Ryder Cup 2014: Europe’s winning masterclass

IT TOOK a miracle two years ago. This time it was down to a mixture of Gleneagles grit, McIlroy magic and a Welsh dragon’s dream debut. The Ryder Cup is still in European hands. It is eight wins in ten matches now after a 16½-11½ victory. If this keeps up, it will soon become the “Easy Ryder” Cup.

European captain Paul McGinleys leadership shone through at Gleneagles. Picture: Jane Barlow
European captain Paul McGinleys leadership shone through at Gleneagles. Picture: Jane Barlow

Leading 10-6 heading into the last-day singles, Paul McGinley’s men did not have it all their own way on a day when huge roars echoed around the north end of Glendevon from start to finish. As expected, Tom Watson’s American team came out with all guns blazing and, early on, Jordan Spieth and Hunter Mahan provided the sort of momentum that the Europeans found from a similar position when winning in Chicago two years ago.

However, a masterclass by McIlroy – the world No 1 was an approximate eight-under-par in thumping Rickie Fowler – and tenacious fightbacks by Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose allowed the home team to start breathing more easily again before Martin Kaymer, the hero at Medinah, put them on the verge of victory this time.

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European captain Paul McGinleys leadership shone through at Gleneagles. Picture: Jane Barlow

It was clinched by Jamie Donaldson before Sergio Garcia, with a win, and Ian Poulter and Victor Dubuisson, both with halves, added icing to the cake. Donaldson may have been one of three rookies, but the Welshman looked as though he has played on this stage all his life. He clinched victory in style with a majestic approach at the 15th. It was fitting, really, as McGinley’s captaincy – from the minute he was announced to the minute he sent his players out yesterday – was stamped with style.

On another fine day in Perthshire – the arrival of midges showed the temperature was above normal for this time of the year – the first-tee atmosphere was like night and day compared to Friday. A bit reserved then, this was raucous but good-natured, as it should be in this event.

The Americans needed to see some red on the board straight away. That Jordan Spieth put it up in the top match at the second came against the head. His drive was 40 yards right whereas McDowell was in the middle of the fairway. The young American, though, won it with a birdie and quickly opened up a three-hole lead. Patrick Reed was teased by the crowd on the first tee. “Have you practised your putting,” shouted one wag in reference to the American having missed a short one on the 16th on Saturday evening. That clearly fired him up. His fist-pumping and screaming reaction, as well as motioning for the crowd to “shhhhh”, to a holed putt at the seventh, was inciteful. In fairness, it came in a run of birdies which put him in front after being down early on to Henrik Stenson.

With Mahan getting off to a flyer against Rose, it would have been a welcome sight for McGinley to see McIlroy playing like the world No 1 against Fowler. Having holed from eight feet for a birdie at the first, the Northern Irishman was then conceded an eagle at the second before the next was given up as well without McIlroy having to finish the hole, though, in fairness, he was just ten feet away. When the European then holed birdie putts from five and six feet at the fifth and sixth, Fowler was in deep trouble.

An out-of-sorts Bubba Watson found himself in the same boat against Kaymer. Watson, the Masters champion, fell behind after hitting the face of the bunker from a bunker at the third. Kaymer quickly opened up a four-hole lead, the wins at both the fifth and sixth from birdies.

In his first appearance since the Friday morning fourballs, Stephen Gallacher saw a four-foot birdie putt spin out at the first against Phil Mickelson. With the crowd willing him to do well, the Scot then rolled in an eight-footer with a fair bit of break in it at the second. Mickelson’s response, though, was to win the fifth, sixth and eighth – all with birdies.

When McIlroy birdied the long ninth, albeit for a half, he was out in an approximate 31 – five-under. At that point, he was easily playing the best among the Europeans. Before too long, though, both McDowell and Rose started to show why they’ve become such tough cookies in this event. Three down at the turn, McDowell won four in a row, the disappointment for Spieth being that three of those gains were made with pars. Rose, meanwhile, birdied five in a row from the seventh, winning the last four in that run to go square against Mahan.

