Olazabal would have passed on him as a pick and Kaymer would have been absent from the proceedings at Medinah.  But fate is a funny thing.

Olazabal only played Kaymer once before Sunday, it was his plan to get all the players on the course during the first day.  Paired with Justin Rose, his game still looked weak and the Euros were defeated by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar and Kaymer was left to be a cheerleader until Sunday.

Olazabal then front loaded his singles with all his studs who were playing well.  Kaymer was sent out in the next to last group.  With such a big lead by the American team it was doubtful that Kaymer’s match would mean anything.  It’s funny how things work out.

Faced with a seemingly insurmountable deficit, on Saturday night, Olazabal said that he still believed.  His team proved him right and with a collapse by the Americans it came down to the Kaymer-Steve Stricker match on the final hole.  With Stricker in with a par  Kaymer had a six foot putt to retain the cup.  In the most pressure packed arena in golf Kaymer stroked the purest of putts and dealt the Americans the death blow.

Kaymer wasn’t supposed to be there and he said himself he didn’t have the right feeling towards the Ryder Cup.  Then he had a conversation with Ryder Cup veteran and fellow German, Bernhard Langer who bears the scar of a missed winning putt at the 1991 Ryder Cup.  “On Friday I sat down with Bernhard and talked to him a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude wasn’t the right one. But now after that match today against Steve, I know how important the Ryder Cup became and is for Olazabal, and Bernhard helped me so much just to sit down with me and talk about it.”

This is a strange game, this game of golf.  And strange things can happen, especially at a Ryder Cup.  Kaymer goes from outcast to hero with the eyes of the world upon him.  He wasn’t supposed to be the one, he was a throw away.  Now, he is going home with the Ryder Cup as the hero in the greatest comeback in the modern era.  Fate is a funny thing.

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Europe Wins The Ryder Cup

September 30th, 2012 No comments

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Ian Poulter’s Ryder Cup

September 29th, 2012 No comments

It was a great day for the American Team at the Ryder Cup as they extended their lead to four full points to 10-6 over the European Team.  The day could have been much worse for the Europeans Team except brilliant saves from the last two European teams to win and hold off the onslaught from the Americans.

Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald hung on to top a charging Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker and in the last match of the day Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy birdied the last six holes to come from behind to steal a point from previously undefeated (2-0) Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.  McIlroy birdied the 13th to get to one down and the his gritty English partner proceeded to birdie the last five holes.  They went all square at the 15th and Poulter’s birdie on the 16th got them to one up.  His closing two birdies brought looks of amazement from his teammates and cheers from the partisan crowd.

Watching Poulter play in a Ryder Cup is one of the great experiences in golf.  Every time he tees it up in the Ryder Cup he proves that he is one of the most determined, courageous and emotional players to chase down Mr. Ryder’s Cup.

Take a look at the many faces of Ian Poulter.  He is the face of the Ryder Cup.

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Sunday Singles Pairings 2012 Ryder Cup

September 29th, 2012 No comments

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Ryder Cup Morning Pairings

September 28th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Here are the pairings for the morning foursomes for day two at the Ryder Cup.  Davis Love has made the right decision in resting Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker as the curse of alternate shot still haunts them.  With so many teams playing well Love has the luxury of sitting some players in his effort to keep any player from playing in all five matches.  In my opinion Tiger should never play alternate shot again.  He is now 4-8-1in a format he just can’t perform in.

Love has chosen to keep Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley playing and if they win in the morning it may be hard to keep them on the bench in the afternoon.

He is sending two other winning teams out in the morning, Bubba Watson & Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner & Zach Johnson.

He is hoping that his team of Jim Furyk & Brandt Snedeker can get a little revenge against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in a rematch of the day one match where the Euros triumphed.

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Rookies Rule Day One at the Ryder Cup

September 28th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

It was an amazing day of golf at the 2012 Ryder Cup as the American Team rode the backs of its “rookies” to a 5-3 lead at the end of day one.  It is a disservice to call the four first timers rookies as their resume would intimidate any opponent.

Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker combined for three full points for the day.

