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.