It was nervy at times. Brookline and Medinah were constant reminders that “poulets” could not be counted on another tense final day in the Ryder Cup. It was job done, though, as Europe ran out deserved winners in the 42th staging of this gripping sporting spectacle at Le Golf National in the Paris suburbs.
Needing just four-and-a-half points to regain the trophy, having lost a grip on it at Hazeltine two years ago, it took a little bit longer than Thomas Bjorn, the home captain, would have liked to secure that tally. They got there, though, and that’s all that mattered. It finished 17.5-10.5 after three enthralling days.
This was Europe’s sixth successive home victory in the transatlantic tussle, a run stretching back to 1993. They’ve also won nine times in the last 12 matches. Maybe that task force set up by the Americans after a defeat at Gleneagles in 2014 didn’t come up with those solutions, after all.
How fitting that it was Francesco Molinari who edged Europe over the finishing line after earlier wins from Thorbjorn Olesen, Jon Rahm and Ian Poulter against Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, as well as an equally valuable half point from Paul Casey against Brooks Koepka.
Molinari, the Open champion, beat Phil Mickelson, to deliver his fifth point of a memorable match for the Italian. He’s the first European player to achieve that feat and only the fourth in the event’s history, joining Arnold Palmer and Gardner Dickinson (both 1967) and Larry Nelson (1979).
Sergio Garcia was just pipped by Molinari in getting his team to that magical 14.5 mark. The Spaniard didn’t mind in the slightest. Especially not when the win he delivered against Rickie Fowler soon afterwards saw him become the record point scorer in the event. Taking his tally to 25.5 points, “El Nino” moved a point ahead of Nick Faldo. Not a bad way to vindicate what some people thought had been a controversial pick by Bjorn.
That was just one of many decisions the Dane got right. In fact, his captaincy was simply “magnifique”. Casey, making his return to this stage after a ten-year absence, had also been handed a wild card, as had Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson. Guess who also rose to the occasion for Bjorn, not only on the last day but in the match overall?
For all that he had proved the inspiration for the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012 after finishing with five birdies in a row in the penultimate session, Poulter still seemed to have some doubters out there. Surely not now, though. The way he dug deep to beat Johnson, the world No 1, was mighty impressive.
That’s five wins now for the Englishman in six Ryder Cup singles. No-one loves these head-to-head clashes more.
Stenson thrives in the electricity of this environment, too. The Swede produced the best golf of the session. Five birdies and no bogeys saw Bubba Watson end up being hammered. The European celebrations were in full swing by the time that point was delivered. Stenson’s compatriot, Alex Noren, added some more icing on the cake when he brought the curtain down on this encounter in style, holing a monster putt on the 18th green in front of his team-mates to beat Bryson DeChambeau in the anchor match.
All 12 of the European players won at least one match in the contest. They were all heroes for Bjorn. Molinari was the man of the match on the course but equal credit should go to his captain. First and foremost, he had faith in those four wildcards. It would have been easy for him to have been swayed after Matt Wallace won the final counting event, the Made in Denmark, in impressive style in front of Bjorn. With five rookies already in his team, though, he wanted to add some experience and, boy, did those old heads deliver. The skipper also deserves credit for not flinching after Europe lost the first ession 3-1.
He stuck to his gameplan and was rewarded with a first-ever 4-0 foursomes whitewash for the Europeans. After backing that up with a 3-1 victory in the third session on Saturday morning to open up a four-point lead, the home team was always in the driving seat, especially on a course they know so well from the French Open having been staged here for the last 17 years. The way it is set up, and it hadn’t been tricked up specifically for this event, suited the Europeans and, at the same time, didn’t really suit the Americans.
They faced a tall order on the last day. Having said that, they closed a four-point overnight deficit to just one. After lots of toing and froing, Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson and Tony Finau delivered wins against Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood respectively.
Thomas prevailed at the last after a ding-ding battle with McIlroy, while Finau produced a polished performance to end Fleetwood’s hopes of matching Molinari with a full set of points. Koepka got up and down from a greenside bunker to chip in with his half point against Casey.
In the end, though, Furyk was let down by too many of his players, notably Woods and Mickelson. Woods lost all four matches. That’s 21 defeats in total in this event for the greatest player of his generation and seven defeats in eight Ryder Cups. Only used twice by his captain, Mickelson lost both times. With 22 losses in total, that’s one US record he’d rather not hold. Add in Spieth suffering his third singles defeat in three appearances, having also lost the same number of head-to-head matches in the Presidents Cup, and too many of the players Furyk needed to rise to the occasion fell flat on their faces.
Take nothing whatsoever away from Europe, though. Allez les Bleus.