If 1999’s comeback was the finest day in U.S. Ryder Cup history, Sunday afternoon at the 2012 Ryder Cup will go down as one of the darkest days in American golf history.
In 1999, at The Country Club in Brookline, MA, the United States Ryder Cup team trailed the European team 10 – 6 after two days. Team Captain Ben Crenshaw sat down in his Saturday evening press conference and said, “I’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow.”
Obviously, Ben was right. Justin Leonard’s memorable putt and the scene that followed are still etched into the minds of many golf fans. Most remember the 1999 U.S. victory as the greatest day in U.S. Ryder Cup history.
It was a familiar scenario this year as it was in 1999--only the roles were reversed. The U.S. team had the Europeans on the ropes as darkness drew near on Saturday evening. A scorching hot putter from an unflappable Ian Poulter, late Saturday, provided a glimmer of hope for the European team. European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal, like Crenshaw, felt something. “I still believe,” he said.
The score was 10-6 United States.
Olazabal put his best players out early on Sunday. In an effort to try and gain some momentum, he wanted Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, and Justin Rose to win those four points back and tie the overall total. This would take the pro-American crowd out of the event and give some of his dark horses a chance.
The plan worked to perfection. Steady and straight Luke Donald beat Masters champion Bubba Watson, 2 & 1, in the first match. Ian Poulter beat U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson, 2up, in the second match. Poulter won every match he played in this week and was, by far, the best European player.
McIlroy, who was forced to jump in a police car just to make his tee time, beat Keegan Bradley, 2 & 1. Justin Rose made three clutch putts on 16, 17, and 18 to turn the tide on Phil Mickelson and win his match.
All of a sudden, it was 10-10. Olazabal, inspired all week by Europe’s legendary golf ambassador and dear friend Seve Ballesteros, had strategized brilliantly. Even though his best players were already off the golf course, the momentum Europe had gained could not be ignored.
Paul Lawrie, who had struggled all week, dominated FedEx Cup champ Brandt Snedeker to give the Europeans the first five matches.
It looked like the momentum was back with the Americans after Dustin and Zach Johnson each notched wins for the U.S. team putting them back in the lead. With Tiger Woods anchoring the US team as the final player, the Americans were still optimistic.
The relevance of the Woods match hinged on two other matches still on the course and two U.S. Ryder Cup veterans—Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.
Furyk, who was 1up with two to play, was put in a situation he had been faced with earlier in the year at the US Open. He was looking at an eight-foot putt to halve the match with Sergio Garcia and earn half a point. Just as he did at the Olympic Club, Furyk couldn’t convert.
Jason Dufner’s win for the U.S. team combined with Lee Westwood’s win for the European team put the score at 13-13, with two groups left to play—American Steve Stricker versus Martin Kaymer and Woods versus Francesco Molinari.
The hope for the U.S. team was that Stricker and Woods could combine to win a point and a half (one win and one tie) for 14.5 total and the victory.
The turning point happened on the 17th green. Kaymer had a very lengthy look at birdie while Stricker had a fairly straight-forward chip shot. Kaymer rolled it up to about six feet away. Stricker’s shot was mishit and raced past the hole. He missed his putt. Kaymer made his.
Stricker was now forced to win the last hole to keep the U.S. team, and their charging anchor, alive. That anchor, Woods, came to the 17th tee all squared with Molinari. Tiger had trailed for most of the match but, as the galleries and leaderboards began painting a picture of what was taking place, Tiger rallied.
He won the 17th hole to take a 1up lead and watched from the 18th fairway as his buddy, Stricker, prayed for a miracle on the 18th green.
The miracle, this week, belonged to the Euros though. Kaymer buried a six-footer into the back of the cup to secure the victory while Woods waited in the middle of the fairway. The European team rushed the 18th green and the celebration began.Woods ended up halving his match with Molinari.
The way the Europeans rallied around their captain, and the memory of Seve Ballesteros, was genuine and extremely effective on Sunday. The players wore his name on their sleeves all week and Olazabal was visibly emotional all week long. “I’ve got a few thoughts for my friend Seve,” a weeping Olazabal said. “This one is for him.”
In many ways, the European comeback of 2012 was more impressive than that of the U.S. in 1999. The fact that it was on the other team’s turf makes a major difference. The sequence of events could never have been predicted and the memory of the impossible comeback pulled off at the 2012 Ryder Cup, like 1999, will not be forgotten.
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