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Ryder Cup 2014

By: Paul Prendergast

Britain Ryder Cup Golf

Martin Kaymer tee’s off in the Friday foursomes during the 2014 Ryder Cup from Gleneagles: Photo courtesy of golfweek.com

Applying the old sporting adage: ‘A good big man always beats a good little man’ to the European team’s 8th Ryder Cup triumph in the last 10 attempts sells short a highly talented and accomplished American team, who gave it their all in a bid to wrest back the Cup in Gleneagles in September.

Tom Watson’s men were plucky from the very beginning, poking their noses ahead after the opening morning fourballs, but it wasn’t long before this juggernaut European team confirmed their heavy favouritism, seizing a lead by the end of that day that they would not relinquish.

A team top heavy with Top 10 players, awash with Ryder Cup experience and playing in front of a raucous home crowd, were always expected to inflict what they did on the Americans, who had their form player (Billy Horschel) at home changing diapers in Florida rather than lacing on the spikes in Auchterader.

Headed by the formidable pairing of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, the Europeans decimated the Americans not once, but twice, in the foursomes (alternate shot) format – winning seven of the eight points on offer – to open up a four-point lead heading into the Sunday Singles.

The lead could have been more but for the inspired play from rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on the American team, who appeared completely unfazed by their surrounds and were an inspired selection as a partnership by Watson.

Needing just four points on Sunday to retain the Cup, European skipper Paul McGinley put some of his big guns out up front although the move looked to have backfired early on.

The experienced Graeme McDowell was in the lead off match against Spieth but it was Spieth who dominated early, jumping to a 3-up lead before the tide started to turn the Northern Irishman’s way. As Rory McIlroy was putting the cleaners through Rickie Fowler two groups back, the momentum started to turn McDowell’s way as Spieth faltered with a series of bogies early on the back nine.

The groundswell of crowd support for McDowell’s fightback reverberated loudly around the Gleneagles course, inspiring the European players behind him, just as McGinley had envisaged. In the end, McDowell closed out a courageous 2/1 victory over arguably the form American of the week while McIlroy secured another point with his 5/4 routing of Fowler.

“It was special to go out number one.” McDowell said, “The captain trusted me with a leadership role today. I was very proud to do so, and to get that point was huge.”

Martin Kaymer chipped in from behind the 16th green for an unlikely birdie and a 4/2 win over the only non-European winner of a Major this season, a subdued Bubba Watson, Justin Rose halved his match with Hunter Mahan to make it 13.5 points and ensure he would remain undefeated during the week, setting the stage for Jamie Donaldson to experience the greatest moment of his career to date.

One of three European debutants, Donaldson played with great aplomb and stuck a wedge to within tap-in range at the 15th to cap off a 4/3 win and ensuring Europe would retain the Ryder Cup following Keegan Bradley’s concession.

With celebrations raging around Donaldson and captain Paul McGinley by the 15th green, the remaining matches on course continued on with personal pride at stake but it was not until the excitable Victor Dubuisson and Zach Johnson completed the final match that the celebrations for Europe could begin in earnest.

Europe eventual won the singles 6.5-5.5 to ensure the final margin was a dominant one, 16.5-11.5 and a far cry from the close and thrilling tussle experienced between the two sides at Medinah two years earlier.

The 2014 version however was a far more clinical and dominant victory, the gap between the two sides significantly more tangible.

Media coverage immediately following the Cup ‘should’ have been saturated with tales of Europe’s emphatic display building on an ever lengthening era of success, dating back to 1985 when Sam Torrance secured Europe’s first Cup after the format changed to include Continental Europeans with players from Great Britain & Ireland in 1979.

Sadly, the American team press conference afterwards ensured that the focus would diluted, following Phil Mickelson’s frank comparisons the victorious campaign of 2008 and what has transpired since.

“There were two things that allowed us to play our best. I think that (2008 captain) Paul Azinger did and one was he got everybody invested in the process.” Mickelson deadpanned, “And the other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, you know, how we were going to go about doing this.”

“Unfortunately we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”

To a follow up comment: “That felt like a pretty brutal destruction of the leadership that’s gone on this week,” Mickelson replied: “Oh, I’m sorry you’re taking it that way. I’m just talking about what Paul Azinger did to help us play our best.”

However, his final response to a question about player involvement in decision making gave an insight into a fractious American team room under Watson’s leadership: “Uh, no. No, nobody here was in any decision. So..no.”

Watson’s reaction to Mickelson’s remarks included: “I had a different philosophy as far as being captain of this team. You know, it takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods. It’s 12 players.”

“Yes, I did talk to the players, but my vice captains were very instrumental in making decisions as to whom to pair with.”

In the weeks that have followed, the controversy stirred by the emotive post mortem of the American challenge, aired so brutally in public at the crime scene and not behind closed doors, has pin balled on.

Amidst the rhetoric, Tom Watson released a statement accepting full responsibility for the team’s results while former captains and players, including Azinger, have contributed their views on the American structure; which most considered was inferior to and less inclusive than that of the tight European group.

While the Americans continue their soul searching and the ever amusing references to Azinger’s ‘pods’, it took one of their own to provide a classy reminder that an actual contest had just taken place – between a group of 12 guys trying to beat the brains out of another 12 – just as they’ve been doing to each other since 1927.

“In the end, we got beat by guys who were playing better.” Hunter Mahan pointed out, repeating the point two weeks later after the opening round of the Frys.Com Open.

About Paul Prendergast

Paul is a freelance golf and leisure writer based on the Gold Coast in Australia. His work and the images of his colleagues at Golfplus Media have appeared in publications in over a dozen countries, including many in the Asian region.

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