Commentary

Medinah memories will surely linger

Originally Published: September 30, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Team Europe needed, what, 10,000 things to go right for it to win the Ryder Cup? Team USA only needed 4½.

But it was the European players who stood in the fading sun of a cool, late September evening and sprayed oversized bottles of champagne at anything that sang, "O-le ... O-le, O-le, O-le." It was the Europeans who wore their countries' flags like tunics and capes as they celebrated their Miracle At Medinah. And it was the Europeans who won -- again -- the Ryder Cup almost nobody (hello) thought would be theirs.

The final score -- 14½-13½ -- is almost impossible to comprehend. For both teams.

"I can't believe it," said the champagne soaked Graeme McDowell. "I really can't."

"We're all kind of stunned," USA captain Davis Love III said. "It's a little bit shocking."

[+] EnlargeLuke Donald
AP Photo/David J. PhillipFrom the get go Sunday, the Europeans grabbed hold of the momentum at the Ryder Cup, winning the first five matches out of the gate at Medinah Country Club. Luke Donald started with a 2 and 1 win over Bubba Watson.

No, it's a lot of a bit shocking. I thought it was over after Saturday. So did the pro-American crowd that poured on to the grounds at 7 a.m. like it was the Oklahoma land rush.

Lesson learned.

"It will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup," Team Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal said.

Europe won fair and square. But Team USA helped. Or gagged, depending on how you want to judge what happened during the 6 hours, 10 minutes it took for momentum to dump the Americans and elope with Team Europe.

Love's team put its head on its pillow Saturday night with a 10-6 lead. Only 4½ points separated the Americans from victory.

That meant the Europeans would have to win at least eight of the remaining 12 singles matches to retain the Cup. That's like telling Rory McIlroy to grow his hair straight.

But then the miracle began to percolate. Luke Donald beat Bubba Watson in the opening match. Then Ian Poulter beat Webb Simpson. Then McIlroy beat Keegan Bradley. Then Justin Rose flipped a late Phil Mickelson lead. Then Paul Lawrie put a choke-hold on Brandt Snedeker.

And then, well, all hell broke loose.

A supposed sure thing became a European comeback. A European comeback became an American collapse. An American collapse became that 1-point Team Europe victory.

Thirteen years ago at Brookline, the Americans overcame an identical 10-6 Sunday deficit to win the Cup. But what Team Europe did here at Medinah, with seemingly half of Chicago straining the fairway ropes, was even more impressive. And to see the looks on the faces of those 12 American players, it was even more stunning.

Jim Furyk sat stone faced during the closing ceremonies. He looked like a man who was going to have a very hard time sleeping Sunday night. Or nights to come.

It was Furyk who left the 16th hole 1 up over Sergio Garcia, the 17th hole all-square and the 18th hole 1-down. When Furyk missed about an 8-foot putt that would have halved the hole and the match, he dropped his head in silent anguish and placed his hands on his knees. He suddenly looked much older than 42.

There was a quick congratulatory handshake with Garcia, but then Furyk lingered on the green, as if he still couldn't believe what had happened. It was a similar look to the one he had this past June, when he blew a chance at winning the U.S. Open.

"As far as team versus individual, it's the lowest point of my year," said Furyk, who suggested that even Garcia would admit that the Spaniard was outplayed Sunday by the American.

The scoreboards around the course disagreed. Europe had its first lead in the overall score, 13-12. The miracle was a single point from reality.

There was still a chance for the USA to put a tourniquet on its day. But it all ended when Martin Kaymer, who hadn't even played in either of Saturday's two team sessions, sank a 6-foot, Ryder Cup-clinching putt.

You can blame Steve Stricker, if you'd like, for not delivering at least a vital half point in the match against Kaymer. After all, Stricker, a captain's pick and the oldest player on either roster, finished this Cup 0-4-0 in his matches.

"I didn't get it done," Stricker said.

Or you could admit the obvious: that Kaymer, under the kind of golf pressure that usually reduces nerves to spaghetti string, made one of the great putts in Ryder Cup history. It was 6 feet going on 60.

If you don't think 6 feet is much, then dig up the video of the 1991 so-called "War By The Shore," when Bernhard Langer, a German just like Kaymer, missed from the same distance and allowed the USA to win the Cup.

When asked afterward if he was thinking about Langer as he prepared to hit that final putt, Kaymer was interrupted by Garcia.

"I did," Garcia said.

"I don't like the question," Kaymer said, "but it's true: Yes, I did."

History has a way of circling back in these things. Love and Olazabal both played in the 1999 Ryder Cup. So the symmetry of this day and this comeback wasn't lost on anyone who took part in Sunday's matches.

"I knew what we felt like going into it," Love said of '99. "We knew they remembered that as well. Exact same score."

Team Europe used those memories as a reminder of what was possible. Team USA used them as reminder of a 2012 worst-case scenario.

"[1999] was fun," said Furyk, who played on that team. "This was pretty miserable."

So much had to go right, even perfect, for Team Europe to keep the Cup. Think about it:

• McIlroy almost missed his 11:25 a.m. tee time because he confused his time zones. "Absolutely ridiculous," harrumphed former Europe team captain Colin Montgomerie.

McIlroy arrived at Medinah just 11 minutes before he was supposed to hit his first shot. Just think if a state trooper hadn't been available at the hotel to give McIlroy the full siren treatment. Had he been disqualified for showing up too late, Team Europe would have lost a full point.

Instead, McIlroy did the champagne celebration dance with a Flavor Flav-sized clock hanging from his neck. Had his teammates had really wanted to be funny, they would have set it to 11:25.

• If Rose doesn't sink the three biggest putts of his life in succession -- a par-saver on No. 16 and birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 -- Mickelson wins or, at the very least, gets a half point.

• If Poulter doesn't keep his win streak alive (4-0 during the remarkable week, 12-3-0 for his career), then it's the Americans who are spraying champagne Sunday.

• If Kaymer doesn't deaden his nerves on that last putt, then it would have come down to the final match of the day: Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari.

Woods, by the way, was 1-up after 17.

Garcia had it right when he said later that it was "a combination of [Europe] playing great and maybe then that little bit of pressure getting to [the USA]."

This is the seventh of the past nine times that Team Europe has won this thing. The Cup is spending more time overseas than an expatriate.

But the Europeans won it more than the Americans lost it. That won't be much consolation for Team USA. It never is.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter