A European team in transition fell 17-11 to the USA at Hazeltine National but more than any tactical errors by Darren Clarke and his assistants, the big question remaining after the first European defeat since 2008 must be the selection process and the omission of Paul Casey and Russell Knox.
Why world No 13 Casey was not persuaded to join the tour and play and why world No 19 Knox was passed over in favour of Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer or Thomas Pieters are questions that only crop up with the benefit of hindsight.
Still, they are worth asking.
By all accounts, Clarke’s vice-captains never waivered when it came to choosing Westwood and Kaymer and it was Pieters’ brilliance in Rio and Denmark that denied Knox in the end.
Would the Scot have delivered more than Westwood or Kaymer? It’s hard to see how he could have been less effective but that's the captain's prerogative and Clarke must live and die by those decisions.
That said, it smacks of hubris to think that Europe can afford to go to the US with a transitional team and leave a two-time PGA Tour winner such as Knox at home, especially when he is ranked 19th in the world.
Clarke’s loyalty to Westwood was certainly not repaid on Saturday when the English veteran was afforded a place in the fourballs (and a chance to rebuild his confidence for the singles) and showed weaknesses that were cruelly exposed under the cosh.
Not sticking with the Spaniards Rafa Cabrera Bello and Sergio Garcia can be explained by the fact that Clarke and his team had to submit their fourball line up when the Spaniards were four down to Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed and not when they were snatching a half point on the 18th.
But having fought their way back from 4-0 on Friday morning to level the scores briefly on Saturday before falling three points behind, Europe’s putting was not at the required level on a course that was set up to favour the more attacking team.
The USA won the singles 7.5 - 4.5 when the Europeans failed to run the tables early or at least capture four of the top six matches, it was over.
The key to that was the outstanding Patrick Reed, the battling qualities of Rickie Fowler and the brilliance of veteran Phil Mickelson. That trio delivered two and a half points at the top of the order when Europe desperately needed most matches to go their way.
While Henrik Stenson beat a struggling Jordan Spieth 3 and 2 and Pieters came from two down after two to beat Jimmy Walker by the same margin, European talisman Rory McIlroy roared himself to a standstill and fell to Reed on the 18th.
The Americans simply putted better when it really counted and the lack of rough on a soft Hazeltine National allowed them to attack with impunity without fear of disaster.
The early exchanges in the top match were electrifying with McIlroy seemingly hellbent on silencing anyone who so much as cheered, never mind jeered.
Yes, the atmosphere was rabidly pro-American — well over the top — but the finger wagging and shushing from both players was overdone. The golf itself was enough with Reed going eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie from the fifth.
McIlroy, who’d edged one up when he birdied par-five third, lost the fifth to Reed’s two, then saw every move he made matched by the American.
The high point of their duel arguably came at the par-three eighth where McIlroy’s 60 footer found the bottom on the cup and he wore himself out screaming, ‘I can’t hear you’ as loud as he possibly could while cupping his hand to his ear.
Not to be outdone, Reed rolled in his 20 footer for a half and made his own gestures and McIlroy could only laugh, offer a fist bump and shoulder squeeze.
It was nice sporting gesture in a Ryder Cup that was somewhat marred by the abusive comments from the crowd though complaining about it rings hollow when so many US putts were falling on a set up that Justin Rose complained was of “Pro-Am” level difficulty
Rose, of course, was annoyed that his superior ball-striking counted for nothing against the hugely wild Fowler and he could make just four birdies against three bogeys as he fell one up to Fowler, who was just level par.
"Setup-wise, this course can be as tough as you want it to be, there's no doubt about it. I think today, I think if we were all to be honest about it, I thought the setup was incredibly weak. I thought it was very much a Pro-Am feel in terms of the pin placements. They were all middle of the green.
"I don't quite understand that to be honest with you, world-class players, 12 world-class players here and 12 world-class players here in 30 minutes time, and we want to showcase our skills. We want to be tested. For example, the water holes out there, all the pins were as far away from the water as possible.
"I mean, the pin on 17 is an absolute, you know, a joke. It's a 9-iron into the middle of the green and you stiff it. So with a match on the line, you kind of feel like you want to have something -- you want a player to step up a little bit more than they have to.
"Even 18, if you hit a good drive down there, you've got a wedge into the green, and if you hit a wedge to the middle of the green, you're within 12-foot of the pin. So I just felt coming down the stretch, it was a little soft.”
McIlroy was also asked what he’d like to see at Hazeltine National when a major event is next staged there and as a frustrated putter, who saw wilder hitters beat him, he said: “I hope it has more rough, just to say, but that’s about it."
