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Would a Ryder Cup tie have mattered for the U.S.?

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The camera caught a couple very interesting exchanges that could have very easily gone unnoticed amongst the revelry and shock that surrounded the 18th green soon after Martin Kaymer’s putt to defeat Steve Stricker delivered the death blow to the Americans at the 39th Ryder Cup Sunday afternoon.

After Kaymer’s putt fell and the television cameras went away from the Europeans embracing and celebrating in front of the 18th green, one camera showed a very quick glimpse of European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal with his hands cupped around Francesco Molinari’s face as he stood in the 18th fairway. At first glance one might have thought Olazabal was consoling Molinari, who seemed oddly disconsolate for a man whose team had just pulled off arguably the most improbable comeback in the history of Ryder Cup golf. One could assume Molinari was feeling kind of “Stricker-Furyk-ish” because of his skulled chip shot on the previous green that had handed Tiger Woods the one-up lead in their match. For 10 minutes he must have felt like he had given the whole thing away.

Molinari and Woods surely teed off Sunday afternoon each thinking that maybe only in the wildest of scenarios that their match would have any relevance to the outcome of the matches. The American team entered Sunday with a seemingly insurmountable lead. Maybe at most Molinari was excited for another shot at Woods after the way Woods had switched to another gear two years earlier in the Ryder Cup matches in Wales and thumped him so handily after having been two-down to the Italian in the early going.

But as each match ended in front of them, with the Americans finding a way to lose, give away leads or be closed out on the 17th and 18th holes, it became more and more possible that Molinari was out there on his own with it all on the line against maybe the greatest player the game has ever known. The tension had to be building for them with each shot they took. Every step they got closer to the end of their match, the tighter the Ryder Cup had become. The nightmare scenario the Americans tried not to think about, and the Europeans dreamed for, was unfolding in front of them.

It was a potentially career-defining moment for the young Italian. Should it all come down to him beating Woods at the end to secure the cup for the Europeans, it would be the stuff of fairy tales, where legends are made. Fortunately for Molinari, the combination of great play by his European teammates and a sickening collapse by the Americans in front of them allowed him to escape the horror of what his terrible shot on the 17th green could have meant.

We would later find out that what we saw there briefly in the fairway was Captain Olazabal imploring his young player to fight to the finish. It was if the great Seve Ballesteros was there himself with Molinari’s face in his hands, the two men’s eyes only inches apart, issuing that challenge to him that a tie was not good enough. The European Captain smelled blood in the water. Surely his great friend and mentor, Ballesteros, would be smiling down on him with approval. They had to finish the fight. They had to win the cup. The Europeans had come a long way with Ballesteros on their Ryder Cup teams as a player and a captain, and later as an inspiration. They had come too far to accept a tie.

For Woods’ part, one must assume that seeing him in the first fairway with Bubba Watson just after Watson teed off, a couple of hours before his own match would begin, meant that Woods might have had some kind of feeling that his cohorts were in for a battle and he wanted to be there to rally them to engage in the fracas and not be left standing and watching their lead slip away.

We were told that Woods asked United States Captain Davis Love III if he could be in the anchor match. Unfortunately for Woods, there will be speculation as to whether that meant he wanted to be at the end “where the buck stopped” or at the end where it probably wouldn’t matter. There was a time when there could be no doubt as to what Woods’ intentions were in asking for the anchor match. There was a time when Woods was nearly untouchable. His presence used to be almost bigger than his game, and his game was immense.

It had to weigh heavily on Woods that he and Stricker had been blanked through three matches of this Ryder Cup. He had already fallen on his sword to the media earlier in the week and taken ownership of America’s past Ryder Cup failures because of his less than stellar record in the foursomes and four-ball matches over the years. The frustration he must have felt after making seven birdies on Friday afternoon, only to have been beaten by a Ryder Cup rookie who made eight birdies and an eagle, must have been boiling over with each missed birdie opportunity Sunday, on this course with almost no rough, by the time it became apparent that his match with Molinari might very well decide which team wins and which team loses the cup.

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It was the exact kind of moment we, as golf fans, have been trained to believe that Woods thrives on. It is arguably the toughest, most pressure packed spot to be in that any professional golfer could ever experience. It is also the kind of moment that Tiger Woods seems to have been born for. How badly he must have wanted to be in Hunter Mahan’s shoes two years ago when Mahan found himself in that position. One could see why Love would have also wanted Tiger in the anchor spot. Tiger’s career has defined greatness. Hunter Mahan is a fabulous golfer, but he’s not Tiger Woods. So if it all came down to the last game out, Love wanted to make the Europeans have to take down Woods to win it.

