THEY did it. Against all the odds, Europe retained the Ryder Cup. Trailing 10-6 heading into the singles, they did Seve Ballesteros proud on a dramatic last day on the outskirts of Chicago.
Martin Kaymer, who’d been left out of the second day altogether, was the hero, holing a six-foot putt on the final green. It was the same situation his compatriot, Bernhard Langer, had been in at Kiawah Island in 1991. He missed, but Kaymer made no mistake.
Europe won the top five matches. Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Paul Lawrie produced the goods in those. Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood won, too, before Kaymer completed another memorable day for European golf in this event. Olazabal was close to tears at the end. No wonder. His counterpart, Davis Love III, was left stunned by the outcome. It matched the biggest comeback in the event’s history, the Europeans feeling the pain on that occasion at Brookline in 1999.
The Americans had arrived early for the 11.03 start. They were there to paint the course red, having answered the PGA of America’s call to make the final day a “Red-Out”. As expected, the European players were donned in navy blue and white, the colours most associated with Seve Ballesteros.
Bubba Watson was first out for the Americans. Yet he was beaten to the tee by Keegan Bradley. The rookie had ignited the home crowds on the opening day. He had clearly been sent on a mission by Davis Love III to get them jacked up again. Not that Watson needs any help in that department. He teed off again with a wall of noise reverberating around the tee. It was starting to go quiet but Bubba signalled that he wanted the full blast.
Europe needed some early momentum. Luke Donald was just the man to provide it. He lives just 25 miles north of Chicago, having set up home in Illinois after attending Northwestern University then marrying an American. He was giving around 30 yards off the tee to Watson, but length isn’t everything.
Donald, playing his best golf of the week, turned two up. He then won the 11th and 12th. He dumped his tee shot in the water at the 13th, but still managed to earn an unlikely half. He should have killed Watson off at the 14th but missed a four-foot eagle attempt. The American then won his first hole of the match with a birdie at the next. He then chipped in at the next.
The Englishman finally managed to hammer in the final nail at the short 17th. “It was a big honour for me to go out first,” he admitted. “Olly had trust in me and I did what I had to do.” Playing in his adopted home city had been a help. “It wasn’t totally going Bubba’s way – I felt a lot of love from the crowd,” he added.
Lawrie was next to deliver. He claimed a notable scalp in Brandt Snedeker, the newly-crowned FedEx Cup champion after winning the Tour Championship in Atlanta the previous weekend. The Scot won his singles in 1999, when he made his only other previous appearance in the event. He repeated the feat thanks to a polished performance. A chip-in from off the back of the green at the fourth got the juices flowing. He followed that with a brilliant eagle three at the next. He was six-under for the holes played in winning 5 and 4. “It is nice – Kleenex is required,” admitted an emotional Lawrie after recording his side’s biggest win of the week.
The next point came from McIlroy; Poulter followed suit soon afterwards. McIlroy had a ding-dong tussle with Keegan Bradley, the rookie who had provided most of the American energy on the first two days. He’d won three out of three before sitting out the second fourball session. He’d have fancied his chances of retaining that 100 per cent record after seeing his opponent almost running on to the first tee after getting his American time zones mixed up.
In a way, the rush proved McIlroy’s driving force. He didn’t want to let his team-mates down. He was true to his word. He birdied three in a row early on then added two more back-to-back, at the 14th and 15th, late on. “I liked the idea of playing one of their strongest players and going out there and putting a point on the board early for the team,” said the world No 1.
Poulter’s two-hole win over Webb Simpson, the US Open champion, was his fourth out of four in the singles. Despite a full-blooded shank at the short eighth, Simpson led most of the way. Poulter, though, is like a dog with a bone in this contest. He made a Seve-type up and down for a half at the 16th then got his nose in front for the first time at the 17th. For good measure, he made a birdie out of the trees at the last to win two up.
“That was a really tough day,” confessed Poulter, who had finished with five birdies in the final fourball on Saturday night to generate some much-needed positivity in the European team-room. “I didn’t have my best game early on so I had to stick in. The Ryder Cup is not for the faint of heart and it was an unbelievable finish.”
Europe had won four of the first five matches and it was tied at 10-10. America’s first response came from Dustin Johnson. He beat Belgian rookie Nicolas Colsaerts, who never managed to get up in that match. The American opened with a birdie and made five more thereafter, the telling ones coming at the 14th and 15th. Europe were back level again, though, when Justin Rose produced one of the greatest finishes in the event’s history.
The Englishman was up against the hugely experienced Phil Mickelson who edged ahead with five to play and still led standing on the 17th tee. Rose then holed a tramliner across the green for a birdie there. Mickelson didn’t seem to mind that too much. He smiled, applauded his opponent and gave him the thumbs up. He wasn’t smiling after what happened at the last.
There, Mickelson went through the back with his
approach. Rose, on the other hand, found the front edge and rolled in the birdie putt from around 15 feet. It was some finish from the player who has had to live in Poulter’s shadow in this event but jumped right into the centre of the stage on this occasion.
Rose had also beaten Mickelson at Valhalla four years ago. This time was sweeter, though. “Phil always seems to bring out the best in me,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever made three putts back-to-back [he also holed one at the 16th] in my career.”
It meant the top five matches had all fallen to Europe. Zach Johnson then provided win No 2 for the Americans. He led from the start against Graeme McDowell, who, on this occasion, was a shadow of the player that had delivered the winning point in Wales two years ago. Jason Dufner added another win for the home team, beating Peter Hanson. By then, however, it was beginning to slip away from the Americans.
Lee Westwood, the most experienced Ryder Cup player in the European team, recaptured his form at just the right time. He was always ahead against Matt Kuchar. Back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th put him three-up.
It was ridiculous that Kuchar made the Englishman hole a
tiddler to secure his win at the 16th. He didn’t seem to mind, though, as he’d done what was asked of him.
So, too, did Sergio Garcia. He hit the best shot of the day at the short second to take an early lead against Jim Furyk. The plodding American battled back and was one up with two to play. The way an experienced man like him played those final holes was all down to Ryder Cup nerves. He missed the green at the 17th and lost that to a par. He was bunkered off the tee at the last, through with his approach and then missed from six feet. Garcia had secured another unlikely point for Europe.
It was all down to the last two matches. Kaymer had been one down early on. He was square at the turn then the lead went back and forth. He, too, won the 17th to go in front. He raced his first putt at the last six foot past. It left a knee-knocker but, boy, was the German up to the task.