In this Ryder Cup Day 2 Report, Neil Tappin looks at the plight of team Europe and the challenge facing them heading into the singles matches
Ryder Cup Day 2 Report
The Ryder Cup captaincy is a prize, an honour they all want. Last night, Darren Clarke discovered just how difficult it is. With six rookies in his line up, he had little choice but to pick two experienced heads to make up his team. But what do you do when two of your wild card picks – your two-time US major winner and your European Tour veteran – both fail to bring their A game? This was the dilemma facing Clarke at lunchtime on day two and he opted to put Westwood and Kaymer back in the cauldron. It was a decision that may have cost Europe the 2016 Ryder Cup.
After the morning foursomes, this transatlantic tussle was beautifully poised. Led by an inspired Rory McIlroy, the Europeans looked like the same irresistible force of two years ago. The Northern Irishman has been fired up from the very start in Minnesota. Hostility from the crowd has only served to bring his exquisite level of performance up yet another notch. Rory has been Darren Clarke’s leader at Hazeltine. This could mark a new phase in Rory’s career.
Chris Wood made a winning debut alongside Justin Rose, the younger of the two Englishman was a picture of calm, his faultless long game impressed from the start. As Ryder Cup debut performances go, this was up there.
The crucial moment in the morning foursomes came in the final game. Cabrera Bello and Garcia were up against America’s dream team of Reed and Spieth. Half way through the back nine the Europeans were four down. Mentally, most of us had handed the point to the US. But a barrage of late birdies drew them level and if it wasn’t for as gutsy 6 footer holed by Reed at the last, the Spaniards would have sneaked it.
Just one point separated the teams at lunchtime. It was game on.
Darren Clarke, however, faced a tricky decision. Choosing to field his two experienced wild card picks, Westwood and Kaymer, who played so poorly on day one, was a bold move. No Wood, no Cabrera Bello. Clarke put his neck on the line.
To be fair to the captain, a successful Ryder Cup side needs its senior players to perform. Both Kaymer and Weswtood were much better on Saturday afternoon but, as the Americans threw birdie after birdie at the Europeans, better wasn’t good enough. As is often the way in the Ryder Cup, it all seemed to hinge on one match – Westwood and Willett versus Moore and Holmes. The Europeans had led for much of the afternoon but as they stepped onto the 17th tee, the match was all square. Both Willett and Westwood narrowly missed the green and then after sloppy chips, failed to get up and down. In the end it all came down to a 4ft putt at the last. After a sublime approach, Westwood had the chance to grab a crucial half point that would have made the score 9-7 to the US heading into the singles. He missed. It was desperate.
Did Darren Clarke show too much faith in his experienced players? The answer, I’m afraid is yes. From a total of five matches played, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer have failed to deliver a single point. The uncomfortable truth is that by Saturday lunchtime, Clarke had options. Wood and Cabrera Bello had already risen to the challenge of the Ryder Cup, winning crucial points in tight matches and forging strong partnerships with their countrymen. Considering the form of his two veterans, leaving Wood and Cabrera Bello out was the bigger gamble.
The Europeans now face a mammoth task. Winning eight points from 12 singles matches on American soil is unlikely. Memories of Medinah might inspire the Europeans but they still haunt Davis Love. That defeat was different, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory was humiliating. One thing is for sure, there will be no American complacency this time. This represents their shot at redemption. Expect it to be loud, expect it to be hard to watch.