Ryder Cup highs and lows

Patrick Reed set the tone but it was Phil Mickelson who got US bosses stirring, writes Simon Lewis.
Ryder Cup highs and lows

American Hero

You really shouldn’t look past Patrick Reed, who fired up team-mates and US fans alike and backed it up with the crucial singles win over European leader Rory McIlroy that set the tone for his country’s sweep to an emphatic victory. Yet a lot of credit must surely go to Phil Mickelson, who instigated this revival for USA after three straight defeats and just two wins in the 20 years before Hazeltine. Phil’s methods may have initially been dubious when he threw 2014 captain Tom Watson under the team bus as it departed Gleneagles, but his attack, not just on his skipper but the hierarchy which appointed him stirred American Ryder Cup bosses into action, forcing them to transfer their emotional ownership of the US team to the people who mattered most, the players. Having achieved that, Mickelson then had to go out and play well and Lefty did with some magical golf.

Best European

Rory McIlroy’s contribution to the European cause was unparalleled.

This was the Ryder Cup in which the Irishman came of age as a team leader, backing his captain and speaking with the authority of one. McIlroy’s emotionally-charged play had not been seen before but it was stirring stuff as he faced down baying galleries and showed his opponents there was gumption behind his talents.

After losing his first foursomes match with Andy Sullivan, he was paired with another rookie in Thomas Pieters in a move that should be seen as some captaincy alchemy by Darren Clarke. They won all three matches together and are now set to be a mainstay of European Ryder Cup teams. The only pity was that the monumental effort came back to bite McIlroy when he most needed that energy, in his singles match with Reed.

Stars in the making

During a Ryder Cup in which three European rookies failed to record a point (Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan and Danny Willett), Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera Bello shone like beacons for captain Clarke. Spaniard Cabrera Bello (2-0-1) was the lone European without a loss while Belgian rookie Pieters, one of Clarke’s captain’s picks, set the European rookie record for most points and wins in a single Ryder Cup. Already the first European rookie since 1999 to play in all five sessions, Pieters’ 3&2 singles win on Sunday over JB Holmes took him to four wins, surpassing the previous record of three and a half set by Paul Way (1983), Sergio Garcia (1999) and Paul Lawrie (1999).

Both Pieters and Cabrera Bello made playing in the Ryder Cup look like the most perfectly normal thing in the world to them and each man forged a partnership — Pieters with McIlroy, Cabrera Bello with Garcia — that should stand Europe in good stead.

Reputation restored

This has to go to the United States Ryder Cup team who broke a three-Cup losing streak and restored some parity to the event having lost eight of the last 10 meetings with Europe. Eleven-time Ryder Cupper Phil Mickelson rallied the troops as the Americans decided enough was enough after their Medinah meltdown was followed by the debacle at Gleneagles.

The players took ownership of their team and then backed it up by gelling like no previous US side.

In Patrick Reed, they have found their Ian Poulter, a talismanic figure who connects with the galleries and wins crucial points but there is more to it than that.

All 12 members of Captain Love’s USA team contributed to the cause at Hazeltine by winning at least a full point and had done so by Saturday night’s close of play. The last time all 12 American team members had won at least one point in a single Ryder Cup? The year was 1975 at Laurel Valley, when Arnold Palmer was captain.

High point

The eighth hole showdown between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy during their epic singles duel. McIlroy drained a long putt, then roared and cupped an ear towards the stands, bellowing “I can’t hear you”.

Then the Americans erupted in joy as Reed rolled in his birdie putt from the edge of the green to stay all square, pointing straight at McIlroy.

Both men saw the funny side and bumped fists as they walked off the green in recognition of each other’s brilliant golf in a remarkable contest that showed Ryder Cup at its best.

Low point

It did not exactly match a Liverpool-Man United clash for vitriol, but for golf, there were times when this spectacularly edgy, noisy, boisterous and exhilarating Ryder Cup tipped over the edge of reasonable behaviour.

In 50,000-plus crowds at Hazeltine, the chance of blanket good conduct was always a long shot but for Danny Willett’s mother to be screamed at as she watched her son make his debut over her other child’s ill-advised magazine article sent the Ryder Cup to a new low.

Most obscene chant

“Suck a dick!” Rory McIlroy copped this abuse on Saturday before the home fans turned on the heckler and the golfer got the idiot ejected. As the much put-upon Danny Willett tweeted on Sunday night in reference to his brother Peter’s now infamous article: “Unfortunately some American fans showed that @P_J_Willett was in fact correct.”

Captain’s table

To the victor the spoils, of course and Davis Love was a deserving recipient of the Samuel Ryder Cup on Sunday night.

He seemed to get everything just about right in terms of building a winning team environment, gelling 12 individualistic athletes and sending them out to deliver. Love made the right calls with his four captain’s picks, with Rickie Fowler (2-1-0), JB Holmes (1-2-0), Matt Kuchar (2-2-0) and Ryan Moore (2-1-0) all getting wins.

Clarke was less fortunate with his three captain’s selections, veterans Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer delivering just one win between them, the German’s singles win over Matt Kuchar coming in a dead rubber.

Yet it would be unfair to label Clarke a bad captain. Any European skipper would have struggled to turn back the red tide that swept over Hazeltine at the weekend.

Perhaps Westwood, three defeats in three matches, was a mistaken pick but with five rookies qualifying automatically for his team, the captain needed experience and no-one had more of that than his best friend.

He was knocked for benching Garcia and Cabrera Bello for the Saturday fourballs after their heroic comeback from four down to snatch a half from Spieth and Reed yet Clarke had to submit his pairings when the Spaniards were still four down.

Alas for Europe, not enough putts dropped for them and that, ultimately, is what costs you a Ryder Cup.

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