Paul McGinley was last night hailed for his influential role in masterminding a third successive Ryder Cup triumph for Europe as his opposite number came under siege from within his own team.
McGinley’s side overcame an early scare to complete a resounding 16½ to 11½ points victory over Tom Watson’s beleaguered United States at Gleneagles – Europe’s eighth win in 10 contests.
World No 1 Rory McIlroy led the victory charge with an emphatic defeat of US star Rickie Fowler, while the honour of striking the winning blow fell to previously unheralded Welsh rookie Jamie Donaldson.
The 38-year-old, who was playing on the Challenge Tour seven years ago, hit his approach on the 15th to within inches to beat Keegan Bradley and take Europe over the 14-point mark required to win a sixth Cup in seven attempts.
McGinley has never been one of the biggest names of European golf, but he was praised as “modern” and “meticulous” by his players for his approach to the captain’s role. By contrast, Watson – one of the most successful players in the history of the game and a winning captain two decades ago – was the subject of a withering attack from Ryder Cup veteran Phil Mickelson.
The losing team’s press conference saw Mickelson call for a return to the captaincy style of Paul Azinger, who led the United States to their only win this century, at Valhalla in 2008.
“Unfortunately we have strayed from a winning formula the last three Ryder Cups,” said Mickelson, who was left out for an entire day’s play on Saturday for the first time in 10 appearances.
Mickelson praised Azinger for ensuring the players were “invested” in the team and involved in decision-making, but added: “Nobody here was (involved) in any decision.”
But Watson explained: “I had a different philosophy. It takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods – it’s 12 players.”
The contrast in the European team was pronounced, with players lining up to hail McGinley’s leadership style.
“He has been so methodical,” said Sergio Garcia. “Every single aspect he needed to touch on, he did.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great captains. Paul did things a little bit differently, but with great style.
“He has been a little bit more of a modern captain, taking care of every single detail.
“He knew what we had was good and working but he improved it without changing it.”
McIlroy added: “I can’t say enough about the captain. Paul has been absolutely immense this week. He has left no stone unturned.
“He has given this week a lot of thought over the last two years. I am just glad it worked out for him.”
McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, the target for American jibes earlier in the week, led from the front as the home side recovered from an early wobble, with McDowell three down after five to rookie Jordan Spieth in the opening match and the unbeaten Justin Rose four down after six to Hunter Mahan.
At one point the United States were ahead in six matches, but McIlroy was an approximate eight under par in thrashing Fowler 5&4 to put the first European point on the board and fellow Northern Irishman McDowell won five out of six holes from the 10th to complete a remarkable 2&1 victory.
With US Open champion Martin Kaymer beating Masters champion Bubba Watson and Rose also fighting back to claim a half, Europe were within sight of victory and Donaldson delivered it in style.
McGinley said: “I’m very proud of every one of these players. I couldn’t have asked for an ounce more from them.
“I’ve been involved in so many Ryder Cups and seen mistakes we’ve made.
“I’ve changed things a bit. Bringing in the fifth vice-captain has been a factor in helping to prepare the guys, especially in the afternoon sessions, but we have had 12 players who have been awesome.”
Ryder Cup reflection, reaction and statistics: Pages 6-7.