The Seve Factor
No-one made the seemingly impossible look easy like Seve Ballesteros. The great Spanish golfing matador, who passed away in May last year, was certainly in Chicago in spirit as Europe made an epic recovery to win on the final day.
Paul Lawrie, pointless from his two previous matches, was six under to beat Brandt Snedeker. Justin Rose produced heroics to defeat Phil Mickelson while Martin Kaymer embodied the spirit of the swashbuckling paniard when he overcame the demons that have haunted him all season to secure the crucial point.
Ian Poulter, Europe’s talisman, gave Europe hope with that Seve-like comeback victory alongside Rory McIlroy on Friday night, when he birdied the last five holes to beat Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner one up.
“When Jose chose navy blue on white for Sunday, he did it for a reason,” Poulter said. “We had Seve on our bags and on our arms and I know he was up there watching. We won it for him.”
Davis Love III knew before the start that if he won, he’d be the hero. If he lost, he’d be questioned. Europe’s comeback victory confirmed his worst fears.
While Jose Maria Olazabal made mistakes, pairing Rose and Molinari in a spiritless fourball on Saturday afternoon and benching Sergio Garcia to pair McIlroy with Graeme McDowell - clearly not a fourball force - on Friday afternoon, Love’s errors were more costly.
Whatever about his decisions on Tiger Woods (who earned half a point from four), failing to send out Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon when he was hotter than hot with Mickelson following that 7 and 6 mauling of Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in the foursomes, was a turning point. Europe managed to share the session 2-2 and the Ryder Cup dynamic changed.
In the singles, he put all his strength at the top and left little in the tail where the Ryder Cup was eventually decided.
Every team needs a talisman or two but Europe had a hero and a catalyst in Ian Poulter, whose Saturday night performance single-handedly turned the Ryder Cup on its head.
Jose Maria Olazabal joked that the Ryder Cup should put up a statue to the Englishman for the way he birdied the last five holes in that fourball with McIlroy to turn an 11-5 scoreline into a less frightening 10-6.
Graeme McDowell, who was Europe’s match-winning hero at Celtic Manor two years ago, felt a seismic shift in Europe’s fortunes when Poulter holed that 15 footer on the 18th on Saturday.
“The first two days we just got beat up,” McDowell said. “All the putts that were dropping were American putts until about 5.30 last night when Ian Poulter started that run.”
Europe had just one rookie in Belgian wildcard Nicolas Colsaerts. The USA had four in Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson and the gulf in experience would prove crucial on the final day.
While Dufner held on by his fingertips to beat the struggling Peter Hanson 2 up, the rest of the American rookies were undone by seasoned European opponents in the pressure-packed cauldron of singles play.
Simpson was simply zoned out by the brilliant Poulter, a man who feeds off Ryder Cup pressure and makes up for his technical deficiencies with pure determination. Snedeker wilted against the metronome that is Paul Lawrie while Bradley ran out of steam on the final day and was outclassed by word number one McIlroy.
Love four captain’s picks were disappointing with Dustin Johnson earning four of the six points they eventually earned from a possible 14. The big hitter from South Carolina won four points out of four as 45-year old Steve Stricker lost all four matches, Brandt Snedeker won just one of three and 42-year old Jim Furyk’s late collapse against Sergio Garcia changed the destiny of the Ryder Cup.
Poulter was the wildcard to trump all wildcards, winning four points out of four and while Nicolas Colsaerts got just one point out of four, his world-beating putting display with Lee Westwood in defeating Tiger Woods and Stricker on Friday afternoon gleaned a point that was worth its weight in gold last night.