THEY came, they saw, they lost for the first time this century, Europe’s
blue replaced by American red on the giant scoreboards that embroidered a
vibrant Valhalla course here in Kentucky.
To be fair, it had been predictable. This USA side may have been the
weakest on paper of my lifetime but they were backed by a local crowd who
formed the best Ryder Cup support line of any of the 16 matches I have now
Watching the climax out on a sun-baked course I enjoyed standing with these
fans, I even found their USA-USA chant slightly less tedious than usual. We
Europeans have had our fun for a long time now and this was their moment.
Two points behind going into the final singles, Europe’s only chance was to
come out of the blocks fast. Sergio Garcia was elected pace-setter but the
Spaniard, so often the passionate heartbeat for his team, was dominated by
young Anthony Kim. More, the Californian managed to needle Garcia, to get
under his skin.
Instead of sending a reassuring trumpet call back down the line Garcia sent
a rather irritated whimper. Out there somewhere Nick Faldo was cursing his
So did the five point winning margin flatter the USA. Not really although
if the men out in 11th and 12th places, Lee Westwood and Padraig
Harrington, had been required to win their matches they may have done
rather better than losing to Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell.
We’ll never know but what we do know is that Paul Azinger proved himself to
be the most effective leader of Team USA for many years. Articulate,
committed and determined to crank up the supporters, Azinger ultimately
outflanked his opposite number.
Faldo may not have actually lost this Ryder Cup but he didn’t do everything
he could to win it. Inevitably he had his silly, cringe-making moments as
he did it his way. He always has. He always will. But though his singles
order is open to criticism, in the end it is the players who must hole the
putts. And his selection of Ian Poulter ahead of Darren Clarke was
vindicated when the Englishman crushed Steve Stricker 3&2 for his fourth
point of the campaign.
It’s here that the real story for Europe emerges. This was a transition
match, one in which the old heroes were bid farewell, one in which the
likes of Poulter, Justin Rose, Oliver Wilson and Graeme McDowell emerged to
offer a new team core for Wales in two years time.
That’s for then. For now let us give credit to an American team who finally
got together properly, their experienced players energised by half a dozen
rookies and in particular the occasionally crazed antics of Boo Weekley.
Throw in Kim, JB Holmes and Hunter Mahan – NOW he plays like he can after
all those losing bets I suffered with him this year – and you have the
heart of the American side for Celtic Manor.
As a man with a big cigar said to me out on the course: “Hell, you guys
have won enough. This was just our turn. We outputted your guys and, you
know, what, we did it without Tiger Woods.” Maybe they did it because Tiger
was missing. Again, we’ll never know. Fun though wasn’t it.