By Sean Martin, Golfweek

MEDINAH, Ill. – The search is on. With the Ryder Cup complete, those who had pinned their hopes on the American side now will look, like a forlorn lover, for the one that got away, the single point that kept the United States from completing what had been a successful week at Medinah.

Criticism is expected in the wake of such a loss. What could’ve been done to avoid such dramatic defeat? It really is quite simple. The United States’ play Sunday on Medinah’s final two holes cost the Americans the cup.

U.S. captain Davis Love III can expect to take some heat. The coach always is an easy target. The general manager never fires the star slugger when his team underperforms. The guy on the sidelines is the easier target.

Captains often are criticized for inflexibly adhering to a pre-tournament plan in light of unexpected results. Love definitely did that, but it was working. The United States started the final day with a 10-6 lead, the first time since 1981 that it scored 10 or more points before the singles session.

Should Love have played Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, or at least just the 26-year-old Bradley, on Saturday afternoon? Should Steve Stricker have been replaced as Tiger Woods’ partner?

Yes. No captain will leave a Ryder Cup with an unblemished record, though. This loss can be pinned on one thing: the United States’ inability to close matches.

Five matches came to the 17th tee Sunday either all square or with the United States holding a 1-up lead. Europe won four of them, and halved Francesco Molinari’s match with Tiger Woods, which was completed after the cup had been decided. The United States didn’t turn a single match in its favor over the final two holes.

The Ryder Cup was within reach for the Europeans on the final day only because they turned Saturday’s final two matches in their favor. Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald beat Woods and Stricker, 1 up, in Saturday afternoon four-balls, with Donald holding the U.S. at bay by answering Woods’ short birdie at the 17th. Then there were Ian Poulter’s five consecutive birdies to turn Saturday’s final match from a 1-up U.S. lead into a European victory.

Mickelson defended Love’s decision to sit him and Bradley, the remarkable rookie, for the final team session, saying they had so invested themselves into their Saturday morning match, a 7-and-6 foursomes victory, that they were unprepared for an afternoon match.

This is the Ryder Cup, though. If you can’t summon your best golf for this event, when can you? One could possibly understand the 42-year-old Mickelson needing a rest, but Bradley? Just watch the way he walked down Medinah’s fairways, always leaning forward, pressing into the challenge ahead. He would’ve done anything asked of him.

Mickelson and Bradley had played only 44 holes in three matches, including 12 on Saturday. Methinks they could’ve made it. There’s no guarantee that Mickelson and Bradley, as unbelievable as they had been, would have won again, though. That’s the problem with hindsight. They could’ve been the ones on the other end of Poulter’s bug-eyed celebrations.

It was worth a try, though. Mickelson said they needed rest for Sunday singles. Well-rested, both lost.

Perhaps Bradley could’ve paired with Woods in the final team session. This isn’t 1999 or 2002. Woods isn’t the same intimidating presence who makes even his own teammates nervous.

Love didn’t want to mix up his lineup, though. His team was split into six pairs that remained intact through practice rounds and the team matches. Each player had just one partner for the week. Woods could’ve used help, though. Stricker was struggling.

There are dangers with the woulda, coulda, shoulda game, though. Even if Love had made different decisions, there’s no guarantee they would’ve produced additional points.

There is one thing that’s certain, though: The U.S. started singles with an advantage it hadn’t seen in more than 30 years, but its inability to perform on Medinah’s final two holes cost it the Ryder Cup. And no captain could have fixed that. That falls on the men between the ropes.

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  • Jim Furyk

    USA's Jim Furyk reacts after missing a putt on the 16th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Players pour Champagne on Europe's Justin Rose as the celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Peter Hanson

    Europe's Sergio Garcia, left to right, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Peter Hanson celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • European fans are sprayed with Champagne as they celebrate winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Francesco Molinari

    Europe's Francesco Molinari celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • European players celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Sergio Garcia

    Europe's Sergio Garcia celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Sergio Garcia

    Europe's Sergio Garcia throws his shoes to fans after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald

    Europe's Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Jose Maria Olazabal

    European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Jose Maria Olazabal

    European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • European players celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • European fans celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy

    Europe's Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Webb Simpson

    USA's Jim Furyk reacts as European players celebrate after winning the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. Next to Furyk are Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Paul Lawrie

    Europe's Paul Lawrie reacts after making a putt on the third hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Graeme McDowell

    Europe's Graeme McDowell reacts after missing a putt on the third hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Rory McIlroy

    Europe's Rory McIlroy hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Jason Dufner

    USA's Jason Dufner reacts after making a putt on the second hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Peter Hanson

    Europe's Peter Hanson hits out of a bunker on the third hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Nicolas Colsaerts

    Europe's Nicolas Colsaerts reacts after making a putt on the second hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Steve Stricker

    USA's Steve Stricker reacts after winning the second hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Keegan Bradley

    USA's Keegan Bradley reacts after making a birdie putt on the 11th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Tiger Woods

    USA's Tiger Woods hits a drive on the second hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Rory McIlroy

    Europe's Rory McIlroy makes his way to the first tee before a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Jose Maria Olazabal

    European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal watches drives on the first tee during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Tiger Woods

    USA's Tiger Woods wipes his eyes after hitting out of a bunker on the second hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Tiger Woods

    USA's Tiger Woods hits a drive on the third hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Fred Couples, Darren Clarke

    Co-captains Fred Couples and Darren Clarke chat on the 11th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Paul Lawrie

    Europe's Paul Lawrie hits a drive on the ninth hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • The blimp flies near some skywriting during singles matches at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Phil Mickelson

    USA's Phil Mickelson reacts after making a birdie on the 11th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Webb Simpson

    USA's Webb Simpson reacts after missing a putt on the 12th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Ian Poulter

    Europe's Ian Poulter reacts after making a putt on the 12th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Luke Donald

    Europe's Luke Donald reacts after hitting out of a bunker on the 17th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. The hole gave Donald a win in the match over USA's Bubba Watson. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Bubba Watson

    USA's Bubba Watson reacts after chipping in for a birdie on the 16th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Phil Mickelson

    USA's Phil Mickelson reacts after missing a putt on the 13th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Rory McIlroy

    Europe's Rory McIlroy hits out of a bunker on the 14th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Dustin Johnson

    USA's Dustin Johnson walks across the bridge on the 13th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Keegan Bradley

    USA's Keegan Bradley reacts after missing a birdie putt on the 12th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

  • Keegan Bradley

    USA's Keegan Bradley reacts after missing a putt on the 16th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Brandt Snedeker

    USA's Brandt Snedeker reacts after missing a putt on the 15th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

  • Keegan Bradley, Rory McIlroy

    USA's Keegan Bradley congratulates Europe's Rory McIlroy after their singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy

    Darren Clarke congratulates Europe's Rory McIlroy after winning his singles match against USA's Keegan Bradley at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Webb Simpson, Ian Poulter

    USA's Webb Simpson, right, congratulates Europe's Ian Poulter after their singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Ian Poulter

    Europe's Ian Poulter acknowledges the crowd after winning singles match against USA's Webb Simpson at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Ian Poulter

    Europe's Ian Poulter reacts after defeating USA's Webb Simpson during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Europe's Justin Rose reacts after defeating USA's Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Justin Rose

    Europe's Justin Rose reacts after defeating USA's Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Davis Love III, Dustin Johnson

    USA's captain Davis Love III congratulates Dustin Johnson after his singles match win over Europe's Nicolas Colsaerts at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Justin Rose

    Europe's Justin Rose reacts after defeating USA's Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)