Former PGA champion Bradley paired with his good buddy and mentor Phil Mickelson to earn two full points on the day. And his enthusiasm got Phil’s game going as the two took down the European’s most heralded teams.  They dispatched previously undefeated Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in alternate shot and then defeated their powerhouse team of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

U.S. Open Champion Simpson teamed up with his close friend Masters champ Bubba Watson to win their fourball match in a runaway 5&4 over an overmatched Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson.  Bubba and Webb stoked the crowd as they stiffed shot after shot and rolled in birdie after birdie.

Dufner paired with Zach Johnson to take down the formidable team of Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari 3&2 in the morning session.  The Americans battled back from being one down almost the entire front nine and clinched the win with consecutive wins at the fifteenth and sixteenth.

Brandt Snedeker was the only rookie that failed to earn a point as he and partner Jim Furyk made a valiant effort against Europe’s flagship pairing of McDowell and McIlroy.  The Americans battled back from three down to push the match to the final hole before they lost the match one up.

Following their rookies lead, the veteran team of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar defeated Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer in the afternoon fourballs.  Rose was essentially by himself as Kaymer’s game is still off form.

The most disappointing team for the Americans was Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker who lost both their matches.  Continuing his poor play in alternate shot Woods had trouble finding fairways.  The Americans never led against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and went down 2&1.

But it was a different story in the afternoon fourballs as Woods and Stricker were obviously more comfortable playing their own ball and were able to record nine birdies through their round.  Unfortunately, they were witness to one of the most amazing rounds of golf in Ryder Cup history.  The lone rookie on the European team, Nicolas Cosaerts carded an astounding eight birdies and an eagle, on his own card to singlehandedly down the Americans one up.  Cosaerts is one of the longest players in the game but the 35th ranked player in the world displayed a putting stroke that kept Woods and Stricker from completing their late round charge.

The shot of the day has to be Phil Mickelson’s wood from behind the gallery and in the woods to about twelve feet from the hole.  Of course he missed the putt as Phil always does.

The team of the day is certainly Mickelson and Bradley as the mixture of youthful energy and old hand moxy has given the Americans a new powerhouse team.  Their defeat of McIlroy and McDowell could very well be the turning point for the American team.

The player of the day without a doubt was Colsaerts.  He singlehandedly took down Woods and Stricker as he seemingly made every putt he looked at.  Maybe the Europeans have found their new stud.

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Time for Redemption

September 28th, 2012 No comments

by G. Rennie

Let’s play some golf, please! It’s been a long week full of hot air and bluster from all the interested parties that surround the two Ryder Cup teams. At last, this orgy of talk will turn into a bonanza of match play golf at its most tense. Bring it on.
Absent from the war of wagging tongues, the two Ryder Cup captains have been extremely low key, engaged in a calm conversation with the media and ever respectful of their opponents. Their toned down demeanor gives appropriate respect to the game and is mindful of the original intent of these matches, conceived as an international exhibition to promote the game and celebrate a gentlemanly competition.

It hasn’t always been such. Partisanship has escalated, as everyone knows, after the Great Britain & Ireland team was expanded to the whole of continental Europe in 1979. Once the Euro’s were able to field a competitive team it seemed the stakes got ratcheted up and on course demonstrations of fervor, and perhaps gamesmanship,  became commonplace.  As a consequence, there’s been some enmity and blood on the grass, so to speak, between a number of the Americans and Euro’s but those guys have been angelic when compared to the tabloid press often full of venom, and worst of all, the sometimes rabid and unruly galleries.

The level of antagonism that has grown up with this event seems to revolve  around a sense of national identity. Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen at all during President’s Cup competition. I think that has to do with the very ambiguous, undefined nature of the competition – The International Team. Where exactly does an International come from? From all kinds of places that most of us don’t know exist or couldn’t point out on a map. Fiji? That’s a fruit, right? Zimbabwe? Oooh, never been there (wouldn’t want to go). The point is the casual golf fan doesn’t get incensed over a match with a country that most folks don’t have a connection with.