The problem was that Woods couldn’t shake Molinari. This isn’t the Tiger Woods that lapped the field at Pebble Beach to win the 2000 U.S. Open. This isn’t the same Tiger Woods who has won 14 professional majors. This isn’t even the one-legged Tiger Woods who willed his way to a U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines in 2008. Tiger Woods circa 2012 hasn’t won a major in four years. Tiger Woods circa 2012 doesn’t find competitors wilting around him because of the might of his presence. Tiger Woods circa 2012 was without a point through three matches in the Ryder Cup, and burning through holes quickly in his match with Molinari without finding that spark he needed.

It had to be the kind of moment that Tiger had dreamed of many times before. It was all lining up in front of him for him to bring it home. Maybe he even noticed that it also looked like his longtime partner, “Strick”, was going to have a chance to redeem himself for his three losses by finding a way to get past Kaymer in a match of great significance. But it wasn’t happening for Woods.

He had piled birdies on top of Molinari in their Ryder Cup match so quickly two years ago, that Molinari was still digging himself out and licking his wounds. But Woods had not been able to find that magic on the back nine in this match. In this match he had seemingly finally only worn Molinari out when the Italian skulled his chip across the green and fell one hole behind. Woods knew it wasn’t pretty, he knew it wasn’t magical, and maybe somewhere in the back of his mind it hurt him that it wasn’t and that the struggle had been so mighty. And maybe that hurt him more than anything, the fact that the luster was off of his game and he was glad to be one-up, however he got there.

But as Molinari and Woods stood in the fairway and watched Kaymer put the United States down for good, all that they had been battling for, all the fierce intensity and pressure they had thrived on, fought back from, and struggled to get ahead of, disappeared when that putt went in the hole. The goat moniker eluded Molinari, though he knew in his heart he had faltered, and Woods’ shot at the next glorious chapter of his remarkable career was also gone. The suspense was over. The moment had passed.

Apparently Molinari wanted to concede to Woods in the fairway, and it was then that we saw Olazabal imploring him to fight on. Love would later say he didn’t know why they were playing on, no matter what happened between Woods and Molinari, the cup was going back to Europe. A tie apparently meant nothing to him.

The second thing the camera picked up on was a jubilant Lee Westwood returning to the mosh pit of joy and celebration, that was the core of his European teammates, to scream to them above the madness that Tiger had missed a short putt and the Europeans had won the cup 14.5 to 13.5. It was exactly what they wanted. They had not retained the cup, they had come all the way back and won it. What he said to them sent them into more roars of delight, tears of joy flowed down their faces, they had done the impossible.

Molinari may have very well made the putt that Woods conceded to him anyway, but the fact that Woods gave him a putt that meant the Europeans won the cup rather than tied for the cup, is significant to some because it assured another loss rather than whatever fleeting modicum of respect a tie would have meant four, eight, 10, or 20-years from now had Molinari missed.  Some will say that Woods giving him that putt was a selfish act of frustration, and that he owed it to his teammates to fight until the last putt dropped. Some will counter that the damage had been done and that “kissing their sister” after losing that big lead is really no better. The Americans had come to win the cup; they had not come to settle for a respectable tie.

Ultimately the fact that the Europeans won the cup outright means more to them than whether or not Molinari missed the last putt of the Ryder Cup, after the fate of the cup had been decided, would mean to the Americans. The fact that he didn’t get a chance to miss it prevented the United States from whatever dignity a tie might have meant as the history of the Ryder Cup plays out in the future. What will definitely be remembered is that the Americans came into the Sunday singles matches, on their own soil, in front of some of America’s most rowdy and boisterous fans, and got soundly shellacked by a European team that played like it had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Kevin was voted "Most Likely To Live to Be 100" by his high school graduating class. It was all down hill from there.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Adder

    Oct 9, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Yes it would as a draw would say that team USA are getting clooser. Also the bookies lost big time so many of them i’ve heard have removed Tiger from any betting.

  2. Colin Gillbanks

    Oct 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    The intensity undoubtedly went out of that last match when Kaymer holed the putt to beat Stricker and retain the cup for Europe. I’m a little surprised that you guys in the US set so little store by ‘tieing’ the match. Surely it beats outright losing it? Especially given how hard and how well your team had played for the first two days.

