Ireland seals the Ryder Cup again

WHAT is it about the Irish that they are so often central to the story when Europe beat the United States for the Ryder Cup?

In the past, it couldn’t have been done without the magic of Eamonn D’Arcy at Muirfield Village in 1987, Christy O’Connor Junior at The Belfry in 1989; Philip Walton at Oak Hill in 1995 and Paul McGinley, again at The Belfry, in 2002.

Yesterday, it was Graeme McDowell from Portrush who had the distinction of winning the decisive match in a nail-biting climax watched by more than 35,000 wildly celebrating fans in the valleys of south Wales. It all came down to the very last match on the course and when McDowell, who again displayed the kind of nerve and courage that typified his magnificent victory in the US Open at Pebble Beach in June, obtained the precious clinching point, the place went mad.

Passion isn’t a word one associates with the normally sedate sport of golf – except, that is, when the Ryder Cup comes around every two years. But it was on the lips of just about everybody yesterday as the Americans staged a magnificent rally and the Europeans had to perform some extraordinary exploits to keep them at bay. And when the war was finally won, the players hugged and sang and dancedwith the jubilant fans. This meant an awful lot to the European team and the European Tour, and the celebrations in the aftermath of McDowell sealing the victory went on late into the night. They were both understandable and joyous.

Europe captain Colin Montgomerie fought back the tears and came in for unstinting praise for his contribution to the victory. It will be known as “Monty’s Major” and one of the nice aspects of the outcome is each and every one of his 12 players contributed at least a half point to the cause.

One must also pay full and due tribute to the manner in which the USA came out and fought like men possessed in an admirable attempt at wiping out their three-point overnight deficit. They couldn’t have come closer as a tied match instead of a single point defeat by 14½-13½ would have seen them retain the trophy. They won yesterday’s series of matches by 7-5 and several of their team, most notably the 21-year-old rookie Rickie Fowler who birdied the last four holes to snatch a half with Edoardo Molinari, performed wonderfully well.

Then there was Dustin Johnson, a 6&4 winner over USPGA champion Martin Kaymer, while Steve Stricker led them magnificently as he beat the formidable Lee Westwood by 2&1. Tiger Woods found himself two down early on against Francesco Molinari but he subsequently went mad in a golfing contest, shooting seven birdies and an eagle two as he romped home by 5&3. It had been a miserable few days for Phil Mickelson – before he finally found his form and easily saw off Peter Hanson, while Zach Johnson blew the helpless Pádraig Harrington off the course, shooting seven birdies on the way to victory on the 16th.

But Europe also had their heroes. Luke Donald found himself under pressure late on from Jim Furyk but held on to win on the home green. The Ryder Cup clearly brings out the best in Ian Poulter while everybody was thrilled for Miguel-Angel Jimenez after the magnificent efforts he made to get into the side. They saw off Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson without undue trouble but in the final analysis, it was the 1½ points gleaned by Irishmen Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell that saw the trophy back in European hands.

The manner in which McIlroy took two in a bunker at the 18th and still got the half he needed against Stewart Cink will live long in the memory. And at the end of the field, McDowell reminded the sceptics, especially those based on the other side of the Atlantic, that he is a truly worthy US Open champion. He was appointed anchor man by his captain who could fairly revel last night in the title of “Field Marshal Montgomerie” for this and several other wise calls. It certainly was a Magical Monty Monday.

McDowell’s adversary Hunter Mahan had proven his worth with a handsome contribution to the US success two years ago and was always going to be a difficult opponent. But McDowell got off to the ideal start, rolling in a putt of around 10 feet for a birdie on the first and although he was to widen the gap to three on two occasions, he couldn’t really shake Mahan off. Eventually, the realisation dawned on G-Mac that he had to win if Europe were to get their hands on that coveted gold trophy. That, quite simply, is sporting pressure of the most intense kind.

A fabulous birdie on the 16th, where he knocked two glorious shots to 12 feet and just about dribbled the putt in the side door, gave McDowell a two-hole cushion before it all became too much for Mahan at the par three 17th. His tee shot finished 10 yards short, he duffed the chip and conceded the match and the Ryder Cup to the ecstatic McDowell and his European teammates.

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