Even in a wondrous Olympic year, the Ryder Cup reaffirmed its place as sport’s most compelling contest on a crisp Chicago Sunday at Medinah Country Club, when Europe authored the most stunning comeback in the long history of this competition.
The record will show that Jose Maria Olazabal’s lions matched the US comeback of 1999 at Brookline, Mass., down 10-6 going into the singles to win 14.5–13.5, but this was far more impressive because it was done on the road.
The Europeans’ dramatic win keeps the sport’s precious little chalice across the Pond for the fifth time in six matches — and seventh in nine — and also serves as a stinging reminder that something is deeply wrong with America in this competition.
After dominating the first two days, the Americans saved their worst for last.
Two years ago, the goat was Hunter Mahan, who infamously stubbed a chip to lose the deciding anchor match at Celtic Manor.
This time, there was a herd of goats in red, white and blue.
Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, who were all hot in team play and have combined to win three of the past four majors, went out first and all struck out.
Then Phil Mickelson lost.
When Brandt Snedeker, a captain’s pick coming off an $11.4 million win at the FedEx Cup, got steamrolled by 43-year-old Scot Paul Lawrie, the US had lost the first five singles matches and, staggeringly, Europe was one ahead.
The Johnsons, Dustin and Zach, came through, as did rookie Jason Dufner later, but Matt Kuchar made too many bogeys in losing to Lee Westwood, who’d won only a single point in team play because Nicolas Colsaerts shot 10 under par.
But two veterans will really have a hard time sleeping over the latest American failure.
Jim Furyk was 1-up against Sergio Garcia when he inexplicably bogeyed the 17th, then lost when he couldn’t make a par on the last.
Furyk’s capitulated three times in big tournaments this year, at the US Open, Bridgestone Invitational and in Tampa.
“It’s been a very difficult year,” he said. “But (Sunday) is the lowest point.”
Steve Stricker’s train wreck was worse, if only because it delivered Europe the crucial 14th point.
One of the best putters of the past decade yipped a straight-uphill 6-foot par putt after a terrible chip on the 17th to give Martin Kaymer a 1-up lead, then watched haplessly as the German nailed his own 6-footer to win the match on the last.
By then, Tiger Woods’ match against Francesco Molinari, which Woods led 1-up, was rendered meaningless, though it was oddly played out, with an uninterested Woods losing the final hole to halve the match.
US captain Davis Love III knows there will be an inquisition into the Medinah meltdown.
“I’m going to second-guess myself for a long time,” he said. “Could have done a lot of things differently.”
And someone needs to ask the tough questions. The US always enters a Ryder Cup with the higher-ranked collection of individuals only to succumb too often.
But that is a conversation for another day. On this day, the story was the indomitable spirit of Olazabal’s dozen.
Divining William Wallace, Olazabal paid them the ultimate compliment.
"All men die, but not all men live,” he said. “And you have made me feel alive again this week.”
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Olazabal paid tribute to the spiritual leader of this team, the late, great Seve Ballesteros, whose silhouette was on every European shirt on Sunday.
Seve always had told him to never give up, no matter the odds.
“Seve will always be present. He’s smiling now,” Olazabal said. “Last night, when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing.”
And, in truth, this greatest of upsets was born on Saturday afternoon, when the US led 10-4 but lost the remaining two matches, the last one to Ian Poulter’s unforgettable five straight birdies.
Luke Donald, who led Sunday’s charge by downing Watson, said Poulter’s heroic deeds gave the Europeans hope.
“More than you think,” he said, when asked what he thought of the team’s chances. “We actually thought we had a good chance, and we proved it.”
The Sunday heroes for Europe were many.
From Donald to Poulter (again), who’d never led against Simpson until he won the 17th — a hole that haunted the US — with a par, then birdied the last to secure a point.
Rory McIlroy thought his tee time was 12:20 because the Golf Channel gave Eastern times, not Central, when he was watching television. The world No. 1 was still at the team hotel when he got a call telling him he was on the tee in 25 minutes.
The Northern Irishman found a Chicago police officer outside his hotel and asked if he could rush him to Medinah.
The cop asked if he had motion sickness.
“I’m like, ‘No, I don’t care, just get me to that first tee,’” McIlroy said.
Without warming up, he made six birdies to beat America’s best player at this Ryder Cup, Bradley, 2 and 1.
Justin Rose, who had watched painfully as putts slid by the hole all week, drained a 40-footer for birdie on the 17th to get Mickelson back to all square, then made birdie at the last to win their match.
And then there was Kaymer, who’d been such a disappointment that he was benched after one appearance.
Olazabal found him on the 16th hole — he was tied with Stricker — and told him that Europe needed his point.
“And I really don’t care how you do it; just deliver,” the Spaniard told him.
Kaymer wasn’t unsettled by the demand.
“I like those. That’s very straightforward; that’s the way we Germans are,” he said.
He was nervous, though, on the 18th, after running his birdie putt beyond the hole.
Kaymer thought of his countryman and mentor, Bernhard Langer, who missed the same-length putt with the Ryder Cup on the line in 1991 at Kiawah Island.
“I did think about him,” he admitted. “But I didn’t really think about missing. There was only one choice you have; you have to make it.
“But if you ask me now how that putt went and how it rolled, I have no idea. I can’t remember. When it went in, I was just very happy.”
He wasn’t the only one as the chant “Ole, ole, ole, ole … Ole!” echoed late into the Chicago night.