Rory McIlroy’s police escort from his hotel to Medinah, just in time for his 11:30am (Central) tee time should have sounded the alarm for team USA. Europe’s number three player on Sunday avoided a major league blunder, stepped right onto the course without any warm-up and played his way to a 2 and 1 victory over Keegan Bradley for a European 3-0 start on the Ryder Cup’s final day of play. This in itself should have been a sign for the Americans; it was not going to be the dominant finish they had hoped for and a collapse wasn’t far away.
What took place from that point on however is well, just a travesty? The United States, which opened the final day of play with a commanding 10-6 lead, had still only given up its margin for error with plenty of golf remaining. But the momentum had swung and the United States squad then found itself under pressure. But not just normal golf pressure, Ryder Cup pressure. The weight of holding up both team and country, not just oneself and it proved to be too much for several U.S. players to handle. The first to gag, or be outplayed, however you personally would like to put it was Phil Mickelson. Lefty, led Justin Rose by a shot heading onto 16. Rose however picked his game up to another level. He drilled a 12-foot par to halve the hole. He then knocked down a 35-footer from the back of the green to win the 17th outright, tying the match. On 18, he then drained another 12 foot birdie putt to capture the match, tying the overall competition. Rose simply took his play into another gear that Mickelson could not match and from this point on, it all seemed to fall apart for the squad captained by Davis Love III. Six of the 12 matches on Sunday, weren’t determined until the 18th hole and the United States only won just one. Maybe the most painful and telling of the growing pressure the U.S. team felt was blown lead by Jim Furyk, one of Love’s Captain’s choices for the team. He outplayed Sergio Garcia for 16 holes only to go belly-up with bogeys on both 17 and 18 losing his match to the Spaniard 1-up, as the Americans lead was completely gone with just four matches remaining. The next big choke job came from another of Love’s Captain Choices in Steve Stricker. He was all-square with Martin Kaymer heading to 17. Simply put, the German birdied and pared while the American finished par, par and that was it. With the win, Europe pulled a full point in front with just one match remaining, Tiger Woods versus Francisco Molinari. Since the defending champion retains the cup in the matter of a tie, Woods finish was left meaningless even with his halve, all part of a 14 ½ to 13 ½ European victory. So who deserves the heat in this debacle that adds to the European total of nine Ryder Cup victories to just four for the United States since 1985? Well the guy who didn’t even compete takes the most. Davis Love III had four captain’s picks on the team. The only one who played well was Dustin Johnson, as he went undefeated at 3-0-0. The other three, Brandt Snedeker, Furyk and Stricker finished a combined 2-8-1. With a record like that, his judgment has to be questioned. You can add Tiger Woods to the list as well. Even though his final match on Sunday was basically meaningless at the finish, Tiger’s halve point was his only positive contribution to the competition as he failed to generate a single full point for team USA. The bottom line however is the Ryder Cup is always won and lost on Sunday with the singles matches. The two American’s that fell apart in crunch-time were Furyk and Stricker. Both just happened to be playing down the stretch when the United States needed a win and neither made it happen. When you play in the spotlight, either the glory or blame comes your way. Unfortunately for both of these guys, they failed at the wrong time. But the greatest collapse in Cup history took a total team effort along with some luck from the other side. When McIlroy managed to avoid the biggest blunder in Cup play and turn it into mojo for a European rally, it wasn’t too hard to see what has about to take place.