He was referring to his Friday morning foursomes loss to Fowler and Mickelson, who hit it all over Minnesota and still won 1 up.
Against Reed, he missed a six footer for par on the ninth that would have put him one up, then lost the 12th to a par and could only halved the par-three 13th in bogey as his energy levels dropped alarmingly.
When Reed birdied the 16th to go two up, McIlroy snatched a hole back with a par at the 17th but Reed birdied the last brilliantly from 10 feet, meaning McIlroy never got to hit his six footer.
“I think all the energy that I’ve expended this week, it sort of caught up with me on the back nine today and it caught up with me on the back nine yesterday, as well, playing with Thomas,” McIlroy said.
"I wanted to try to take the bull by the horns and try and -- you know, there's a lot of leaders on this team. It isn't just me. There’s a whole lot of guys that have more experience than me.
"I wanted to go out there and lead by example and give off the right energy and put as much blue on the board as possible. I felt like I succeeded somewhat, definitely because of a great partner I had in Thomas.
"But I tried to do the same thing today. I just ran out of steam on the back nine. I felt not physically, but mentally just a little — I was trying to summon up energy.
"I was trying to do everything I could. I was taking on loads of fluids and trying to eat plenty and just trying to give it my all, just one last round of golf before I have a little bit of time off. It just wasn't meant to be.
"I mean, Patrick played incredibly well all week, and you know, there's not really much more I could have done. Maybe if I would have been 10-under, like Sergio out there today, I might have been able to get a halve like he did.
"Yeah, I tried my best. I tried my best for this team, for these group of guys around me, and it just wasn’t meant to be today.
"But you know, that will galvanize us. It will make us stronger to come back in Paris and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a very similar team setup in 2018 and we try to get this thing back.”
McIlroy played down the abuse he got from US fans and insisted that he would not be encouraging the French to retaliate in 2018.
“Definitely, first and foremost, we wouldn’t encourage any sort of retaliation,” he said to applause from his team mates. "That's just not who we are. That's not what we do.
"There won't be -- and we'll be making that clear. We want to play this tournament in the manner in which it should be played. And between us, the 12 players and vice captains and captains on this team and between the 12 players on the U.S. Team, it was played on the manner in which it should have been played.
“We have no problems with anyone on either team, and really, it’s just a very small minority; 95 percent of the people out there, the American gallery are absolutely fantastic, they really are."
While Cabrera Bello was superb as he came from two down after four holes to beat Jimmy Walker 3 and 2, the Americans were in the ascendency in most of the other matches with Mickelson and Garcia halving an epic match that saw them produce a betterball of 11 under par.
The left hander jumped in the air in delight, a la his six-inch Masters winning jump. And Garcia had the grace to joke about the abuse he got from American fans without sounding bitter.
“Today was definitely a little bit better, I would say,” Garcia said of the galleries. “Obviously I still — I definitely know I haven’t won a major (laughter)."
Pádraig Harrington, who denied Garcia the Open in 2007 and the US PGA in 2008, sat behind the Spaniard and raised his arms in mock triumph.
The Mickelson-Garcia match was one of the last to be decided but the end for Europe came swiftly afterwards.
With the Americans 9.5-6.5 ahead overnight, they needed just 5.5 pts to win the Ryder Cup and got them quickly.
Brandt Snedeker beat Andy Sullivan 3 and 1, then Brooks Koepka defeated Danny Willett 5 and 4 as Zach Johnson beat Matt Fitzpatrick 4 and 3.
Ryan Moore’s 1 up win over Westwood got the Americans to the winning number and the remainder of the afternoon was anti-climactic as the USA celebrated and Dustin Johnson beat Chris Wood 1 up as Kaymer took an academic point from Kuchar with the match decided.
McIlroy was magnificent for Europe for most of the week but his high energy approach was unsustainable and Reed arguably beat both the Ulsterman and Pieters for player of the tournament honours.
“I knew today was going to be tough going against a guy like Rory, especially with how he was playing earlier this week,” Reed said. “To come out and play as well as we did, especially on that front nine, it was definitely something fun to be a part of and pretty sure fun to watch.”
It was one of the highlights of a week that made it clear that the Ryder Cup is something beyond golf — a mixture of showbusiness, business and UFC mixed with a major championship level field.
The furore over the blog penned by Danny Willett’s brother certainly affected him and Clarke’s line up earlier in the week.
Asked to describe his first Ryder Cup experience, Willett said: “Shit….Being honest. Sorry, would you like me to elaborate? Really shit (laughter).”
