MEDINAH, Ill. (MCT) — If the most epic Ryder Cup collapse ever ended at 5:09 p.m. Sunday at Medinah when Team Europe golfer Martin Kaymer sank a 6-foot putt on the 18th hole, it started in earnest about two hours earlier.
Phil Mickelson, in the midst of a historic weekend, led Justin Rose 1 up with two holes left. Mickelson reacted as pleased as the rest of American golf fans when he nearly chipped in for birdie. But then Rose dropped a hole-winning, 30-foot birdie putt so impressive even Mickelson applauded with a smile.
Chicago sports fans are used to seeing a Rose hit big shots, but not like this. This one gave the European team its biggest reason yet to agree with captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who said Saturday night he still believed it could stage a historic comeback.
When Rose followed with another birdie on 18 to beat golf’s most experienced Ryder Cup player ever for the Europeans’ fourth of five straight match victories, suddenly anything seemed possible.
It turns out anything was: Europe 141/2, United States 131/2.
“It’s a feeling I’ve never had before,” Kaymer said as euphoric European fans hugged and danced and sang “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!”
Europeans forever will refer to one of the greatest sporting events Chicago has staged as the Miracle at Medinah. But to the U.S. team, the world-class country club in DuPage County, Ill., that did a wonderful job hosting a tournament that quickly turned nightmarish always will be Medin-ahhhhhhhhhh! Not since the Ryder Cup began in 1927 has a U.S. team lost more than a two-point advantage on the final day.
“We really did want to believe, but we had no illusions how hard this was going to be,” Rose said. “We are in shock.”
The blank expression on U.S. captain Davis Love III said the same thing no matter what came out of his mouth. In 1999, Love belonged to the U.S. team that overcame a 10-6 deficit on the final day at Brookline, Mass. Statistically, Europe’s rally matched that one 13 years ago but surpassed it in magnitude. They did it playing in a hostile environment after showing no signs of life until the Americans led 10-4.
They did it for Seve.
Sunday’s inspiration came from Seve Ballesteros, the late, great Spaniard who died last year from brain cancer. European players dressed in navy sweaters and trousers with a white shirt like Ballesteros used to wear. They wore a silhouette of him on their left shirt sleeves.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he was with me today,” said Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who beat Jim Furyk 1 up in one of the day’s most pivotal matches. “There’s no chance I would have won if he wasn’t.”
At the opening ceremony Thursday, Olazabal’s eyes moistened when somebody described Ballesteros as Europe’s “heartbeat.” On Saturday, a skywriter delivered in white smoke the same message Olazabal did later at a team meeting: “DO IT FOR SEVE.” On Sunday, the Europeans found a way with flair Ballesteros would have appreciated.
“They knew how much it meant to me,” Olazabal said.
What it means for Love will be justifiable second-guessing. History will say Olazabal outcoached him by stacking the early Sunday lineup with stars to establish momentum. It worked when all four won. Of Love’s four captain’s picks, only Dustin Johnson paid off when it mattered most. Brandt Snedeker lost to Paul Lawrie 5 and 3. Steve Stricker and Furyk, added for their putting, blew key putts.
“No, I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Love said.
In pro shops everywhere, they scoffed. Furyk stood over an 8-foot putt to save par on No. 18 long enough to look nervous and missed to make Garcia a winner. Stricker supplied his Scott Norwood moment when his 7-foot putt on No. 17 spun out to give Kaymer a 1-up lead he would protect for posterity.
“I am disappointed that I let 11 other players down and the captains,” said Stricker, who was pointless this weekend in more ways than one.
Yet Stricker was only a half-point ahead of Tiger Woods, who capped another forgettable Ryder Cup by halving his match with Francesco Molinari, whoever he is.
To think everything looked so good early for the United States when Rory McIlroy got to the course 10 minutes before his round because of confusion over Chicago’s time zone. Those who called that an omen were right. McIlroy quickly composed himself to cool off Keegan Bradley 2 and 1 — his dramatic arrival better late than never, just like the repeat Ryder Cup champions.
“We’re all kind of stunned,” Love said.
They only have the rest of their careers to get over it.