Miracle at Medinah? Or Medinah Meltdown? Whatever you call it, this 2012 Ryder Cup is going to sting the U.S. for awhile.
When Martin Kaymer's 6-foot par putt found the bottom of the cup at 18 for a 1-up win over Steve Stricker in the weekend's penultimate match, Europe had clinched a 14-14 tie and retention of the Cup, no matter the outcome of the Tiger Woods-Francesco Molinari match still on the course. To rub salt into the wound, Woods conceded a putt 18 to fall into a halve with Molinari, giving the Euros a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 win. And what had once looked like a likely U.S. rout had morphed into a shocking European triumph on American soil before a highly charged, partisan crowd that left more deflated than a post-Thanksgiving Snoopy balloon.
Captains Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal had saved their losers for last; the final four players on the course entered the day a combined 0-9 in their 2012 matches. Shockingly, the Cup was eventually in the hands of those very players. Martin Kaymer, whose game had been in disarray coming into these matches, was up to the task, while Stricker capped a crushingly bad weekend with another late meltdown. And the Cup belongs to Europe for another two years.
"It’s been a tough week," said an emotional Olazabal, who inspired his team with constant reminders of Ryder Cup legend Seve Ballesteros, who died in 2011. "The first two days nothing went our way. We struggled on the greens, and this morning I felt a little change in that regard, and we started to make a few putts. The Americans just started to miss them. And winning those (first) few matches, that was key.
"This means a lot. This is for the whole of Europe."
If you're looking for heroes, there were plenty on the Euro side. Any unofficial MVP award would go to Ian Poulter, who arrived at Medinah on a mission and then went 4-0. His birdie binge in Saturday's final fourball match gave Europe a critical point and a glimmer of hope heading into Sunday, and his 2-up singles win over Webb Simpson was a key catalyst in Europe's early singles charge.
Looking for goats? There were enough on the American team to populate a small farm on a Sunday that saw Europe win 8.5 of a possible 12 points.
Before Europe clinched, there was plenty of clenching on the U.S. side. Both Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk stood on the 17th tee 1-up in their matches, but neither earned so much as a half-point, losing their matches to Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, respectively. Furyk, one of Love's captain's picks, missed a testy par putt on 18 that would have salvaged a critical half-point against Garcia; instead, he became the third American to lose both 17 and 18 to cost his team points. Mickelson fell victim to a little Euro magic, as Rose drained an improbable bomb at 17 and then birdied 18 to snatch a full point away from Lefty, who had been so solid all weekend and entered singles with a 3-0 match record.
In a role reversal from the 1999 Miracle at Brookline, the U.S. team entered singles play with a seemingly insurmountable 10-6 lead, then watched a flurry of early match wins from the Europeans, who took the day's first five matches.
Phil Mickelson, whose Ryder Cup travails had represented a black mark on his career resume, and Keegan Bradley had helped stake the Americans to that lead with three emotion-charged points in foursomes and fourballs, but their deflating losses in singles opened the door for the Euros. Mickelson's loss to Justin Rose was a particularly stunning turn, as Rose's birdie-birdie finish, spurred by that monster putt at 17 that echoed Justin Leonard's bomb at Brookline in 1999, erased what seemed a sure U.S. point. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy took down the feisty Bradley, who provided many electric moments over the three days while proving an undeniable irritant to the Euros with his eccentric mannerisms and effusive celebrations.
But on this shocking, deflating day, the biggest celebrations belonged to the Europeans.
• Jason Dufner may be carrying some extra flab, but the guy was a rock for the U.S. at Medinah. Duf and Zach Johnson earned two critical points as an untouchable foursomes partnership, and Dufner was the best U.S. performer in singles play, beating Peter Hanson on the strength of two front-9 eagles. Johnson was another bulldog for the American side, beating Graeme McDowell in singles and posting a 3-1 record.
• Dustin Johnson performed the best of Love's captain's picks, going 3-0 and earning a singles win over Friday star Nicolas Colsaerts. He was the only American not to taste defeat for the weekend. The fact that he appeared only three times will subject Love to some second-guessing.
• Woods entered his singles match against Francesco Molinari with an 0-3 record in the 2012 Cup and left 0-3-1, but that number is a little deceiving. In his foursomes and fourball matches, Woods had a dead elephant named Steve Stricker on his back. Stricker was picked for his putter, but that short-stick magic was lacking at Medinah.
• Brandt Snedeker obviously had a FedExCup hangover; the newly minted Cup champion was surprisingly ineffective at Medinah. Partner Jim Furyk bailed him out in their foursomes match win over Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell on Saturday morning, but Sneds' wild tee shot cost them at least a halve in their Friday foursomes match, and he was never in his singles match with Paul Lawrie despite being a heavy favorite over one of Europe's lesser lights. Snedeker had played 10 out 11 weeks in his pursuit of the FedExCup, and fatigue caught up with him this week.
• The captain gets too much credit and too much blame in these matches, but Love's captain's picks combined to go 5-8-0, and he seemed powerless to stop the bleeding on Sunday.
• 2010 Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell never got the hang of the speed of the Medinah greens in going 1-3 for the weekend.
• Much like the play on the course, NBC's coverage was hit-and-miss. There were an unforgivable number of technical glitches, especially on Saturday, and an irritating number of commercials and other interruptions in the action on the course. Much of the commentary was spot-on, although Johnny Miller's sniping shtick from the comfort of the booth is starting to wear thin. Colin Montgomerie provided some honest Euro perspective; a little homerism is fine, and he's earned the right to indulge in it with his spectacular Ryder Cup record. His squeaky, high-pitched voice doesn't exactly defuse his "Mrs. Doubtfire" nickname, though.
Luke Donald def. Bubba Watson 2&1
Ian Poulter def. Webb Simpson 2-up
Rory McIlroy def. Keegan Bradley 2&1
Justin Rose def. Phil Mickelson 1-up
Paul Lawrie def. Brandt Snedeker 5&3
Dustin Johnson def. Nicolas Colsaerts 3&2
Zach Johnson def. Graeme McDowell 2&1
Sergio Garcia def. Jim Furyk 1-up
Jason Dufner def. Peter Hason 2&1
Lee Westwood def. Matt Kuchar 3&2
Martin Kayer def. Steve Stricker 1-up
Tiger Woods halved Francesco Molinari
Ian Poulter 4-0-0
Rory McIlroy 3-2-0
Justin Rose 3-2-0
Luke Donald 2-2-0
Sergio Garcia 2-2-0
Lee Westwood 2-2-0
Martin Kaymer 1-1-0
Paul Lawrie 1-2-0
Nicolas Colsaerts 1-3-0
Graeme McDowell 1-3-0
Francesco Molinari 0-2-1
Peter Hanson 0-2-0
Dustin Johnson 3-0-0
Keegan Bradley 3-1-0
Jason Dufner 3-1-0
Zach Johnson 3-1-0
Phil Mickelson 3-1-0
Matt Kuchar 2-1-0
Webb Simpson 2-2-0
Bubba Watson 2-2-0
Jim Furyk 1-2-0
Brandt Snedeker 1-2-0
Tiger Woods 0-3-1
Steve Stricker 0-4-0