Europe Downs U.S. for Ryder Cup

As of 11:10 p.m. CST on Sunday, things could not have been going better for captain Davis Love III and the United States Ryder Cup team.

The Americans held a throttling 10-6 lead at the start of the day, needing just 4.5 more combined points out of a possible 12 from their remaining singles matches to claim vic-tory over Europe. At that moment, Britain’s Rory McIlroy, currently the best golfer in the world of any nationality, was just a few min-utes away from an astonishing disqualification that would all but seal his team’s inescapable fate. The United States looked poised to win the Cup for just the second time in the last six events.

And yet, it was not meant to be.

McIlroy appeared on the tee box precisely one minute later and went on to defeat the previously-unstoppable Keegan Bradley 2-and-1. That win was one of many for the Europeans on the afternoon, as the interna-tionals went on to defeat the U.S. at Chi-cago’s Medinah Country Club by a final of 14.5-13.5.

Though McIlroy had not warmed up and narrowly missed his starting time, he and the Europe team played at an unbe-lievable level over the entire afternoon. It was nothing short of overwhelming watch-ing the bevy of clutch performances along the way. Captain Jos?e Mar?-a Olaz??bal’s squad made clutch putts and sand saves again and again to spark a comeback eerily reminiscent of the American’s back in 1999. Incidentally, the improbable U.S. win 13 years ago was the only previous instance of a Ryder Cup team overcoming a four-point deficit on the final day.

Despite the United States’ solid play, no American golfers could finish their matches with conviction.

Stalwart Jim Furyk was an obvious culprit, bogeying each of the last two holes to hand Sergio Garcia a 1-up victory. On both greens, Furyk lipped out putts that would have been good for par. The fact that the lanky Penn-sylvanian had been 1-up over the Spaniard as the pair walked to the 17th tee didn’t make the loss any easier to bear.

Furyk’s misses meant that efforts to halt the European rally sat squarely in the clubs and hands of Steve Stricker and – you guessed it – Tiger Woods. After the way those two played through the first two days at Medinah, Love III must not have been pleased. Nei-ther golfer had won a match to that point, and neither came through with a full point when it mattered most. It all added up to the largest blown lead by the United States in a Ryder Cup since 1981 and a lot of shocked American fans.

Considering Furyk and Stricker were Love III’s captain’s picks, meaning the golfers had not technically earned their spots on the team, their struggles were particularly embarrassing. Still, the Ameri-cans’ failure was not guaranteed until the last possible moment of each match. Six of the 12 matches on the last day came down to the final hole. Miraculously for the Europeans, they came out on top in five of them.

For the European squad, Ian Poulter was a gift from the heavens on Sunday. The oft-grinding Brit captured his final two holes against U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson to tie the Cup at 10 apiece. Poulter notably cashed in on five straight birdie putts dur-ing one stretch of his match with Simpson, rolling them in with apparent ease. What an unexpectedly wonderful sight for the outnumbered European fans in the crowd at Medinah.

Poulter’s countryman Justin Rose pro-vided his side with an upset of his own, overtaking crowd-favorite and match-fa-vorite Phil Mickelson on the last two holes with two mind-boggling shots. Rose holed a long, winding birdie putt from 35 feet on the 17th green to pull even with Mickelson, then clinched a point by sinking another birdie from 12 feet at the last. His emphatic fist pump quickly became emblematic of Europe’s crazy revival.

German and former world number one Martin Kaymer closed it out by mak-ing a six-foot putt for par on the 18th hole to finish 1-up on Stricker and seal Europe’s victory.

European golf fans will undoubtedly look back on Sunday with fond memories; the golfers will take the momentum with them to the 2014 Ryder Cup.

The United States team will only see a per-fect opportunity lost and wonder what might have been.

Contact Jordan Plaut at [email protected].