Miracle saves Olly from captaincy post-mortem

It was a comeback that has already established itself among the most astonishing in the annals of sport and must have come as a relief to victorious European captain Jose-Maria Olazabal, who would have serious questions to address had his side have been wiped.

The main issue would have been his fourball and foursomes pairings that contributed to his team’s 10-6 deficit going into Sunday’s singles. He was rescued by what he himself described as “a miracle”, thanks largely to almost unbelievable heroics by Ian Poulter on Saturday evening and his team-mates’ resurgence on Sunday.

In the end, every European was delighted it all worked out for the Olazabal and the esteem in which he is held by each member of his team was reflected by the glowing tributes which flowed to him as a captain and person.

It was good, too, that assistant captain Darren Clarke went out of his way to salute the US captain Davis Love III for the dignified manner in which he handled himself when he already had one hand on the trophy. While the behaviour of some American fans was over the top, with Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson possibly going too far to wind up their supporters, similar things happen on this side of the Atlantic.

Love played a significant part in ensuring it never got out of control in the way the 1991 and 1999 matches at Kiawah Island and Brookline were blighted by jingoism that seemed to have the support of US captains Dave Stockton and Ben Crenshaw.

But Ian Poulter stood head and shoulders over everyone. His passion for the event and that of US home owners Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Justin Rose was quite remarkable.

For two days, however, we searched in vain for the kind of defiant attitude that would have countered the antics of Watson and Bradley. Indeed, a point came on Saturday evening when one felt the Europeans were content to play a secondary role. One’s mind wandered back to the days of Jack Charlton who drilled into his Irish football team the need to “put them under pressure”.

USA birdies and eagles were coming without much resistance. It was only when Poulter and Rory McIlroy finally put it up to them on Saturday that their shortcomings were exposed.

On Sunday, Olazabal evoked the memory of Seve Ballesteros and everything gelled. The putts that lipped out for two days began to drop and Watson, Bradley and the fanatical crowd grew quiet.

Speculation will now turn to Olazabal’s successor. He will be chosen in Abu Dhabi in February next with the four vice captains, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Miguel-Angel Jimenez, probably in that order, regarded as the chief contenders. The match will be played in Scotland and that may well prompt Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie to throw their hats in the ring. Monty certainly didn’t conceal his continuing connection with the Tour and the players during his contributions on Sky Sports and recently said: “If they want me, I’ll do it.”

For now European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and his team at Wentworth must again face up to their many problems.

Sponsors keep pulling the plug and an indication of how difficult it is to hold on to what they still have is that only four of the European heroes, Lee Westwood, Paul Lawrie, Martin Kaymer and Peter Hanson, have entered the €3.8m Dunhill Links at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns on Thursday.

Dustin Johnson of the USA will also be at St Andrews while Pádraig Harrington goes in search of a third Dunhill title and the other Irish are defending champion Michael Hoey; Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin and McGinley.

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Saturday, February 27, 2021

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