There was to be no miracle fightback from a big Saturday deficit for the Europeans as there was four years ago at Medinah and by contrast for American captain Davis Love there was vengeance for his side’s 2012 meltdown as well as some vindication for the two years of soul-searching to turn around three successive defeats.
“I’m just proud of these guys. They had a lot of pressure on them for the last two years. And every time we picked a guy, there was more and more pressure on the team and more and more questions,” Love said. “I’m just proud the way every one of them played.
“It was a great team effort. I’ve never seen a team come together like a family like this. So much has happened over the last week. Unbelievable golf. The Europeans played just some stunning golf. I told Rory McIlroy it was best month of golf I think I’ve ever seen. I’m just proud of them. They hung in there all week.”
Clarke gave the winning side their due, saying: “The American guys played better that we did. They holed the putts when they had, and we lipped out. But that’s happened the other way around for quite some time.
“The guys gave it all. They are trying everything, they tried as hard as they could. You can’t ask for anything more as a captain. We’re obviously bitterly disappointed, but credit to Davis and his team for the performance of the day.”
McIlroy and the home side’s “Captain America” Reed were the top match in the draw and it was first blood to the USA on a day when red was the dominant colour on the Hazeltine scoreboard.
The US had started the day 9.5 to 6.5 ahead, needing five points to win the Cup for the first time since 2008. Clarke’s team, looking to win a fourth in a row since 2010, needed 7.5 points to retain the cup with a tie, meaning whatever happened at the top of the order, it would would hinge on Europe’s rookies and out of touch captain’s picks rising to the occasion when it mattered, more than ever once McIlroy was defeated by Reed and Justin Rose lost to Rickie Fowler, both matches ending 1Up to the Americans.
Debutants Rafa Cabrera Bello and Thomas Pieters did deliver early on, defeating Jimmy Walker and JB Holmes 3&2 respectively to follow Henrik Stenson’s 3&2 win over Jordan Spieth while Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson’s gripping tussle was halved.
It all hinged on the bottom matches to either provide European salvation or confirm US dominance and it was the red tide that was unstoppable, Brooks Koepka capping a miserable week for Danny Willett by crushing the Masters champion 5&4, leaving the Americans needing just two more points for a long awaited first victory since Valhalla eight years ago.
When Brandt Snedeker beat Andy Sullivan 3&1 it was 14-10 and down to Ryan Moore, the last man into Love’s team last Sunday, and the rookie earned the point at the 18th for victory over Lee Westwood, who had been two up with three to play, to regain the cup.
The top match was always going to be a reliable marker of the outcome and it was a battle royale between McIlroy and Reed.
Clarke had known Love would send out his attack dog Reed first and McIlroy had embraced his leadership role by leading the Euros out on the final day, the aim to put blue on the board early and set the tone for a fightback.
Yet Reed was always going to have something to say about that, the pugnancious Texan never giving an inch, happy to trade blows shot by shot in a see-saw battle packed with raw emotion, not least at the eighth when McIlroy drained a long putt to spark some extraordinary scenes that served as a perfect representation of the weekend’s contest, at least inside the ropes.
McIlroy roared and cupped an ear towards the stands, bellowing “I can’t hear you” to the baying Americans, who then celebrated as Reed rolled in his birdie putt from the edge of the green to stay all square, pointing straight at McIlroy, both men smiling and actually bumping fists in recognition of each other’s golf in this remarkable contest.
Yet the match began to tilt in Reed’s direction after that. He went ahead at the 12th as McIlroy’s putting began to unravel, and went two up with two to play, only for the American to bogey 17 and give hope of a half. With every set of shots like an exchange of punches, McIlroy matched the American’s approach at 18 to four feet but he needed more than a half from this hole and when Reed sank his putt, American had landed the most psychological of blows with their hero’s victory and Europe would not recover.
“It’s disappointing for us as a team, and you know, for me personally, taking on the role to go out and put a blue point on the board, I didn’t do my job,” McIlroy said. “We put up a great fight all week. America came in as the favorites and justifiably so, especially on home turf. We came here in front of a tough crowd and we gave it our all. At the end it just wasn’t enough.”