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Great tale of the unexpected

IT is easy to mock. Not that we should hold back in this instance.

ON Saturday night an American golf correspondent called Gene Wojciechowski wrote an assessment of the Ryder Cup which, following Sunday's astonishing turnaround, by Monday morning had gone viral.

Let's just say Mr Wojciechowski was a little premature in his analysis.

"It's over," he wrote of the 37th Ryder Cup. "José María Olazábal can click off his walkie-talkie. Time for the Europeans to fire up the private jets and head home to Florida".

Emboldened by America's 10-6 lead going into the final day's singles competition, he signed off by suggesting that the task the Europeans faced was "as close to insurmountable as trying to climb Everest wearing a T-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops".

Mr Wojciechowski can take comfort that he is not alone in his woeful predictions.


From Newcastle fans who prepared a banner to hang from the Tyne Bridge declaring their team Premier League champions in 1996 to George Best who, convinced his team had lost, headed to the bar and thus missed the last five minutes of the 1999 Champions League final, the history of sport is littered with those who really did not see it coming.

But then, if they had, there wouldn't be much point in watching. It is the unpredictability of top-level competition, the way that nothing is decided until the final whistle, that makes it so addictive.

It is that which distinguishes it from the contrived conclusions of theatre or cinema, in which the ending has of necessity been decided beforehand.

Who would have thought Justin Rose would beat Phil Mickelson? In the form he had shown for the rest of the weekend, who would have believed Lee Westwood would get a ball anywhere near a hole, never mind sink a succession of winning putts?

And as they did so, the disparate collection of Europeans, bound by nothing more than a flag of convenience (and the proximity of their Florida mansions) entered a wider folklore. Their achievement can now be numbered among the finest comebacks of all time.

Though, as Mr Wojciechowski would no doubt be quick to point out, it was not unprecedented. The Americans did the same (coming from 10-6 behind to win 14-13) at Brookline in 1999, a turnaround that was greeted with a rather less dignified response than Olazábal's.


Indeed, there must have been something in the air as the Millennium approached because that year was littered with classic reversals.

There was Paul Lawrie coming from miles back to ease past the imploding Jean van der Velde to win The Open.

There were the French, 24-10 down at one point, beating the rampant favourites New Zealand 43-31 in the Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Not to forget the one Best missed, Manchester United snatching victory at the last from Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in Barcelona.

All of those shared with the European victory the crucial constituent of the great comeback: either by an opponent's brilliance or their own incompetence the victor's chances appear for much of the competition to be utterly doomed.

Being sport, however, the Ryder Cup comeback cannot be a one-off. Now we all feel the need to place it in the comparative league table of triumphant reversals.

And after Sunday, the top five will need re-writing. Because, as Mr Wojciechowski would no doubt agree, this was as unexpected and unlikely a turnaround as has ever been witnessed on a sporting stage.