But that’s not the case with Europe. We all know that’s across an ocean someplace and most of our forefathers escaped or got kicked out of one of its member nations. Why those  Brits, Frenchman, Spaniards, Irish and assorted other foreigners inspire such raucous behavior from typically sedate golf fans is still a mystery to me. Yet the fact that they do gives me lot of ambivalence about the Ryder Cup matches. And I hate that because I’m a golf junkie, glued to the tube for all the competitive golf I can get.

Ambivalence can turn to aversion when you find yourself in the middle of the crazies and not plunked in your easy chair. That was the case for me in 1999, at Brookline, on the Sunday that Ben Crenshaw twisted Fate to his own design and brought home the Cup. The atmosphere was unreal early that day as match after match went the USA way.  But from the get go, the dark side of partisanship  crawled out from under its rock and stalked the Payne Stewart-Colin Montgomery match. I followed that pairing for several holes on the front side but gave it up in disgust  as crude, rowdy individuals (they can’t be called golf fans) heckled Monty without mercy. Payne Stewart was at his best that day, rising to Monty’s defense, getting some jackasses tossed off the grounds, and finally, conceding the final 20 foot putt, to hand Monty the hole, the match and the full point. Many in the gallery couldn’t appreciate this demonstration of true sportsmanship.

Not all the hooligans at Brookline that day were in the Stewart-Montgomery crowd. Some were following the late stages of the Leonard-Olazabal match- and they weren’t in the crowd, they were on the American Team or part of their entourage. Much of that group trampled the tradition of the Ryder Cup along with their own dignity as they stormed the 17th green after Leonard dropped his bomb. Waiting off the side of the green was Jose Maria who had a longish putt for the halve. Jehovah himself couldn’t have holed that putt after such  a dance of self indulgence.

Olazabal has been a stalwart of Europe’s team since ’87 when, teamed with Seve, he helped win the Cup on American soil for the first time. Now that he’s back on American soil, captain of the European Team. It might be that the good  karma we all need in this golfing world can be restored. It’s going to take spirited, expert play from all the golfers; calm, reserved inspiration of those players by their captains; professional restraint from the media types; and simple, good sportsmanship from all the lucky folks in the gallery. I’m hoping.
GO USA!

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Finally, Let The Games Begin!

September 27th, 2012 No comments

by Jeff Skinner

Finally, the rhetoric is over and it’s time to tee it up at The Ryder Cup.  And right out of the box we are treated to a very exciting match.

American Captain Davis Love III sent out one of his stalwarts in Jim Furyk and paired him with the hottest putter on the planet, Brandt Snedeker.   European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal went right to the bug guns with his Irish Eyes paring of 2010 hero Graeme McDowell and the hottest golfer on the planet, Rory McIlroy.  This grouping is worth the price of admission all by itself.

The next group is just as exciting as Phil “The Thrill” Mickelson will mentor his protégé, rookie Keegan Bradley around Medinah for his first taste of Ryder Cup pressure.  The Americans won’t have an easy task as they face Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia who have a 4-0 record in foursomes.  This time of year Garcia bleeds European Blue and is the emotional engine that drives the European team.

Veteran Zach Johnson is teamed with rookie Jason Dufner as Captain Love gets three of his four rookies right in the action.  Dufner has had a very consistent season and Johnson wields one of the best putters in the game.  They will have their work cut out for them as the British Bulldog Lee Westwood pairs with the ever consistent Francesco Molinari.  These four might not miss a fairway all day.

The final group of the morning has Tiger Woods playing with his most trusted partner, Steve Stricker.  The greatest golfer of his generation has struggled in foursomes and has a 4-7-1 record.  But Love is hoping that Tiger’s game is on form.  He’s comfortable with Stricker who can sink a putt from anywhere.  The European team of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose will do their best to take down the American heavyweights.  Rose’s game is as good as any (short of Rory) on the Euro team and Poulter lives for the Ryder Cup.  No matter how he is playing prior to the Cup he always pulls his weight for the Europeans.

These morning matches are stacked with some heavy duty players and I can’t see the U.S. team getting more than a point or a point and a half in the morning.  Let the game begin!

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