Ryder Cup: Echoes of Medinah sounded the death knell for American hopes

Europe's Ian Poulter, front, celebrates with Lee Westwood's caddy Billy Foster.
Europe's Ian Poulter, front, celebrates with Lee Westwood's caddy Billy Foster.
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As Singles Sundays go, yesterday was more formality than 
fevered drama.

There were fleeting moments of doubt as to whether Europe would close out the victory, when Jordan Spieth raced into a three-hole lead in the top match and Hunter Mahan stretched a further hole clear against the home side’s talisman Justin Rose.

But the fact that neither American could close out the point epitomised how comprehensively beaten Tom Watson’s side were at Gleneagles.

Any brief glimmer of hope that they could match their own exploits at Brookline and Europe’s at Medinah were quickly extinquished by the buoyant hosts.

But the Ryder Cup was not won yesterday. As they had two years ago, Europe turned the match in their favour in the fourth session on Saturday afternoon.

At Medinah it was the fourballs which saw a suffering Europe rally from 10-4 down to claim the last two points on the Saturday, Ian Poulter famously birdieing the last five holes to give Jose Maria Olazabal’s team a momentum they rode the following day to a historic triumph.

And as the shadows lengthened at Gleneagles on Saturday, Europe took a decisive step to an eighth win in 10 Ryder Cups with a near whitewash of the Americans.

They had seen their two-point first-day lead cut in the morning fourballs to just one point as Watson’s men’s fought back.

Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan beat Lee Westwood and Jamie Donaldson 4&3 and rookie pair Spieth and Patrick Reed thrashed Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer 5&3 for their second win of the event.

Only Rose and Henrik Stenson stemmed the tide, and they needed a betterball score of 59 to defeat Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar in a game that will be remembered for a long time.

It then took some belated heroics from Ryder Cup chest-beater Ian Poulter – a holed pitch shot on the 15th inducing those popping eyes and pumping fists – to ensure he and Rory McIlroy claimed half a point against Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler to keep the home side narrowly ahead.

But then came the European retaliation, one that brought to mind soggy Sunday at Celtic Manor when, with an unprecedented six matches on the course, Europe won five and half points and blew away America.

For the impact it had on the two team rooms going into yesterday’s singles, the three and half points Paul McGinley’s men won on Saturday had a similar effect.

With Stenson rested because of a back injury, Rose joined forces with Martin Kaymer and the last two men to win the US Open stole a half on the last green from Spieth and Reed. McIlroy claimed his first win at the fourth attempt, back in harness with Sergio Garcia and outlasting Furyk and Mahan.

But it was McGinley’s veteran-rookie combinations that again shone through in the foursomes, with Lee Westwood and Jamie Donaldson, and Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson securing comfortable wins.

McGinley revealed that he had been cultivating those relationships since the summer, a policy that now looks a masterstroke with Europe retaining possession of the Cup.

As soon as he knew that the two rookies had secured qualification, McGinley told Westwood and McDowell to take the Welshman and the Frenchman, respectively, under their wings and how well they flourished.

Contrast that with some of Watson’s decisions – which made the five-time Open winner look as out-of-touch with his players and the modern game as the American critics had feared – and the importance of the captain’s role was underlined.

Watson dropped the hot hands of Reed and Spieth on Friday and then benched Phil Mickelson for both sessions on Saturday despite the Ryder Cup veteran lobbying his captain via text message, so desperate was he to help.

America had their issues coming into the 40th Ryder Cup with Tiger Woods and Jason Dufner injured and Dustin Johnson on an enforced sabbatical.

But a penny for the thoughts of Billy Horschel? Ten million dollars richer after winning the last two tournaments of the FedEx Cup in America, but a spectator back home because his form did not come soon enough to force his way onto the team.

The USA selection and wild card system has to be looked at after this latest setback, a third straight defeat in a competition they once owned, which equals their barren run from 2002-06.

Too many players were out of form. A nervous Webb Simpson barely got the very first tee shot past the gorse on day one and looked completely out of sorts.

Bubba Watson was a shadow of the man who has won the Masters twice in three years, while Bradley has struggled for form all year and it showed.

The Europeans were not immune to struggles. Poulter was far from his best, not even the Ryder Cup could elevate him to win more than two halves, while Stephen Gallacher was unable to show the form that had seen him chosen by McGinley.

But by and large Europe were dominant and had enough players who showed the heart and focus required to win a Ryder Cup.

Conversely, not enough Americans stood up to be counted.

They head home empty-handed, with plenty to ponder about how to end a domination that began in the era of Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, was built on by Colin Montgomerie and Olazabal and continues in the McIlroy and Rose generation.

McGinley said frequently this week that he was merely the man charged with following a script set out by the successful captains before him – a blueprint that threatens to hold sway for many more matches to come.