Thursday 23 November 2017

Five greatest Ryder Cup moments

An emotional Darren Clarke is congratulated on the 16th by American Zach Johnson after his victory by 3 & 2 in the 2006 Sunday's singles matches. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
An emotional Darren Clarke is congratulated on the 16th by American Zach Johnson after his victory by 3 & 2 in the 2006 Sunday's singles matches. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

Is there a more perfect television sporting event than the Ryder Cup? It has everything, the back and forth swings of a really close general election, the gladiatorial one-on-one element of a boxing match, and the blatant appeal to chauvinism of a bitter local GAA derby.

There’s quality — ten of the world’s top 12 players will be in action at Hazeltine. There are cliff-hangers — eight times since 1983 there has been either a single-point victory or a draw. And there is also the intensity engendered by the compression of a biennial contest into just three days. There is nothing quite like it and the fans who eagerly await the resumption of hostilities all have their own cherished memories. Here are mine.

1. Craig Stadler’s Putt, 1985

For most of its history the Ryder Cup had been utterly one-sided, a series of ass whuppings laid on first Britain and Ireland and then Europe by the Americans. But a narrow defeat in 1983 and the emergence of a supremely talented generation of European golfers, who’d won three of the previous six Majors, meant that the home side went to The Belfry with genuine hopes of a first win since 1959.

Yet it looked like business as usual on day one which ended with Stadler standing over a two-foot putt which would give Hal Sutton and himself a one-up victory over Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Canizares and the US a 5-3 lead. He missed it and you could sense the belief surging back into the Europeans. They would go on to win comfortably enough, 16-and-a-half to 11-and-a-half, but that Stadler miss still feels like the crucial momentum shift in the contest.

2. Christy O’Connor Junior’s Second Shot to the 18th, 1989

As far as Irish people were concerned the historic 1985 European victory had been marred by one thing, the exclusion of Christy O’Connor Junior. He’d missed automatic qualification by just one place and saw the little-known Spaniard Jose Rivero picked in his stead. Irish outrage was compounded by the feeling that O’Connor, nearing his forties after a solid but unspectacular career, which had yielded just two European Tour victories, would hardly come so close again.

Defying expectations in 1989, O’Connor made the team only to be practically treated as a spare part by captain Tony Jacklin, getting just one outing in the first two days at The Belfry. In the singles he faced the dangerous Fred Couples and defied expectations again by being all square going down the 18th. Selecting a two-iron for his second shot, O’Connor put the ball within four feet of the pin as Couples stumbled, earning a win which proved crucial as Europe drew 14-14 to retain the trophy.

3. The Big Trample, 1999

Why do people who in many respects are pretty sceptical about the whole concept of European unity feel so passionately about victory in the Ryder Cup? It may have a lot to do with the moment Justin Leonard holed his 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole at Brookline and his American team-mates couldn’t resist showing their true colours.

This one meant a lot to the Americans who were fighting to avoid a

first-ever three defeats in a row and looked doomed when they trailed 10-6 going into the singles.

Cue a monumental fightback and a collapse by the visitors as the Yanks won the top six singles. They led 14-12 with just two matches left on the course and needed just a half to wrest the Cup from Europe. All square with Jose Maria Olazabal on the 17th, Leonard sunk an unlikely putt which seemed to spend half the day getting to the hole. The American team ran en masse on to the green to congratulate him, trampling on the line of Olazabal who had a 22-footer to tie the hole. He missed and all over Europe people decided there could never be enough revenge for this.

4. We’d Never Had It So Good, 2006

Finally the Ryder Cup came to Ireland, it lashed rain for three days and the Americans got stuffed 18-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half as an obviously emotional Darren Clarke won all his matches just six weeks after the death of his wife from cancer. The competitive element had gone out of things pretty early on the final day but this was memorable perhaps most of all for the moment it represented in Irish life.

The tournament was held at The K Club, a kind of totemic site of the Celtic Tiger era, and the Tiger had never been more Tigerish than it was in those three days as newspapers breathlessly enumerated the number of helicopters flying and the big cars pulling up.

You’d never have suspected disaster lay just round the corner. Looking at the footage now is like watching those old films of young men playing cricket on the village green in 1913.

5. Ian’s One-Man Resistance, 2012

For most of the first two days at Medinah as Europe took a pounding, the question on everyone’s lips was, ‘Has the Ryder Cup ever been decided before the singles started?’ That’s what it looked like might happen as the Americans moved into a 10-4 lead. One man prevented them from sewing it up altogether — Ian Poulter.

In the morning foursomes on the second day he joined with Justin Rose to eke out a narrow win as elsewhere Europe lost all the matches. And as the second day drew to a close it was Poulter who played the major part as he and Rory McIlroy beat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson by a single hole to bring things back to 10-6 and give Europe the slimmest of chances.

They took it and Poulter was once more to the forefront, his thrilling win over Webb Simpson bringing things back to 10-10. Europe came through 14-and-a-half to 13-and-a-half with Martin Kaymer sinking the deciding putt but it was Poulter who had pulled us through. Finally it seemed like there had been proper revenge for Brookline.

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