    Overall, a fantastic display of golf from both teams that perfectly illustrates the reason that the Ryder Cup remains the most dramatic and thrilling spectacle in the game. Admittedly a little sweeter for a Euro like me!

  3. bryan watson

    Oct 9, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Way overblown, you write a wonderful put together article that simply overblows the whole thing.

    A tie did nothing, meant nothing to the USA as soon as Kaymer hit the put I turned the show off, thats how all or 95% of Americans felt, glad the Euros enjoyed that, but it meant nothing.

    I hate the fact we glorify everything to every minute detail, makes for a wonderful read, but saturates us with such overblown drama.

    By the way Woods won three times this year and was in contention in most majors, if you dont think he’s going to get his luster back your crazy, has taken longer than before, but its coming back

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Tuesday’s Photos from the 2018 Honda Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course (par 70: 7,110 yards) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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The field this week is stacked at the top, and it includes defending-champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 FedEx Champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who’s making his first PGA Tour start of 2018. Also in the field is Tiger Woods, who committed to play in the event just last week. Woods is coming off a disappointing missed cut at the 2018 Genesis Open.

Last year, Fowler won by four shots over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland, despite playing his final round in 1-over par.

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Monday’s Photos from the 2018 Honda Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course (par 70: 7,110 yards) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

The field this week is stacked at the top, and it includes defending-champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 FedEx Champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who’s making his first PGA Tour start of 2018. Also in the field is Tiger Woods, who committed to play in the event just last week. Woods is coming off a disappointing missed cut at the 2018 Genesis Open.

Last year, Fowler won by four shots over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland, despite playing his final round in 1-over par.

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Tour Rundown: Bubba is back (from near retirement)

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The California cruise on the PGA Tour came to an end at Riviera, as it always does. Tiger Woods played poorly over the George Thomas classic, as he always does. Oh, and Bubba Watson showed why he is not in the ranks of ballers Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland. Big wins were earned from Australia to Florida, by 22 year olds and 41 year youngs. Our tour rundown runs gathers results from five unique tours, and breaks each triumph down for you. Have a glance at this week’s Tour Rundown.

Watson returns to form with third Genesis Open win

There are too many ledes to unearth for this one: Horses for courses or Mercurial Watson, or how about My wife’s the hoops star, I’m the golfer? Whatever was in that Tracy McGrady rejection on Friday night was the medicine Bubba Watson needed to return to the winner’s circle. Along the way, Watson schooled the 20-somethings (and even the other Lefty) on how to close the deal in Hogan’s Alley.

How Watson came back from near-retirement

While the siren song of the candy store, car dealership and baseball team might have been strong, Bubba Watson wanted to be a champion golfer again. After nine, up-and-down holes (3 birdies and 2 bogeys) on Sunday, Watson was looking up at Patrick Cantlay, Kevin Na and even Phil Mickelson. Not to worry, as the Florida portsider had played the inward half under par all week. Watson closed with 3 birdies and 0 bogeys over his final 9 holes, sealing a 2-stroke win over Na and Tony Finau.

See the clubs Bubba used to win the 2018 Genesis Open

How a quartet missed out

Let’s summarize: Na played the back side in 1-under par and needed Watson’s 3-under for a playoff; Tony Finau was 2-under on the closing half, but needed double that for extra holes; Phil Mickelson bogeyed 15 and 16 when he knew that birdies were needed; Patrick Cantlay played 1 over in his final 9, when 2-under would have meant playoff. All the also-rans and almost-weres didn’t do what Watson did: close the deal.

Jin Young Ko secures Australian Open on LPGA Tour

It’s a stretch to call Jin Young Ko an LPGA player, as her first 9 wins came on the LPGA of Korea tour. In October and now in February, Ko bested world-class fields to win co-sanctioned events, and is now a two-time LPGA champion. At this rate, it might be difficult for her to remain tethered to the Korean tour.

How Ko won the week

A 7-under 65 on Thursday was the fuel Ko needed to take a lead that she would not relinquish. Although Katherine Kirk matched that number on Sunday, no one was able to wrest the advantage from the 22-year old Ko. Two rounds of 69 and one of 71 brought her to 14-under on the week. On day four, Ko started quickly with two opening birdies. A pair of bogeys on the outward half kept her within sight of the field, but birdies at 9, 13 and 17 were the recipe for re-establishing her three-shot margin of victory.

