Anatomy of a Collapse: The US Gags Away the Ryder Cup

Updated: October 1, 2012

This one hurts.  In seemingly complete control entering today’s singles matches at the 2012 Ryder Cup, the United States saw their commanding lead evaporate in hail of birdies as the Europeans stormed back to win the competition in dramatic fashion. 

As a sports fan, I have watched my teams suffer through a number of heartbreaking defeats over the years, defeats that have left me feeling like I got booted in the gut (and other regions).  The worst ones for me will always be the Yankees 2001 World Series loss to the Diamondbacks and the Bombers epic 2004 ALCS meltdown against Boston.  This collapse by the United States team is right up there though, leaving me with that sinking feeling that will take a few days to get over. 

It’s not so much that the United States lost to Europe in the Ryder Cup; after all, anyone who has watched this event since the early 90’s is probably used to this outcome.  No, I could’ve taken another loss just fine, but it is the manner in which we lost to the Euros that has me in a bit of a funk. 

No matter how many Ryder Cups the Europeans had taken from us since 1995 (seven out of the last nine now) or the magnitude of some of those beatdowns (a few 18 ½ to 9 ½’s), we were always able to hold our hat on 1999 – Brookline, Europe leading 10-6 going into the final day, the U.S. overcomes the largest final day deficit in Ryder Cup history to win. 

Now, with the Europeans overcoming the exact same deficit (on U.S. soil mind you), even that memorable Sunday outside of Boston doesn’t feel as great it once did.  Sadly, that victory feels like it has been marginalized to a degree. 

Having to reel in only 4 ½ out of the 12 points in play to win the Cup, most analysts will point to the failings of various U.S. team members in today’s riveting singles session as the reason for the eventual 14 ½ – 13 ½ defeat.  Rightly so, for much like 1999 it took a perfect storm of clutch play from one side and jarring ineptitude from the other to trigger such a lopsided set of outcomes. 

But looking back, today’s comeback/collapse never would’ve occurred if not for a set of Fourball matches that turned the Europeans way late on Saturday.  At the time, the American team was cruising, leading by a score of 10-4 and in prime position to add another point or so to their tally.  However, Ian Poulter morphed into Jack Nicklaus again, draining five birdies in a succession to lead his team back from a small deficit and defeat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson 1-up.  In the final match of the day, the duo formerly known as Woods and Stricker had a chance on the 18th green to scratch out a half-point against Donald and Garcia, but both missed makeable birdies putts and ensured that the Euros entered today’s matches with a glimmer of hope. 

The Europeans might’ve garnered some momentum from those two late victories, but the task at hand was still enormous.  After all, despite getting whacked by the Euros on the reg in the Ryder Cup, the United States has typically performed better than their counterparts in the singles platform.  Throw in a raucous home crowd and a Medinah course that set up perfectly for many of the U.S. players, and even Dr. Farthing would’ve liked the home team’s chances. 

While there were a host of American players who didn’t play as well as they had in the previous two days, the main reason they coughed up the lead was their poor play on the closing holes and the inability of some of the veterans to scratch out half-points in matches that could’ve gone either way.

In what might’ve been the match of the day, Justin Rose defeated Phil Mickelson 1-up in a contest that saw Rose bury three clutch putts (including a 35-foot birdie on the 17th green) on 16, 17, and 18.  You can’t completely fault Lefty for the loss, as I can’t imagine Rose sinking putts of that length in such a pressurized environment on consecutive holes again in his lifetime.  But once Rose won that full point, an uneasy feeling started to creep in when looking at the scoreboard and analyzing how the remaining matches were playing out.    

The other late turning point was the Jim Furyk/Sergio Garcia match, and this one goes to show you how quickly things can change in match play.  On the 16th hole, Furyk barely missed a birdie putt that would’ve put him 2-up with 2 holes to play.  This would’ve guaranteed the U.S. at least a half-point and put the onus on Garcia to win the last two holes just to square it.  Instead, Furyk bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes, his once reliable putter once again letting him down.  Had Furyk won the full point or even just a half-point, Stricker losing wouldn’t have ended hope for the U.S. and the Cup would’ve come down to Tiger and Francisco Molinari.  Talk about drama. 

As gut wrenching as it was to witness, today is just another illustration of why the Ryder Cup is one of the most exciting events in all of sports.  Whether you’re a golf fan or not, seeing people compete under intense pressure and play for pride and country is fascinating to watch.  I lament the fact that Davis Love III won’t have the distinction of being a winning U.S. Ryder Cup Captain and that Furyk and Stricker (both historically great putters, both probably competing in their last RCups) weren’t able to come through for the team.  The team came so close, just couldn’t close the deal.   

The European team played brilliant golf today and are deserving of all the praise and adulation that will be heaped on them in the weeks, months, and years ahead.  Ryder Cup heroes become legends in Europe, and Poulter, Rose, and Kaymer will now be mentioned in the same breath as Seve, Monty, and Faldo. 

They reclaimed the Ryder Cup and managed to ease the pain of 1999 once and for all. 

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