Bloomfield Township, Mich.
The United States, finally playing loose, as if there were nothing to lose, came out with guns blazing in the singles matches of the 35th Ryder Cup. Trailing by a record 6 points and knowing Europe needed only 3 points to secure its second consecutive Cup, the Americans front-loaded their lineup and led or were tied for the lead in seven of the first eight matches in the early stages.
The scene was starting to bear some resemblance to Brookline, Mass., where five years ago at The Country Club the U.S. team overturned a 4-point deficit by winning its first seven singles matches en route to an improbable comeback victory.
This time, thoughts of a rally were short-lived. It was a young, red-hot Spaniard named Sergio Garcia who hoisted Team Europe on his shoulders and helped guide it to the Promised Land. Ultimately, the Europeans not only protected their big lead, but built on it, winning the singles (71⁄2-41⁄2) and the Ryder Cup, too, handing the Americans their worst-ever defeat, 181⁄2-91⁄2.
Englishman Ian Poulter, who went off 10th, only recalls seeing “a sea of red” on the leaderboard when he teed off in his mid-afternoon match against Chris Riley. Only minutes later, Garcia sparked the turnaround that would propel Europe to its fourth Ryder Cup victory in the last five attempts. Two down to Phil Mickelson through eight holes, Garcia appeared headed toward the same fate that befell his teammate, Paul Casey, who lost to Tiger Woods, 3 and 2, in the session’s opening match.
Garcia, however, made birdie from 15 feet at the par-3 ninth hole, nailed a 20-footer at the 10th and added a third consecutive birdie when he hit 9-iron to 18 inches at 11. By the time Mickelson knocked his tee shot over the 13th green and made bogey, Garcia had a 2-up lead.
The match – and Mickelson’s disappointing week – ended at No. 16, where Mickelson, sensing the urgency to make a move, attempted a low-running hook that hit short and veered into the pond in front of the green, leading to bogey. And as the two shook hands, many Europeans were in the midst of their own comebacks.
“I knew that with the way I was playing all week long, I had a good chance of winning,” Garcia said. “I had to relax. I think I came out probably wanting it too much. I knew that if I got something going, just at least showed my partners that I was getting back into the game, I knew that it could help a little bit.”
It actually helped a lot. Darren Clarke birdied 16 and 17 (where he chipped in) to salvage a halve with Davis Love III, who had been 2 up with three to play; Lee Westwood rallied from a 2-down deficit to beat Kenny Perry; and Colin Montgomerie – not aware of his team’s position in the matches – secured the winning point when he converted his 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole in a 1-up victory over David Toms.
Thomas Levet, Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley followed with victories in the event’s final four matches. When Harrington’s match concluded, the Europeans, already in full party mode, launched into a champagne-drinking, cigar-smoking celebration that still may be going on.
Garcia, playing in his third Ryder Cup at age 24, was the Man of the Match, joining Westwood by earning 41⁄2 points in five matches. (In the modern era, only Larry Nelson, who was 5-0 in 1979, has won more points.) Sunday’s victory was the first point in a singles match for Garcia, who now has an impressive 9-1-2 record in four-ball and foursomes matches in three Ryder Cups. Meanwhile, the top U.S. guns – Woods, Mickelson and Love – were a combined 4-9-1.
“I think that this whole team, and also myself, we just live for this,” Garcia said. “We can’t wait to play in this event.”