Commentary

Tied in knots after Ryder Cup ending

Originally Published: October 1, 2012
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Martin Kaymer holed the par putt that sent all of Europe into hysterics as the German and his euphoric teammates were understandably overcome with joy.

The Europeans had just staged a remarkable comeback at Medinah Country Club and had assured themselves of retaining the Ryder Cup.

But they had not assured themselves of victory over the United States.

It is an odd part of the Ryder Cup that allows for the competition to end in a tie. If it does, the team that last won the Cup retains it.

But isn't a tie better than a loss?

With Kaymer on the 18th green, standing in the fairway waiting to play were Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari. Woods led the match 1 up. If Woods wins his match, the Ryder Cup ends in a 14-14 tie.

Yes, the Europeans retain the Cup, but the Americans could still stay they didn't lose the Ryder Cup.

Why wouldn't that matter?

The chaos on the 18th green carried on for several minutes. Dozens of people from the European entourage were there, as well as media conducting interviews. If it didn't matter, perhaps Woods and Molinari should have walked off, Woods getting the point and the match ending in a tie.

Molinari wanted to do just that.

"I thought about giving him the half in the fairway [on the hole], but then the captain [Jose Maria Olazabal] was there; they told me, it's not the same, winning or halving, so get focused and do your best," Molinari said. "And that's what I did. So I basically just tried to win the hole, to win the tournament, basically."

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods and Francesco Molinari
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesEurope's Francesco Molinari admitted to thinking about giving Tiger the halve on the 18th hole, which would have given Woods the victory in their match and altered the final score, but not the winner, of the 39th Ryder Cup.

So Olazabal thought it was important to play for a win rather than a tie. And that's what Molinari did -- but only after Woods seemingly gave up. Woods played his approach to the 18th, which came to rest on the fringe, then chipped up and saw his ball lip out and roll to some 4 feet away. It was outside of Molinari, who had lagged a birdie putt to 3 feet.

Woods said he rushed the par putt because he didn't think it mattered anymore -- then conceded Molinari's putt. But if Woods had parred, the match would have ended 14-14. Instead, the Europeans won 14-13.

"You come here as a team, you win or lose as a team," said Woods, who went 0-3-1 and saw his Ryder Cup record drop to 13-17-3. "And it's pointless to even finish. … I've been out there twice when that's happened, and it's a tough spot to be in because you know you've got to finish out the match, even though it's useless because our team didn't get the Cup and they did.

"So 18 was just, hey, get this over with, congratulations to the European team, they played fantastic today and they deserve the Cup."

Captain Davis Love III said that the mission was to get the Cup and that, without that accomplished, the rest was of little consequence.

But did he consider the feelings of the four rookies on his team? Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson had nothing to do with the U.S. defeat in Wales two years ago. And yet, that is the only reason a tie did the U.S no good at Medinah.

It's like the Major League Baseball All-Star Game deciding home-field advantage in the World Series. What does one have to do with the other?

"I think it's very awkward," Love said. "I saw some confusion on both sides. What do we do here? It's over. There was a lot of disappointment, a lot of emotion on our side. I saw Molinari looking around, what do I do here?

"I just think when it's over, we all shake hands and go. It doesn't really matter the score. They had the Cup, and they knew it. They were celebrating while we were trying to get out of Tiger's way and Molinari's way to hit shots. It was very awkward."

It got even more so as both Woods and Molinari played on, Woods missing his par putt that would have meant a tie, then conceding Molinari's putt that meant a loss.

Only twice in Ryder Cup history has the event ended in a tie, and, although the circumstances were far different, you can bet that the Great Britain & Ireland team was thrilled with the 16-16 score in 1969 even though the Americans retained the Cup.

That was the famous "Concession" when Jack Nicklaus conceded a putt to England's Tony Jacklin on the final green. Had Jacklin missed the short putt, he would have lost his match to Nicklaus and the U.S. would have won. Instead, they halved the match and the overall Ryder Cup ended in a tie -- with the U.S. retaining the Cup.

But since Europe had not won since 1957, it was a huge accomplishment to even tie.

In 1989, the Americans won the last four singles matches to earn a 14-14 tie. Europe kept the Cup, but it hardly felt like a defeat to the United States.

Perhaps there should be no ties at the Ryder Cup. In the early days of the Presidents Cup, they had a playoff stipulation that came to fruition in 2003 in South Africa. After the teams finished in a tie, Woods and Ernie Els went out for a riveting sudden-death playoff. The pressure was excruciating, and both players matched each other shot for shot, putt for putt. It helped put the Presidents Cup on the map.

Darkness eventually ended the playoff, and the sides agreed to share the Cup. Later, the Presidents Cup stipulated that all singles matches would be played to sudden death if the outcome was not decided to attempt to avoid an overall tie.

That wouldn't have worked Sunday, as the Woods-Molinari match was the only one that was halved.

Perhaps, however, had such a rule been in place, everyone would have known to let it play out.

Winning the Cup is the main thing, obviously, but the PGA of America's record book accounts for ties. The U.S. leads the overall competition 25-12-2. The two ties were not credited as a victory for either side even though one retained the Cup.

If so, the record would read 26-13.

It seems the Americans should have played for the tie and been allowed to do so. Sunday's proceedings certainly felt like a loss, but it's a three-day competition and the U.S. would have ended it with just as many points as the Europeans.

Awkward, indeed.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com