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.
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.