U.S. team needs Brookline-style comeback
NEWPORT, Wales – Remember Brookline. Both teams do. Right now, perhaps Europe moreso.
Entering Monday singles at this 38th Ryder Cup, with Europe leading the United States 9 1/2-6 1/2, Brookline has become the catch word that represents hope and caution. Eleven years ago at the Country Club there, the Americans rallied to win after trailing 10-6 entering singles.
The night before the remarkable comeback, U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw wagged his finger, expressed his belief in fate and told the world he had a good feeling.
“We’re down three and have come from farther back to win,” assistant U.S. captain Paul Goydos said.
True. But this is foreign soil, not the neighborhood of Francis Ouimet. This will be more difficult.
European captain Colin Montgomerie and his team leader, Lee Westwood, were at Brookline. They felt the pain. Little wonder they conveyed that to the rest of the team Sunday night after they soared ahead by winning Session 3, 5 1/2-1/2.
“There will be no complacency,” Montgomerie said emphatically more than once. “Brookline was mentioned in the locker room.”
Westwood has come close to winning in a few majors the past three years, but he says the disappointment in those near-misses pales in comparison to what he felt in Massachusetts in 1999.
“I’ve never seen grown men cry like I did after Brookline,” said Westwood, coming off a calf injury and playing like the world’s best player in his first competition since early August. “We’ve got to be cautious and wary.”
Ian Poulter left the European locker room Sunday night and sounded the same theme.
“We can’t get complacent,” he said. “We saw what happened at Brookline. It was depressing.”
On Sunday, it was the U.S. mood that lowered at the end of play. They started Session 3 on Saturday ahead, 6-4, but trailed in all six of those matches in progress when darkness halted play that night.
Entering Sunday, getting into singles square at 8-8 would have been a best-case scenario for the United States. But then the Americans made significant moves in the final four matches and entered the final 4-5 holes with a chance to win all of them. The Yanks stood on the 14th tee 1 up, 1 down and all square in three matches, and got to the 15th tied in the other.
They won none of them.
The best they could do was a half-point. Francesco Molinari made a 3 1/2-foot birdie putt to win the 18th hole and square the match against Stewart Cink-Matt Kuchar.
Europe withstood a temporary U.S. charge. It wasn’t unlike the fourth quarter of an NBA game when a team leading answers the opponent’s late surge with a burst of its own.
If Europe hangs on to win back the Ryder Cup, the main reason very well might be a frantic stretch of about 20 minutes when the U.S. gave back the momentum it had battled to gain.
Asked if he was shocked by his team’s late retreat, captain Corey Pavin took the politically correct high road. “No,” he said. “I’m proud of the guys. What I saw was steady progress for Team USA. ... Fighting and grinding. That’s what I saw all day.”
He left out the part about coming up short.
He left out the part about dominoes falling, rapidly one after another, on his team.
He left out the part about his players leaving putt after putt short on the slow, wet greens.
He left out those 20 minutes from hell.
First, Francesco Molinari drove the green and birdied the par-4 15th, pulling he and his brother Edoardo even with Cink-Kuchar.
Then Phil Mickelson’s putting woes continued when he three-putted 14, and he and Rickie Fowler went 1 down against Poulter-Martin Kaymer.
Then Peter Hanson made an escape for the ages at the par-4 15th, getting up-and-down from a low, left hazard for a halving birdie against Jeff Overton and Dustin Johnson, each of whom drove the green. That kept Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez all square.
Then Ross Fisher birdied 17 from 20 feet to close out Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson, 2 and 1.
Then Jimenez hit a 3-iron approach and birdied 16 from 20 feet, going 1 up when Overton missed from 12 feet.
Then Poulter birdied 15 from 6 feet for a 2-up lead, after Mickelson missed from 8 feet.
Everything that could go wrong, did for USA, in short order.
That changed the U.S. mood. And got everyone thinking about Brookline.
“The mood is, ‘Let’s go out and play well (in singles),’ ” Goydos said.
If the Americans get at least three points in the first six singles, they’ll have a chance. But it’ll be anything but easy.
Montgomerie front-loaded his lineup with Westwood (vs. Steve Stricker), Rory McIlroy (vs. Cink), Luke Donald (vs. Furyk), Kaymer (vs. Dustin Johnson), Poulter (vs. Kuchar) and Fisher (vs. Overton), and put U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell in the 12th spot (vs. Hunter Mahan) as a safety net.
The Yanks stack up well in the final six matches, with Tiger Woods at No. 8 against Francesco Molinari and Mickelson at 10 against Hanson. Montgomerie, for one, expressed surprise that the Nos. 1 and 2 players in the world were slotted so far back.
One never knows. If the Americans somehow pull this off, a catch phrase years from now might be “Remember Wales.”