AS EUROPE’S players showered Paul McGinley with praise for masterminding a 16½-11½ victory in the 40th Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson launched an astonishing attack on Tom Watson following an eighth defeat in the last ten transatlantic tussles for the once all-conquering Americans.
Mickelson, who was left out of Saturday’s play altogether along with Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson before beating Stephen Gallacher in the concluding singles at Gleneagles, pointed the finger of blame at Watson for the latest American dose of disappointment in the event.
Last year’s Open champion criticised Watson, the oldest Ryder Cup captain in history at 65, for not consulting his players about decisions and called for the PGA of America to restore the “pod system” that brought victory for Paul Azinger’s team at Valhalla in 2008 for the next clash at Hazeltine in two years’ time.
It involved Azinger splitting his 12 players into three groups of four throughout the week and assigning a vice-captain to each one. The system yielded a 16½-11½ victory but has not been used by either Corey Pavin, Davis Love or now Watson in subsequent defeats.
“There were two things Paul did that allowed us to play our best,” said Mickelson of the victory in Valhalla – their sole success in the last six matches. “One was he got everybody invested in each other’s play, who they were going to play with and when they would play. They had a great leader for each pod – in my case, we had Ray Floyd – and we hung out together.
“The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great gameplan for us. How we were going to go about doing this, how we were going to go about playing together – the [make of] golf ball, the format and what we were going to do. If so and so is playing well. If so and so is not playing well. Those two things helped us bring out our best golf.
“I’m just looking back at what gave us the most success. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”
Asked if the captaincy on this occasion had prevented that from happening, Mickelson clearly aimed a dig at Watson when he replied: “No, nobody here [the 12 players flanking their captain in the post-match press conference] was in any decision.”
While he’d probably have preferred such an opinion had been aired behind closed doors rather than in a packed room with TV cameras running, Watson denied that Mickelson, the most experienced Ryder Cup player on the American team, had been disloyal to him. “Not at all,” insisted the five-times Open champion. “He has a difference of opinion. That’s okay.
“My management philosophy is different than his. I didn’t discount it [Azinger’s book on the pod system]. I just had a different philosophy right off the bat.”
Watson, in turn, blamed Mickelson and his fellow players for this defeat, the damage having been done in the two foursomes sessions, which the Europeans won 7-1. “The bottom line is they kicked our butts – they were the better players this week,” he said. “We had a chance today after starting off by getting almost everything in red. But then they turned it on us and that’s what champions are made of.”
Leading 10-6 heading into the final session, Europe won the singles by a point, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson, one of three rookies, clinching the victory on a day when Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia also won, while Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Victor Dubuisson contributed halves.
The victory vindicated the decision to hand McGinley the captaincy on the strength of how well he’d done in winning two Seve Trophies, with his players, to a man, lavishing praise on the Dubliner for his meticulous preparation for Scotland’s first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years.
“I was talking to Thomas [Bjorn] yesterday and mentioned that he strongly feels that Paul is the new wave of captains,” said Garcia. “A lot more modern, every detail, it was right there. He thought of everything this week. It was amazing.”
Making his ninth appearance in the biennial event, Lee Westwood added: “I think you could base your captaincy and your future captain around the way Paul did it this week.”
While Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher both did three matches at the European helm, it’s now become a one-term stint, with McGinley set to be involved in choosing his successor.
“I’m incredibly proud and I’m very happy,” said the 47-year-old as he savoured becoming a winning captain on the back of three victories in the event as a player and two more as a vice-captain. “The Ryder Cup has been very good to me and I’m quite happy now to move into the background.
“I’ve got a role now in deciding who the next captain will be and we’ll see where that goes in the next few months. I’m happy to help going forward and I’m very happy to help the next captain in any way, but I don’t think returning to being a vice-captain is something that I will do going forward.”
After delivering his last-day contribution – a win over Jim Furyk – Garcia, meanwhile, couldn’t resist taking a dig at Nick Faldo after he’d dubbed the Spaniard “useless” last week. “Do you think he talked to Faldo?” asked Garcia as Westwood suggested McGinley had based his captaincy from “cherry-picking” information from the ones he played under.