Wednesday 17 January 2018

Seve smiles down on Europe as they pull off greatest Ryder Cup comeback in history

Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal (C) of Spain is lifted up as he poses with the team
Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal (C) of Spain is lifted up as he poses with the team

Karl MacGinty in Chicago

THE silhouette of Seve Ballesteros was on their golf bags and their shirts but Europe’s Ryder Cup players proved at Medinah yesterday that his spirit dwells in their heart.

In keeping with Seve’s penchant for miracle comebacks, Jose Maria Olazabal’s team completed the most sensational victory in Ryder Cup history as they came from 10-6 down overnight to beat the USA 14.5 to 13.5.

Points-wise, Ben Crenshaw’s US team performed the same Houdini act at Brookline in 1999 but they did it on home soil and were supported every step of the way by a rabid home crowd.

This European team also had to overcome America’s 13th man, a vast and vociferous Chicago crowd, effectively turning down the volume by winning the first five matches.

In the end, the all-important putt to retain the Ryder Cup was sunk by Martin Kaymer, while the additional half point that sealed victory was added by Francesco Molinari, Tiger Woods missing badly from four feet before conceding the Itallian’s three-footer for a half in the final match.

Kaymer confessed that as he carefully perused the line of his tricky five-footer on the 18th green, he thought of Bernhard Langer and the agonising putt his legendary fellow countryman had missed on the final hole at Kiawah Island in 1991 to cede victory to America in the infamous War at the Shore.

“I did think about him, especially when I walked around the hole to read the putt from the other side and saw there was a footprint on my line,” said Kaymer. “But it wasn’t that bad so I thought ‘’okay, it’s not going to happen again’.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t really think about missing. There was only one choice – to make it.

“I think Graeme had the same experience as me two years ago and I didn’t know how much pressure he must have felt until I got to 16 and Jose Maria told me ‘We need your point and I don’t really care how you do it, just deliver.”

Probably the most important delivery yesterday was performed by the Illinois State Trooper who got Rory McIlroy through dense traffic to the golf course on time to tee it up against Keegan Bradley after the World No 1 made a near-fatal error over his tee time.

“To be honest, I’d looked at the tee times on my I-Phone last night and I must have seen them in Eastern Standard Time, so I thought I was off at 12.25, instead of 11.25 local here in Chicago,” he explained.

“Walking out of my hotel room door at 11.0 this morning, I get a phone call saying ‘you’re on the tee in 25 minutes’. I though ‘oh no, what am I going to do?’ Luckily there was a State Trooper outside the lobby of the hotel and he took me here.

“He got me to the course a lot faster than normally would have been possible. Luckily I was in the front of the car, not the back,” quipped McIlroy, adding: “All I was saying to him was ‘just get me there, just get me there.

“He was like ‘do you have motion sickness?’ I said ‘no, I don’t care, just get me to that first tee’.”

McIlroy arrived at the Medinah cubhouse with 11 minutes to spare. “I’d just enough time to to put my shoes on, have a couple of putts and go to the first tee. In a way, it wasn’t a bad thing because I didn’t have time to think about it and just went out and played.

“I calmed down as soon as I got here. If I warm up for 40 minutes, it’s a long time anyway,” he went on. “I warmed up for like 25 minutes before I won the PGA this year and it doesn’t really take a lot to get me loose. I’m pretty loose anyway.”

It’s a measure of McIlroy’s talent that he was immediately able to put this stressful situation behind him and wade straight into the attack against an American super-hero his week, Keegan Bradley, completing a hat-trick of birdies with a superb chip-in on six to go two-up.

McIlroy was five-under par when he wrapped-up his 2 and 1 victory on 17 on the green at the treacherous par three 17th.

Luke Donald had set the ball rolling with an inspirational 2 and 1 success over US talisman Bubba Watson in the opening match.

The other European players responsible for that big, imposing splash of blue at the top of the scoreboard were Paul Lawrie, Justin Rose and, of course, the irrepressible Ian Poulter, who may not be the most naturally gifted player but is closest in spirit to Seve.

Donald and Poulter had created the spark for Europe’s final day revival by taking two one-hole wins in the final two games of Saturday afternoon’s fourball session.

First, Chicago ‘local’ Donald played the shot of the Ryder Cup, a towering 7-iron, in to two feet at 17 to set up a sweet fourball victory for himself and Sergio Garcia over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.

Poulter’s contribution was even more sensational as he responded to a breakthrough birdie at 13 by McIlroy with a staggering run of five birdies on the final five holes of their game against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. “There really was a buzz in the team room on Saturday night,” confirmed Graeme McDowell.

Second in the European order, Poulter recovered from a shaky start against Webb Simpson to beat the US Open Champion two-up with fighting threes on 17 and 18.

Justin Rose sank three massive one-putts on his final three holes, including a stunning downhill, 40-footer for a wining birdie two at 17, followed by a 12 footer for birdie at the last and a one-up win over Phil Mickelson, whom he also beat on Sunday at Valhalla.

Just as impressive was doughty Paul Lawrie’s 5 and 3 demolition of recent FedEx Cup-winner Brandt Snedeker, the hottest putter in US golf. The 43-year-old Scot was a faultless five-under for his 15 holes.

Just three Americans manged to stem the blue tide, Dustin Johsnon beating European rookie Nicolas Colsaerts 3 and 2; Zach Johnson dispatching Celtic Manor match-clincher Graeme McDowell by 2 and 1 and Jason Dufner picking up a point from Peter Hanson at the last.

Yet Sergio Garcia came from behind to beat Jim Furyk on the last after the unfortunate American made bogey on 17 and 18, taking three to get down from the back fringe at the final. Later Furyk described this defeat as “the lowest point of my year.”

While Lee Westwood had performed well below expectation on Friday and Saturday, he was back to his rugged best yesterday, dispatching Matt Kuchar 3 and 2, clearing the way for Kaymer and Molinari to spark wild European celebrations by taking the all-important one and a half points from the final two matches.

Twenty five years after Ballesteros had clinched Europe’s first Ryder Cup victory on US soil at Muirfield Village in 1987, Poulter caught the mood of the occasion nicely when he said: “I’ve got Seve on my arm and on my bag and we’ve got Ollie as our captain. It’s pretty special.”

Olazabal underscored the respect between the two teams at the 39th Ryder Cup when he told Davis Love and the US players at the presentation ceremony: “If I was an American, I’d look at you and be very proud of my team and my country.”

Then he thanked his own team, saying: “All men die but not all men live and you made me feel alive again.”

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