Commentary

Defeat sits heavy on Stricker, Furyk

Originally Published: September 30, 2012
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- The party raged all around him, hundreds if not thousands of Europeans fans swaying and swinging in the stands, the smell of champagne in the air.

Steve Stricker stood on the 18th green at Medinah Country Club amid the bedlam, a look of shock and sadness in his eyes, knowing that this is likely his last time on such a stage, the enormity yet to sink in.

You can't blame the epic U.S. defeat on Stricker, certainly not when so many other players could have altered the outcome on such a wild, dramatic day. But when you go 0-4 as a captain's pick, you are going to have to answer some questions.

And to Stricker's credit, he answered them all.

"I am disappointed that I let 11 other players down and the captains, especially there at the end," Stricker said. "Tiger [Woods] and I [are] at the end there to get some points. And I didn't. So that's disappointing."

Stricker's match with Germany's Martin Kaymer ultimately decided the Ryder Cup. When Kaymer sank his 5-foot putt on the 18th for a par that clinched a 1-up victory, Europe had assured itself a 14th point and at least a tie -- which meant retaining the Ryder Cup due to winning it two years ago.

Kaymer, who was in a slump for most of this year and played just one match going into Sunday, went 1-up when Jim Furyk bogeyed the 17th hole.

And that meant that Furyk, another captain's pick, was also feeling the sting. He was 1 up on Sergio Garcia with two holes to play and lost both holes with bogeys.

Had Stricker and Furyk simply managed a half point in those matches -- rather than none -- the final score would have been 14 ½ to 13 ½ for the Americans. Or had only one of them earned a half point, Woods' final match with Francesco Molinari would have not played out in such bizarre fashion. It would have all been on the line there.

As it was, Woods seemingly felt that a 14-14 tie didn't matter once Europe was assured of retaining the Cup. He made a sloppy bogey at the last to salvage his only half point when a par would have meant a 14-14 outcome.

"After all that went down, my putt was useless," he said. "It was inconsequential. So I hit it too quick, and gave him his putt, and it was already over."

Europe had retained the Cup, and apparently that's all that matters, regardless of how the final score would have gone down.

Just another in a long line of strange and surreal experiences on Sunday, when the U.S. led 10-6 but could managed just 3 ½ points -- just as Europe had done 13 years ago at Brookline, where the Americans staged the exact same rally.

"That was fun," said Furyk, who along with Love, Woods and Phil Mickelson played on that winning 1999 team. "This was pretty miserable. It was a hell of a lot of fun being on the other end. It wasn't very much fun today."

"There's a lot of expectations on us," Stricker said. "We put a lot of expectations on ourselves to perform. Sometimes it's good and bad. I mean, when you're going good, it's great, and when you're not, it can be a negative, because you feel like you're letting the crowd down.''

It was especially tough for Stricker, who played college golf at the University of Illinois and who lives in nearby Madison, Wis. Along with Furyk, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker, he was chosen by Love as an at-large addition to the team.

Johnson was a star, going 3-0 and getting the first U.S. victory on Sunday. Snedeker went just 1-2, as did Furyk. Stricker was 0-4. The captain's picks went 1-3 on Sunday.

Stricker also had a chance to help the U.S. earn a half point on Saturday afternoon when he and Woods took on Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald. At the time, it didn't seem to matter much. But his 6-foot birdie putt that missed meant a European point instead of a half.

And every half point matters in the Ryder Cup.

Being a captain's pick can add pressure, but Stricker wasn't buying it.

"Toward the end of the season, I played well," said Stricker, 45, who won the season-opening Hyundai Touranament of Champions. "I was really one birdie short of making the team on my own. 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.

"I drove the ball great this week, hit some nice irons here and there, not real consistent enough to put any points on the board, though, and we ran into a couple good teams. … Martin played well today, too, and I didn't put enough pressure on him, really, to get anything done."

Stricker was picked for, among other things, his putting. That has typically been a U.S. weakness in the Ryder Cup, and it was again Sunday. Stricker, although he made a clutch putt on the 18th to force Kaymer to drain his, simply missed too many.

Nobody seemed too upset when Stricker got the nod back on Sept. 4, but it is interesting to note in hindsight that he was second on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained putting. This year he is 65th.

"I've been putting a lot and practice a lot and maybe putting too much emphasis on it," he said. "I've had poor putting years before. I hit a lot of good putts that didn't go in."

Then there is Furyk, the only player on the U.S. team without a victory this year. He led the U.S. Open standing on the 16th tee at the Olympic Club, where he made a bogey, and ended up missing a playoff by two strokes.

At the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he led nearly the entire tournament, then double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose by one to Keegan Bradley.

Furyk, 42, has had trouble closing, and did again Sunday -- two bogeys when two pars win the point and one par gets a half. Ouch.

"Losing the U.S. Open this year, losing Bridgestone, I'll be honest, it's been a very difficult year," said Furyk, who was 5-0 at last year's Presidents Cup and has played on every U.S team starting in 1997. "We came here as a team. We wanted to win the Ryder Cup as a team, and we didn't do it, but we are going to leave here in the same fashion. And I've got 11 guys here and I have a captain and I have four assistants that have my back.

"It's been a low year. I've played very well this year but haven't closed the door. I'm pretty sure Sergio would tell you that I outplayed him today but I didn't win and I lost the match. I've had a lot of that happen this year.

"As far as team versus individual, it's the lowest point of my year."

You can't put it on Furyk. You can't put it on Stricker. But given the way this Ryder Cup went for them, they carry the heaviest of burdens.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com