Ryder Cup Notes — Sunday, Oct. 2
United States Breaks Three-Cup Losing Streak
The United States team beat Europe 17 to 11 in the 41st Ryder Cup, their first victory since 2008. Davis Love III’s final Captain’s pick, Ryan Moore, clinched the Cup for the U.S. on the 18th Hole.
Patrick Reed led the way for the United States with 3.5 points, while Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker each scored three. For Europe, three players failed to record a point: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan and Danny Willett.
All 12 members of Captain Davis Love III’s U.S. Ryder Cup team had a hand in winning at least one match this week at Hazeltine, and, in fact, this feat was completed by the end of Saturday afternoon’s session. The last time every member of a U.S. Ryder Cup Team earned at least one win in a single Ryder Cup was in 1975 at Laurel Valley, when Arnold Palmer’s squad bested Europe, 21 to 11.
Since 1979, the United States has entered Sunday singles with at least a 3-point lead on three occasions and secured the Ryder Cup twice (2016, 1981). The lone exception: 2012 at Medinah (led 10-6, lost 14½ over 13½).
Pieters Sets European Records
With his 3 and 2 Singles victory on Sunday versus J.B. Holmes, Thomas Pieters set the European rookie record for most points and wins in a single Ryder Cup. His four wins surpass the previous record of three set by several European greats, including Sir Nick Faldo, José María Olazábal and Sergio Garcia. Additionally, the four points scored by Pieters puts him past the 3½ tally set by Paul Way (1983), Sergio Garcia (1999) and Paul Lawrie (1999).
Davis Love III’s four Captain’s Selections – Rickie Fowler (2-1-0), J.B. Holmes (1-2-0), Matt Kuchar (2-2-0) and Ryan Moore (2-1-0) – combined on a 7-6-0 record this week at Hazeltine. The quartet’s 7 combined victories set a new mark for combined wins from Captain’s selections in a single Ryder Cup. The former mark of 6 was shared by the 2010 and 2012 United States Teams (the U.S. made just two Captain’s picks from 1989-2006, before evolving to its present allotment of four in 2008).
Phil Eyes History
With his 45th match today, Phil Mickelson trails only Sir Nick Faldo’s 46 matches for most all-time, while his 11th Singles match ties Arnold Palmer for most by a United States player. After a 2-1-1 record this week, Mickelson is up to 18 wins all-time, trailing Palmer (22), Billy Casper (20) and Lenny Wadkins (20).
On Saturday, Phil Mickelson eclipsed the tie held for the record of Most Four-Ball Matches won that was shared win Wadkins and Palmer. Mickelson now has 8 wins at Four-Ball. Wadkins and Palmer are tied for second with 7.
Rookies in Singles
The six rookies for Europe finished with a 2-4-0 record today, while the United States team’s two rookies Brooks Koepka and Ryan Moore won each of their matches.
Prior to Sunday’s Singles session and dating back to 1999, European rookies were a combined 8-17-6 in the Singles format. During the same stretch, U.S. rookies were 14-14-3. The last rookies to win a Singles match occurred for both sides in 2014, when Jamie Donaldson (Europe), Patrick Reed (U.S.) and Jimmy Walker (U.S.) accomplished the feat for their respective sides.
- Since 1979, the team who wins the Singles session has won the Ryder Cup 15 of the 19 times, including today.
- Rafa Cabrera Bello (2-0-1) was the lone European without a loss during the 41st Ryder Cup; while Brandt Snedeker remained unbeaten as well, turning in a perfect 3-0-0 mark.
- European players entered Sunday’s Singles matches with a combined 13-13-2 record, while the United States players were collectively 13-11-2.
- Dating to 2008, European players who participate in five sessions were 4-0-1 in Singles entering Sunday.
Matches ended on the following holes:
- Hole 14 – 4
- Hole 15 – 1
- Hole 16 – 9
- Hole 17 – 4
- Hole 18 – 10
Captain’s Picks Update —
- Martin Kaymer 1-3-0
- Thomas Pieters 4-1-0
- Lee Westwood 0-3-0
United States: 7-6-0
- Rickie Fowler: 2-1-0
- J.B. Holmes: 1-2-0
- Matt Kuchar: 2-2-0
- Ryan Moore: 2-1-0
- Rafa Cabrera Bello: 2-0-1
- Matthew Fitzpatrick: 0-2-0
- Thomas Pieters: 4-1-0
- Andy Sullivan: 0-2-0
- Danny Willett: 0-3-0
- Chris Wood: 1-1-0
United States: 5-2-0
- Brooks Koepka: 3-1-0
- Ryan Moore: 2-1-0