MEDINAH, Ill. – The Americans never stood a chance.
Even with a commanding 10-6 lead going into the Ryder Cup’s Sunday singles, they were doomed.
There were just too many mystical forces working against them in a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 loss at Medinah Country Club.
There were the Europeans playing in Seve Ballesteros’ Sunday blue, the garb once fancied by the man who became a legend escaping from more tough spots than Houdini. The Euros had his emblem on their shirt sleeves. They had his silhouette on their golf bags. Mostly, they showed they had his indomitable spirit in their marrow.
“I think if Seve could have written this script, he would have written it exactly like this one,” Europe’s Graeme McDowell said.
Ballesteros would have liked the way Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia dug themselves out of holes Sunday to win vital matches. Rose was 1 down to Phil Mickelson with two holes to play but poured in birdie putts at the 17th and 18th holes to win. Garcia was also 1 down at the 17th but likewise won the final two holes to defeat Jim Furyk.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Seve was with me today,” Garcia said. “Because there’s no chance I would have won my match if he wasn’t there.”
There was another force working against the Americans.
There was September in Chicago.
The Americans confirmed no lead is safe in this city in September. Cub fans know this better than anyone, and now the folks who live here have another epic collapse to remember, one as stunning as the Cubs’ blown pennant in ’69.
The way the Americans struggled Sunday, you had to wonder if they were playing on the same type of turf used at Wrigley Field.
You had to wonder if a guard at the front gate of Medinah turned away a restaurant owner wanting to bring his billy goat inside with him to watch Sunday’s finish.
And now you have to wonder if that Chicago cop who helped a desperate Rory McIlroymake his tee time with a police escort will be looking to rent a room from Steve Bartman.
Apparently, beating the Americans has become as easy as rolling out of bed.
Saying he confused the U.S. Central Time Zone with its Eastern Time Zone, McIlroy arrived just 10 minutes before his tee time with the police escort. He didn’t hit a single shot on the practice range but was 2 up on Keegan Bradley after six holes and went on to beat him, 2 and 1.
“We’re all kind of stunned,” American captain Davis Love III said. “We know what it feels like now from that ’99 Ryder Cup. It’s a little bit shocking.”
Love was on that ’99 team that won at Brookline in the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. The Europeans on Sunday equaled that historic comeback in winning for the fifth time in the last six Ryder Cups, the seventh in the last nine.
With the Europeans charging early Sunday, you had to wonder if ’99 U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw was watching somewhere with a bad feeling about this.
Olazabal was on that European team that lost so epically. He was in the middle of the chaos when Justin Leonard holed an improbable bomb at the 17th at Brookline to set up the United States’ victory. Leonard rolled that putt in against Olazabal.
Asked on Saturday night, if, like Crenshaw, he had a “good feeling” about what was going to happen on the final day, Olazabal said he believed.
“I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and they did,” Olazabal said.
Sunday was a sad day for the Americans, but it was a great day for golf, a spectacular Sunday of dizzying dramatic turns.
The Ryder Cup proved yet again it is the best event in golf, a spectacle even more magical than the Masters, if that’s possible. The golf is so much larger in the Ryder Cup, it feels like it ought to be played on Mount Olympus. The thrills are so much grander, the heartache so much more severe.
Unfortunately for the Americans, they’re becoming more familiar with the heartache.
Steve Stricker felt the sting of another Ryder Cup as deeply as anyone.
With the first five players Europe sent out Sunday winning, the match boiled down to Stricker on the final hole in the second-to-last match. After lipping out a 6-footer for par at the 17th to fall 1 down to Martin Kaymer, Stricker knew the match’s outcome was on him. He had to win the 18th or Europe would retain the cup.
Stricker watched Martin Kaymer halve the hole by sinking a 6-foot putt at the last to deal the Americans yet another Ryder Cup disappointment.
“I just didn’t get it done,” Stricker said. “I’m a little stunned. I can’t really believe what happened to us.”
The Americans have been dealt some bitter blows in the Ryder Cup. There were the back-to-back record routs in 2004 and ’06, but this might have been the worst loss of all. The collapse coming with the Americans feeling as if they had one hand on the cup makes the loss that much harder to swallow.
Tiger Woods endured his fifth consecutive Ryder Cup loss.
No other American Ryder Cupper has ever played on five consecutive losing teams.
Mickelson has now played on seven losing Ryder Cup teams. No American has been on more losing teams.
Mickelson’s Ryder Cup record is now 14-18-6. Woods is 13-17-3. No Americans have lost more matches than Mickelson and Woods.
American veteran Jim Furyk felt the sting, too. He bogeyed the final two holes to lose to Garcia. In a year in which Furyk endured losing the U.S. Open and the WGC-Bridgestone with late stumbles, Furyk drove home just how important the Ryder Cup has become.
“This is the lowest part of my year,” Furyk said.
It was a wild, wondrous Sunday that ended with it feeling like the Americans never stood a chance.