Donaldson seals European glory in style at Gleneagles
There was to be no miracle, no get-even at Gleneagles. The US made the Ryder Cup singles interesting, thrilling even, and for a while the implausible seemed possible. But it was to be Jamie Donaldson who had the honour of winning the point which gave their eighth Europe victory time in 10 years.
When the Welshman played the stunning approach on the 15th to a few feet and complete a 5&3 win over Keegan Bradley, they cheered and danced and inevitably cried and soon began hailing Paul McGinley. And poor old Tom Watson stood there baffled. One of the game's great winners was being blamed as a loser. In all this joy, it did seem an awful shame.
McGinley will rightfully be praised and Watson rightfully criticised. Some of the 65-year-old's selections were ridiculous and hardly helped him in his cause to lead the US to their first win on foreign soil since he was last captain in 1993. Yet this match is mostly to do with the players and there are so many of the Europeans who will walk away from Gleneagles with their reputations enhanced.
With Europe needing four points to retain the Cup, it was Rory McIlroy, the world No 1, who posted the first. So much for the "rivalry" between him and Rickie Fowler. The American did not stand a chance. McIlroy birdied the first and on the second and the third, McIlroy did not even have to attempt his putts for an eagle and a birdie, from 20 feet and 10 feet respectively.
On the fifth and sixth, McIlroy holed long putts and at that stage he was five-up. The game was effectively over, with McIlroy eventually putting Fowler out of his misery on the 14th.
Considering McIlroy only amassed half a point the first day, McIlroy came back well to collect three points out of five. The 25-year-old finally found his best form and did so under extreme duress. It says so much not only about his talent but his competitive spirit that he was able to turn it on when he thought he must.
The next man in was Graeme McDowell. McGinley surprised the Northern Irishman, regarded as a nerveless closer, by putting him out first and when Jordan Spieth, the brilliant 21-year-old who won two and halved one in the company of Reed the first two days, went three up through five, the choice was being questioned.
Here is the moment Donaldson won the Ryder Cup for Europe...
Yet McDowell is perseverance personified and after matching Spieth's birdies on the eighth and ninth he strode into the back nine determined to test his young opponent.
At that moment the US excitement was building. They were up in six of the games and only down in two and what had seemed forlorn was suddenly not forgone. Europe, of course, came back from the same deficit two years before in Chicago, winning eight and a half points from the 12 singles. Was history to repeat itself?
Spieth began to run out of gas, bogeying 10th, 12th and 13th. And as McDowell had birdied the 11th, that meant he was one up playing the 14th. A birdie on the 15th gave him his cushion and the fist-pump and charge towards the crowd was obligatory when he holed the five-footer for the win on the par-three 17th. Spieth looked destroyed.
Soon McDowell was in the arms of McIlroy and how apt that image appeared after all the fuss in the run-up of the court case involving the pair. Phil Mickelson's crack "we don't litigate against each other" seemed a long time ago.
It was 12-6 and when Martin Kaymer chipped in on the 16th for the eagle to beat Bubba Watson 4&2 there was only one point to keep the Cup and another half for the victory.
Henrik Stenson missed a four-footer to hand the point to Patrick Reed, whose fame will have soared with the passion he showed. The 24-year-old was the visitors' highest points score with three and half points from four and should be admired not reviled. Reed was heckled on the first tee and booed for refusing to dance for galleries who had raised the noise on another beautiful day.
And then when he holed a putt on the sixth he put his finger to his mouth to tell the crowd what he thought they should do. In that instant he became the villain, but in truth Reed responded as Poulter would have responded. With great, gutsy golf and so much passion.
Hunter Mahan was soon to miss a three-footer on the 18th to allow Justin Rose to steal in for a half. That made it 131/1-91.2 as by then Mickelson had despatched Stephen Gallacher and Matt Kuchar had accounted for Thomas Bjorn 4&3. Kuchar holed his second shot eighth, which just one of many highlights.
Both Rose and Kaymer played stunning recovery shots from the gorse on the 13th which rolled to within gimme range. It later emerged that McGinley had given all the caddies the yardage from that bush. He truly had thought of everything.
There was just one more point needed and so the chase began. Who would it be, Sergio Garcia Donaldson or Ian Poulter? Ultimately it was to be Donaldson when he saw off Keegan Bradley on the 15th by a 4&3 scoreline.
McGinley was there to celebrate with the Welsh rookie, as were so many of his team-mates. It was appropriate that a rookie, and such an impressive rookie at that, was deemed the match-winner.
McGinley tweaked an old but successful script and in Donaldson and others such as Victor Dubuisson and yes, Rose as the new leader with his collection of four points, Europe witnessed its future. For US the rebuilding should begin immediately for the sake of the match. It is not a legend they need for Hazeltine, but a cohesive gameplan. McGinley was Europe's glue. And they are stuck tight to that small but priceless trophy.