One of the good things about the Ryder Cup is that it only happens every two years. It keeps the event fresh. But considering what happened yesterday, you kind of want to play the thing again next week–give the US team a chance to redeem themselves. They haven’t had many chances to win this event since the mid-nineties. Letting a sure thing slip away becomes that much more painful. So, what happened? How did this happen?
1. The Euros played out of their minds starting at about 4 pm on Saturday. They flipped what could have been a 12-4 hole into a 10-6 that suddenly felt managable. You can’t choke away an 8 point lead, but four has happened before. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal was on the receiving end when the US turned the trick in ’99. Olazabal took his hottest players, sent them right back out there Sunday early and was rewarded with a tide of great play and momentum.
2. Davis Love didn’t adjust on the fly. The U.S. Captain had a plan. No one would play five matches. He was going to stick with certain teams. It’s hard to argue that it didn’t work, because the U.S. built a big lead, but they possibly left points on the table on the first two days. Sticking with Furyk/Snedeker, Stricker/Woods and not playing Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson a fourth time all could have cost the U.S. the one additional point they needed. Should Dustin Johnson (3-0) have played more?
3. Phil was too bought in. Mickelson said there was no way he could have played Saturday afternoon, despite playing just 12 holes of alternate shot in the morning. This is the problem with being so rigid. Phil and Keegan weren’t prepared to play in the afternoon and Mickelson is such a team guy he convinced himself it was the right decision.
4. U.S. Veterans are too beaten down. The core of Furyk, Stricker, Woods and Mickelson have been on the losing end of so many of these things, it’s hard to imagine they don’t get bad feelings when things start going the wrong way. Take away Mickelson and that other trio combined for 1 point. Hard to believe the U.S. even kept it close with those numbers. It was possibly Furyk’s and Stricker’s last ride. Tiger will have a few more chances to figure out team play. Don’t get your hopes up for a late-career turnaround.
5. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Olazabal sat some of his best players (like Poulter) early and you wondered if that was going to cost him in the end, but the combined 3 miles of putts these guys made the last two days helped close the gap. Poulter in particular raises his game. He’s Colin Montgomerie like in that way, a very good player, who suddenly looks like he’ll win 10-majors when he gets to the Ryder Cup. With the team in dire position Saturday afternoon, Poulter may have been one of the few Euros who hadn’t started thinking about defeat.
Outlook for 2014: Hard to think the U.S. will have a great chance in Scotland. The Euros are likely to tab Paul McGinley as captain. The U.S. choice is up in the air, but there seems to be some early momentum for David Toms. The good news for U.S. fans is that a lot can change in two years. After Wales in 2010, I don’t think anyone was expecting a U.S. team led by Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner. The American side has plenty of young talent and some even stayed home (Mahan, Fowler, Watney). The question is, can they make the putts and handle the pressure….for three days.