It may no longer be the genteel sporting competition that its founder envisioned but endless kudos to a European Ryder Cup team which, on foreign ground, scored the greatest comeback in the event’s history on Sunday – though in point of fact, the phrase “foreign ground” also doesn’t carry the weight it once did. We note this because while American players general make only scattered, pre-compensated visits to the European Tour, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell. Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood – a majority of the European side – were PGA Tour members this year, meaning they’ve each played at least 15 events stateside. Of the non-Tour members, Peter Hanson has made 11 U.S. starts, Mssrs. Colsaerts, Kaymer and Molinari eight each, and Paul Lawrie a more modest six. So while the cooking may not truly be of the “home” variety to Europe's best, they were certainly well-accustomed to it.
Playing from particular strength in this regard was England’s Luke Donald, a part-time Chicago resident and graduate of nearby Northwestern University. Toss in the fact that Donald tied for 3rd (after leading through 54 holes) at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah and it's no surprise that Captain Jose Maria Olazabal put him out first in Sunday Singles. Predictably, the former World Number One responded strongly, dominating Bubba Watson far more than the final 2 & 1 margin suggested and setting the tone for Europe’s remarkable day-long comeback.
Similarly impressive was another former World Number One, Martin Kaymer, whom Olazabal plugged into the penultimate singles spot despite Kaymer plummeting from 4th to 32nd worldwide since March. Olazabal was cautious enough to play Kaymer only once prior to Sunday (a Friday Four ball loss with Justin Rose) but with the weight of the Continent squarely on his shoulders, Kaymer calmly holed the seven-foot clinching putt at a moment when a miss looked likely to seal a U.S. victory. Somewhere in Boca Raton, his countryman Bernhard Langer was surely both envious and proud.
Few were the Euros who didn’t play a major role on Sunday but additional applause must go to Sergio Garcia (who won the 17th and 18th to steal match #8 from Jim Furyk), both Ian Poulter (4-0-0 for the week) and current World Number One Rory McIlroy (for respectively dispatching Webb Simpson and America’s hottest player, Keegan Bradley, to build Europe’s early momentum), Justin Rose (whose electric birdies at 17 and 18 left Phil Mickelson stunned) and, rather under the radar, Paul Lawrie, whose 5 & 3 route of Brandt Snedeker give Europe a critical fifth early point when four seemed about as much as Olazabal might have hoped for.
For an American side that looked so formidable through Saturday night, there were only a few shining lights in the end. Dustin Johnson rather quietly amassed a 3-0-0 record (including an important Singles triumph over Nicolas Colsaerts) and received able backing from Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, all of whom finished 3-1-0 for the week. In Bradley and Mickelson's cases, their losses unfortunately came in the crucial early hours on Sunday, but neither can be held too much to blame; Bradley lost 2 & 1 to Rory McIlroy (the world's top player being 5-under-par through 17 holes) while Mickelson seemed well on his way to a key victory before Rose's heroics so memorably carried the day. Dufner and Zach Johnson fared better on Sunday, Johnson winning three early holes en route to dispatching Graeme McDowell 2 & 1 while Dufner - placed by Davis Love III in the likely-to-be-prominent 9th spot - eagled both outgoing par 5s to build a 4 up lead on Peter Hanson, eventually cruising home to a 2 up triumph. It is perhaps worth noting right here that with two 2012 victories, eight top-10s in 22 starts and this statement performance on the most pressure-packed of stages, Dufner's status as a top-shelf PGA Tour star must now be above question.
Memorable U.S. low points? Jim Furyk finishing bogey-bogey to lose on Sunday (a sadly fitting cap to his star-crossed 2012 season), Snedeker's apparent (and understandable) flatness after banking $11.4 million FedEx Cup dollars last week, Stricker's 0-for-4 week and Webb Simpson embarrassingly qualifying himself to re-write Bernard Darwin's classic essay, The Woes of Socketing.
And then there was Tiger Woods who, after acknowledging beforehand that he has not won enough career Ryder Cup points for someone of his redoubtable skills, proceeded to lose three Foursome/Four Ball matches, was benched (for the first time in his career) for the fourth and ultimately failed to record a victory for the entire week. Indeed, Sunday seemed an apt metaphor for most of Woods' 2012 campaign, for he lingered prominently around the edges, enjoyed a few moments when his presence seemed central to the plot - but then, in the end, missed a three-foot putt at the last that turned a 14-14 tie (and Europe simply retaining the Cup) into an outright European victory. Woods' three 2012 PGA Tour wins can hardly be ignored and his ball-striking took a quantum leap forward in the process, but despite Captain Love placing him in the 12th spot, it was difficult not to sense that Woods is no longer the backbone of the American squad. Indeed, questions with both the putter and the ability to strike effectively in the clutch are as evident as ever - and it will certainly be interesting going forward to see what, if anything, Sean Foley can do about that.