MEDINAH, Ill. (MCT) — The remarkable Ryder Cup victory that will ring through Europe for years ended where it began—in the shadows on Medinah’s 18th green.
On Saturday evening, with the United States a punch away from turning the Ryder Cup into a knockout, Ian Poulter made the last of his five straight birdies at No. 18 to earn Europe a point it needed like a starving man needs food.
Poulter’s big-eyed birdie kept the Europeans within four points of the United States; it changed Saturday night, which changed Sunday afternoon, which changed this Ryder Cup.
Almost 24 hours after Poulter’s birdie, Martin Kaymer, his game lost in the wilderness for months, holed a six-foot putt on the same green, giving Europe a 141/2-131/2 victory and completing a comeback as spectacular, emotional and record-setting as the Americans’ 13 years ago outside Boston .
While most of the American team watched from just off the green with their arms crossed and faces flat, Kaymer raised both arms to the sky when the clinching putt fell, equaling the biggest Sunday comeback in Ryder Cup history.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s front-loaded singles lineup delivered like Santa Claus, his players winning the first five matches on Sunday to flip the momentum and ultimately the outcome.
When Kaymer’s putt fell, rendering the outcome of the day’s final match between Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari meaningless, Olazabal blinked then glanced to the sky, as if to make sure his late mentor Seve Ballesteros, whose image was on the left sleeve of every European player Sunday, knew what had just happened.
The thunderous noise when the Europeans won may have reached wherever Ballesteros is.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rory McIlroy said. “We made history today.”
The Americans helped.
They just won three of 12 matches on a Sunday when one more win could have changed the outcome. They kicked away three early matches on the closing holes then gave away two more near the end, a nightmare scenario in which Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker lost points they could have won.
It was a meltdown at Medinah.
“We’re all kind of stunned,” U.S. captain Davis Love III said. “We know what it feels like now from the ‘99 Ryder Cup. It’s a little bit shocking.”
If the American image for the first two days of this Ryder Cup was of flags waving, fists pumping and Bradley cheerleading, the lasting images were of the stunned look on Mickelson’s face after his loss and Furyk leaning over, hands on his knees, when he’d let Garcia escape with a 1-up victory made possible by his two closing bogeys.
“I didn’t see the first five going Europe’s way,” Mickelson said.
On Friday night, after falling two points behind the U.S. on the first day, Olazabal roasted his players in the team room. Facing twice the deficit after play Saturday, Olazabal hardly had to say a word.
Poulter’s performance, coupled with a late four-ball win by Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, lit the emotional fuse.
“It was a glimmer of hope (Saturday) night but it was huge,” said Europe’s Justin Rose, who won the last two holes against Mickelson to squeeze out a 1-up victory in the fourth singles match. “We didn’t need a big pep talk from Jose.
“For the first time, we felt inspired. When he handed out the singles (lineup), we liked what we saw. Golf does the talking at the end of the day, but we had a feeling.”
Luke Donald went out first and muted Bubba Watson’s party with a 2&1 victory that wasn’t that close.
“My job was to lead us off, and fortunately I played great. The other guys just followed,” Donald said.
Poulter rallied to beat Simpson in the second match 2-up, winning the par-3 17th with a par and the par-4 18th with a birdie.
“I lost twice to him this week and it hurts,” Simpson said.
McIlroy almost missed his midday tee time, requiring a police escort to Medinah after he forgot he was playing in the central time zone. Without a warm-up session, McIlroy spoiled Keegan Bradley’s Ryder Cup party with a 2 &1 victory. When Rose beat Mickelson with two closing birdies, he said, “I felt like Ian Poulter out there.”
When Paul Lawrie laid out Brandt Snedeker 5&3, Europe had 11 of the 14 points it needed to retain the Cup with seven matches—and a rolling wave of momentum—still on the course.
Medinah didn’t fall silent, but the tune changed.
“Once those guys got the momentum, it was hard,” Love said.
Having run out of chances to change a Ryder Cup they owned for two days, the Americans could only stand and watch the Europeans celebrate for the seventh time in the past nine events.
They could see Poulter, Donald, McIlroy and Lee Westwood, locked in a tight circle, eyes wide, mouths open, bouncing together like children.
They could see Kaymer, whose game has been so sketchy that Olazabal played him just once in the first four sessions, bouncing from hug to hug with a German flag wrapped around his neck.
They could hear the European fans singing so loudly they drowned out the roar of low-flying jets overhead.
Asked if he could explain what had happened from Saturday to Sunday evening, Poulter found himself temporarily speechless.
Finally, he pulled at his left sleeve, showing the silhouette of Ballesteros, who made the Ryder Cup matter again and who brought out the greatness in Olazabal, the European captain.
“That’s how I explain it,” Poulter said.