Ryder Cup: Medinah Magic
Over the past two years, the golfing world has been gearing up for the 2012 Ryder Cup. The 39th edition at Medinah Country Club in Illinois, USA, has been the most anticipated match of all time.
And it just lived up to the hype!
Europe has just completed the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history to overtake the faltering Americans and claim the Ryder Cup.
So where did the magic start? I think the fitting place to recap this monumental feat would actually be the day before, in the fading Medinah sunlight.
The United States had all but wrapped up the Ryder Cup as they led 10-4 with two matches left on the course.
However, a win by Europeans Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, and a truly inspirational performance by Ian Poulter with Rory McIlroy over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner gave them a glimmer of hope with one day remaining.
The 10-6 deficit had only been turned around once in the history of the Ryder Cup in 1999 when the Americans – on home soil – achieved the feat to stun the Europeans.
The momentum was established from the start with the Europeans putting in strong performances from the beginning, which was their only way of having a chance.
Luke Donald had a classy three and two win over Bubba Watson. World number one Rory McIlroy, who amazingly almost missed his tee time due to a “time zone” error, managed to re-gather his composure and hold off the American hero Keegan Bradley.
Despite the great start, the turning point was no doubt the performances of Englishmen and best friends Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
Poulter is fast becoming a Ryder Cup hero, as he put in an inspiring display with the usual steely demeanor and fist-pumping, he was able to overcome Webb Simpson.
Justin Rose, who was having an up and down battle with Phil Mickleson, somehow kept the match going with huge putts on 16th and 17th – the latter being all of 30 feet. This squared the match going up 18th where again he holed a 12-foot putt to snatch a match that will go down in Ryder Cup folklore.
The roars at this stage were deafening and the momentum was clearly in the European’s favour, but there was still plenty of work to do and the Americans were still in front thanks to two victories by Zach Johnson and Dustin Johnston.
Cue Peter Lawrie, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.
Peter Lawrie was brilliant in his victory over Brandt Snedeker and he will be pleased with his performance to go with his last Ryder Cup; interestingly he was on the receiving end of the comeback in 1999.
Lee Westwood easily accounted for Matt Kucher three and two.
Spain’s Sergio won the point against Jim Furyk, who somehow lipped out putts on 16th and 18th to lose, and you have to wonder on this day if he was wearing a blue shirt, would the putts have dropped. Such was the momentum clearly favouring the Europeans.
American Jason Dufner got the Americans back with a point and it was all even.
The stage was set; the United States had to get 1 ½ points to retain the cup and the Europeans needed a ½. The 39th Ryder Cup was in the balance.
After Francesco Molinari went one down with only the 18th to play against Tiger Woods, the deciding match was on the 18th green.
Fitting that the Europeans had to rely on the “weak link” of the team, former world number one Martin Kaymer, who had been battling for form all year. The German had two putts to win, but he raced the first past the hole.
Steve Stricker held a 12-foot putt, placing the unbearable pressure on Kaymer who now stood over a 4 ½ foot putt to win.
It was the same scenario as German Bernard Langer had in 1991. He missed from the same distance to hand the United States victory, and Kaymer had a chance to redeem him.
The Europeans had come too far to throw it away now; the putt went dead centre. Martins raised his arms as he dropped the putter before being mobbed by his teammates, and the European crowd erupted as the celebrations began.
After the pandemonium of the celebrations, the last match had to complete the 18th hole to decide the official result.
The United States’ day went from bad to worse when Tiger missed from four feet to hand the Europeans outright victory.
Woods cut a dejected figure walking off the 18th green having not recording a single victory.
Only his partner Steve Stricker and Europe’s Peter Hanson had a worse record for the tournament.
Jose Marie Olazabal’s face told the story of a man who had aged ten years in one afternoon; Ian Poulter was fittingly the first to embrace the inspirational captain.
His plan worked to perfection by stacking his best players early and the inspiration he gave the players the night before about “believing” was instrumental in their final day heroics.
“I just can’t explain it; the belief is why we are here.” Olazabal’s eyes were red as he fought back tears and he gave homage to his late friend and fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros who passed away this year.
The Europeans wore an iconic image of Seve on their sleeves and one would have to wonder if he played a part in today’s result.
The two Spaniards are credited for reviving the Ryder Cup for the Europeans throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s as the Americans dominated before this period. Not so the case now, as the Americans have now won just once this millennium, having lost seven out of the past nine matches.
The hero of the tournament was undoubtedly Ian Poulter who went 4-0 improving his career record to 12-3. “It’s something very, very special to be part of; I just love it.” “I can’t explain it” referring to why his game peaks every two years.
The triumphant Europeans celebrated into the night knowing that their feat of overturning a 10-6 deficit over the much-fancied USA team on home soil will go down in golfing history.
Luke Donald summed up the mood in the European camp by tweeting “It’s party time”.
The United States were stunned. “We all know what it feels like now from 99. I have no regrets,” an upset Davis Love 111 claimed.
This week highlighted everything that’s great about golf and the Ryder Cup.
The two teams will meet at the cradle of the game in two years time in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Many of the 24 will still be there to continue another chapter in this fierce rivalry.
Oliver Neave, golf correspondent