Gallacher also started to rally around the turn. He rolled in a monster for a hole-winning birdie-2 at the tenth. From a lot closer – around four feet – the Scot also birdied the next to level his match.

If Mahan hoped a bogey at the 12th might halt Rose’s momentum, he soon learned otherwise. From close to trees on the left of the 13th, the Englishman somehow managed to hit it very close. “There’s Seve for you,” he said, smiling, as that match went level again.

Just under three hours after starting out, McIlroy put the first point of the day on the board for Europe. Having birdied the 13th to go five up, he closed out Fowler at the next. In a 5&4 victory, McIlroy had an eagle and seven birdies in 14 holes. “I was probably more up for this today than the final days of my two major wins this year,” said the 25-year-old. “Paul wanted me to play up the order and I was very comfortable with that. I knew what was expected of me and I played my best golf of the week.”

Mickelson holed a 14-foot par putt at the 12th to stop Gallacher going in front before Kaymer, from almost the identical spot to Rose was in off the tee at the 13th, hit it just as close to stay four up in his match. Elsewhere, Matt Kuchar holed his approach for an eagle-2 at the eighth in taking control against Thomas Bjorn while Poulter, with a run of three straight birdies from seventh, went from one down to two up on Webb Simpson.

Around 20 minutes after McIlroy’s victory, McDowell edged Europe closer to victory. He hit the stick from a greenside bunker at the short 17th then holed from around six feet to beat Spieth 2&1. What a turnaround in that one and it was reassuring to see McDowell and McIlroy celebrate their respective wins with a warm embrace and dispel fears that their relationship has been harmed by a court wrangle.

“I’m relieved as the captain put a big role on me and I’m happy to deliver,” said McDowell.

“I got off to a slow start against a hell of a player but dug in and I was proud of how I played coming in.”

After Kaymer squandered a chance to close out Watson at the 14th, Reed delivered the first American point of the day despite losing a ball following a tugged tee shot at the 15th. All square playing the last, Reed almost eagled it then watched Stenson, uncharacteristically, miss from three feet for a half.

The slight deflation from that in the European camp soon disappeared as a huge roar went up down at the 16th. There, Kaymer holed a bump and run for an eagle 3 to beat Watson 4&2. “I played very well,” said the man who retained the trophy last time out at Medinah. This was every bit as satisfying for the German. “It is crazy,” he said of the atmosphere at every point on the course. “You got goosebumps on every hole – this is one of the best Ryder Cups I’ve played in.”

That win meant Europe needed just one more point to retain the trophy. Within a few minutes, though, Mickelson and Kuchar both registered victories for the Americans. Back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th enabled Mickelson to beat Gallacher 3&1. Mickelson was six-under, with his opponent four-under until dropping his sole shot of the day at the 17th. Kuchar, meanwhile, was also six-under in closing out Bjorn 4&3.

It should have been three American wins in quick succession. Mahan, though, made a mess of the last. Having fluffed a crucial chip in Wales four years ago, he skulled one this time then missed a makeable par putt. It meant Rose eked out a half. It raised his tally to four points from five matches. Undoubtedly, he was the star of this show. “Every little helps,” said Rose of his final contribution.

The final contribution in terms of wrapping up Europe’s latest success in the transatlantic tussle came from Donaldson. A chance to win it at the 14th slipped past. At the next, though, the Welshman sealed the success by hitting the “wedge of my life” to a couple of feet for a conceded eagle. It was over as a contest just after 4:30pm. “Unbelievable,” said Donaldson after ending his rookie appearance with three points from four outings.

In contrast to the 1973 match at Muirfield, the home team came in here as favourites. Favourites can often be beaten, but with McGinley at the helm, that wasn’t on the cards. A great event for Scotland had been enhanced by a group of great European players. McGinley, though, trumped even Rose’s contribution. More than great, he was sensational – and will prove a hard act to follow.