Europe won back the Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion after dominating all three days at Le Golf National in Paris.
The 17.5-10.5 final points tally does little to sum up the tension of the final day’s singles, which saw USA claw its way back into the match when winning three of the first four matches on Sunday. That took the score to 10.5-9.5, and gave the later US starters some encouragement that they could mount a serious challenge.
But all hopes of a Medinah-style comeback by the visiting team were extinguished when Thorbjorn Olesen, Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari and Henrik Stenson all opened up significant leads in the middle and lower order matches.
After Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood lost their games in quick succession to Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson and Tony Finau, European captain Thomas Bjorn’s poker face began to show a trace of tension. But when Paul Casey put the first blue points on the board – albeit a gutsy half-point against Brooks Koepka – things started to turn back in the home side’s favour, and when a fired-up Jon Rahm closed out his match against a distinctly below-par Tiger Woods on the 17thhole, the blue tide looked to coming in.
Olsen, somewhat harshly left out of the matches on Saturday following his four-ball performance on Friday, came back in stunning fashion, recording a 5&4 win over Jordan Spieth, one of America’s best players of the week, and edged the team a further point closer to the 14.5 target.
Ian Poulter, pitted against world No.1 Dustin Johnson, rose to the occasion as only he does, and in a battle that swung back and forth, closed out the match with a stunning birdie on the final hole for a two-up win to take the score to 13.5.
The victory was mathematically sealed moments later, when Molinari took his match against the errant Phil Mickelson to dormie three, and Sergio Garcia went two up over Rickie Fowler with two to play. With two guaranteed half points, the celebrations began in a slightly muted fashion, but began in earnest when Molinari won his match after Mickelson found the water off the tee at the par-three 16thand conceded the match to take the score to 14.5-9.5. In beating the left-hander, Molinari became the first European player to win all five points in a match, following his four earlier victories in partnership with Fleetwood. Minutes later, Garcia closed out his match against Fowler on the 17thto take his tally of Ryder Cup points to 25.5, eclipsing Nick Faldo’s record as all-time top points scorer.
With further wins from Henrik Stenson (5&4 over Bubba Watson) and Alex Noren (1up over Bryson deChambeau), and a defeat for Tyrell Hatton at the hands of a revitalised Patrick Reed, the score ended at 17.5-10.5, with Europe winning the singles 7.5-4.5.
The scenes of celebration around the course were like nothing ever experienced at a Ryder Cup before, with thousands of over-excited European fans at times in danger of getting out of hand as they rushed onto the fairways and tees and sought to adulate their heroes, even though there were still matches out on the course. Thankfully, the stewards were able to keep them in check, although many of the US players’ wives and family were quickly buggied to safety when they realised the game was up.
And thus one of the strongest American teams ever to line up in the Ryder Cup was put ruthlessly to the sword by an European team that, while strong on paper, lacked the experience and world ranking points of its rival. But Le Golf National proved a totally different proposition to the course set up on the PGA Tour, with the tight fairways, deep rough, and slower greens proving a step too far for a group of players that have grown up playing bomb-and-gouge golf.
With many of the US team coming off the back of the previous week’s Tour Championship, and seemingly unprepared for the change in playing conditions, it should not be such a surprise that they were unable to break the 25-year run of defeats away from home, but the size and the manner of Europe’s win was as comprehensive as any in recent years, and with every single of Europe’s players contributing at least one point, it was truly a team victory.
The last word goes to European captain Thomas Bjorn, the quietly-spoken Dane who masterminded this impressive win. “Some people say golf is boring – well, this is certainly not boring. I’ve experienced a lot of Ryder Cups, but this is the top one.”
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