How she kept the field at bay

The challenging Kooyoonga golf club was not very free with low rounds this week. Ko’s compatriot Hyejin Choi, posted a flawless 67 on Sunday to move up one spot, into solo second at 11-under. In third and fourth were a pair of Australians, Hannah Green at 10-under and the aforementioned Katherine Kirk, at 9-under. Marina Alex was the low USA golfer at 7-under, tied for fifth spot with Minjee Lee.

Oman Open on European Tour

Joost Luiten began the fourth day at Oman in a three-way tie for first spot, but asserted himself early on Sunday with birdies on holes 2 through 4. It was enough to separate from the field, and he was able to hold off Chris Wood to earn his 8th European Tour title, by two strokes.

How Luiten claimed victory

After the fiery beginning, Luiten cooled off in the later stages of the opening nine holes. Bogeys at 7 and 8 brought him back to the field, but he wasn’t done for the afternoon. Luiten birdied 12 and 13, then added the clincher on a tricky birdie putt on the 16th hole. That final birdie gave him a 2-shot separation on Chris Wood, and he held on for pars at the final two holes for a 68 on the day and 16-under for the tournament.

How Wood and others came up shy

Matthew Southgate and Julien Guerrier began Sunday in a tie with Luiten, but the day turned sour early for Southgate. The Englishman had four bogeys in a five-hole stretch. Two more miscues on the inward half dropped him into a three-way tie for ninth at 9-under par. Guerrier held the wheel a bit steadier: two bogeys at the turn were offset by three birdies coming in, and the young Frenchman was able to coax a solo third-place finish out of the week. It was Chris Wood who gave the greatest chase to Luiten. Wood had four birdies on the day, and was in a tie at the top at 15-under, when he yanked a drive at 17 and found a hazard. Although he was able to play his ball, the ensuing bogey was the mistake he could not afford. A par at the last placed him at 14-under, one shot clear of Guerrier and two behind the champion.

Durant welcomes second PGA Tour Champions title at Chubb Classic

Technically, it’s his third, but the first was a two-man win with Billy Andrade. Durant probably caught wind that Billy Mayfair and Tim Petrovic were going super-low (8-under on Sunday) and that David Toms was at their heels (7-under on the day.) Each of those three earned a top-four finish, but Durant took matters into his own hands over the closing seven holes. He left Naples as the 2018 Chubb champion.

When Joe Durant woke up

Durant was 1-over through 7 holes on Sunday, headed in the wrong direction. Birdies on 8 and 9 reminded him that he still had a chance, but the eagle on 13 kicked his game into a higher gear. Birdies at 14, 17 and 18 were enough to offset a bogey at 15, and Durant cruised home with a four-stroke victory over Mayfair, Toms, Petrovic, Lee Janzen and Steve Stricker.

How that quintet fell away

After eight birdies through 14 holes on day 3, Mayfair had zero over his closing four. Toms did the opposite-He played the outward half in 2-under, but came home in 5-under to reach the podium. Petrovic had 4 birdies on each half, but also simply ran out of holes. Janzen threw an early scare into the eventual champion, but two bogeys and not enough chirps were his undoing. Stricker’s finish was the most painful. Within site of Durant and needing birdie at the last for 18-under, Stricker was forced to go for the flag, and instead got wet. His double-bogey finish dropped him from solo second to the five-way tie.

Daniel Fox surprises at Australian PGA championship

Daniel Fox had one previous victory on the Australasian circuit, but he made the most of opportunity’s knock on Sunday. The 41-year old played error-free golf over his final 14 holes, counting 6 birdies for a one-stroke victory over Matthew Millar and Steven Jeffress.

How Fox found the winner’s platform

Fox might say he was the last man standing, and none would argue. The runners-up had chances at birdie at the final hole, but neither one could convert. Fox counted three rounds of 65 and one of 67 on his card.  On the week, he had three bogeys and one double, against 21 birdies and one eagle. In an event where the margin ‘twixt victory and not-victory was razor-thin, Daniel Fox shaved the final whisker.

How Millar and Jeffress came up short

The easy answer would be: they didn’t birdie the 72nd hole. Jeffress had the low round (63) of the week, but his 67-67-66 lost ground on the other three days! As for Millar, one might point to his last two, outward nines. On both weekend days, he made nine consecutive pars to open his round. Against a par of 33, it wasn’t bad, but he gained no ground on the leader. Millar’s stat line for the week read: one eagle, 21 birdies, six bogeys. Yup, nearly identical to Fox, but nearly is the operative word.

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