MEDINAH, Ill. – From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts experienced it all in less than 24 hours at the 17th hole.
The memories of yesterday will last a lifetime: holing a 25-foot uphill bender at the par 3 on Friday to put a dagger in the U.S. team’s hopes of a comeback in his four-ball match with Lee Westwood against Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. It helped sew up Europe’s lone point of the afternoon session.
But the 6-iron tee shot Colsaerts dumped into the water fronting the green on Saturday likely will cause him many restless nights. It sealed the fate of his foursomes match with partner Sergio Garcia, a 2-and-1 defeat, against the American side of Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
“It’s just one of those moments where you need a few Ryder Cups under your belt,” Colsaerts said.
When the ball splashed, Colsaerts covered his face in disappointment. At the drop zone as Garcia prepared a last-gasp effort to extend the match, Colsaerts chugged nearly an entire water bottle in three gulps. He isn’t the first Ryder Cup rookie to suffer from cotton mouth, and he won’t be the last.
It was a hard-fought match in which neither team played particularly well. They carded just five birdies between them, and the U.S. failed to record any on the back nine. Garcia, who entered the Ryder Cup with a record of 8-0-1 in foursomes but lost both of his matches in that format, took responsibility for his team’s failure.
“I didn’t play well at all,” Garcia said.
The American duo of Johnson and the Ryder Cup rookie Dufner improved to 2-0 as a team. They have played frequently together lately and developed a comfort level with each other.
“The only thing that was different today is that Duf carried me,” Johnson said.
The U.S. grabbed an early lead when Zach Johnson knocked his tee shot at the par-3 second hole to 5 feet and Dufner rolled in the birdie putt. The lead grew to 2 up when Colsaerts missed a 3-foot par putt at the fourth.
The U.S. team had several chances to extend the lead, but Johnson failed to convert on putts of 5 and 6 feet at the fifth and seventh holes, respectively. His instructor, Mike Bender, following the match from inside the ropes, noted that his pupil was taking too much time. Indeed, after the round, Johnson conceded that “it was hard to get a rhythm.”
Dufner was rock steady, leading one radio commentator to question whether he has a pulse. Johnson said he has played his two Ryder Cup matches as if it were a Wednesday pro-am.
“Duf doesn’t get rattled,” Johnson said. “I knew that already. I’m not surprised.”
Nor was it unexpected that the Europeans battled back. Colsaerts and Garcia evened the match with a par at the sixth and a birdie at the 11th. Just as the ebb and flow of the match seemed to be shifting, Garcia drove into trouble to the right, and Europe made a double bogey and lost the 12th hole. On the ensuing hole, Colsaerts’s putter let him down again. The man who made eight birdies and an eagle on his own ball and practically beat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker singlehandedly, missed a putt of no more than 3 feet to fall 2 down.
The next three holes were halved in par. Europe was running out of time when Garcia pulled the flag and holed a delicate downhill chip from just off the 16th green. He was fired up, pumping his fist and throwing his wedge at his bag.
“All of a sudden,” Colsaerts said, “we have a decent chance to go to 18 and make something happen.”
But then the wind freshened and Colsaerts made the fatal mistake of coming up short in the water fronting the 17th green. A rookie mistake, and one that cost Europe a potential full point.