USA's elder statesmen fail to provide Sunday lift
MEDINAH, Ill. – Coming into Ryder Cup Sunday, the U.S. elder statesmen - Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker - had accounted for four of the Americans' 10 points.
And on a brutal Sunday during which the U.S. fumbled away a 10-6 advantage, the three 40-somethings came up empty. Zilch. Nothing.
All three had a chance to put their matches away on Sunday - and lead the U.S. to victory - only to stumble on Nos. 17 and 18.
Stricker didn't contribute a point all week, and bogeyed away the Americans' chances at recapturing the Ryder Cup, missing a 6-footer at the par-3 17th for a halve and then failing to win the 18th hole against the struggling Martin Kaymer, handing the Europeans the unlikely 14.5-13.5 victory.
"I am disappointed that I let 11 other players down and the captains, and probably there at the end, Tiger and I at the end there to probably get some points. And I didn't. So that's disappointing," said Stricker, who had four bogeys and three birdies on Sunday. He held a 1-up lead after the par-5 fifth hole, but relinquished it at the sixth and never regained the lead.
But did Stricker, a shoe-in captain's pick by Davis Love III after nearly making the team on points, feel like he belonged on this team, even after an 0-4 week that saw him struggle with his putter?
"I felt like I was a part of this team. Towards the end of the season, I played well. I was really one birdie short of making the team on my own," said Stricker, who did make a 6-footer at No. 18 to force Kaymer to make his putt. "So I felt like I deserved to be on the team. That wasn't it. And I felt like my game was in good shape."
Stricker says that he knew that his match was going to be critical early in his round.
"When I went past the board at No. 10 tee, saw a lot of blue up on the board, started doing the math. Kind of figured it was going to come down to Tiger or I in the last two groups," Stricker said.
"I didn't get it done. Had a couple opportunities. Just let a couple putts slip by."
Furyk could do nothing but hang his head on the 18th green, missing an 8-footer for par to halve his match with Sergio Garcia. He held a 1-up lead heading to the 17th tee, but found a greenside bunker on the left, pitched out to about 10 feet under the hole and two-putted for a bogey.
Furyk had three bogeys over his final six holes. Also a captain's pick, Furyk has had a rough time closing out tournaments this season, faltering on Sunday at the U.S. Open after having the 54-hole lead, while also falling at the WGC-Bridgestone, handing the title to Keegan Bradley after a double-bogey at the 72nd hole.
"As far as team or individual, it is the lowest point of my year," said Furyk.
"It's been a low year. I've played well this year, but haven't closed the door. I'm pretty sure Sergio would tell you that I out-played him today, but I didn't win and I lost the match. I've had a lot of that happen this year."
Furyk was on the winning side of the American comeback in 1999 that saw the USA rally from a 10-6 deficit on Sunday.
"Well, that was fun. This was pretty miserable. It was very similar circumstances with the four points. It was a hell of a lot of fun being on the other end. It wasn't very much fun today," said Furyk.
Mickelson was the most successful 40something this week, going 3-1 – but the point he failed to secure Sunday proved costly. When Rose birdied the last two holes to beat him, it gave Europe a huge emotional lift, and five points in the team's first five games.
Mickelson held a 1-up lead heading to the 17th hole, but narrowly missed a chip shot for birdie, while Rose nailed a 40-footer for birdie to send it to the 18th all knotted up. At the par 4, Rose hit the green in regulation, while Mickelson, 161 yards out, flew the green with an 8-iron. Mickelson hit a nice chip to 5 feet, but he never putted after Rose buried a 12-footer to win the match.
"I had a chance to go 2‑up, and he made a good 12‑footer on top of me to halve it and I (nearly) holed a chip shot on 17 that would have won it in my mind, except he made that 40‑footer to win the hole and the last hole he made a great birdie," said Mickelson. "He played some great golf. I thought I played pretty good, and you know, shot a decently‑low round. But the last three holes, I, you know, I thought I had the match. He played phenomenal there."
Unfortunately for the U.S. squad, the same couldn't be said of their elder leaders on Sunday afternoon at Medinah Country Club.