Monday, 22 September 2008

Faldo rolls the dice, comes up with snake eyes. Azinger brings back the Ryder at last for Uncle Sam.

Oh say can you see, this trophy and me,
Faldo you've lost the cup, now please go home and shut up

The American team brought an end to the years of humbling defeats with what ended up as an emphatic victory at Valhalla today. It's been a painful tournament for the US in recent times, as Europe romped to record wins over star studded teams which failed to gel. This time round the Europeans came over as Strong favourites; Tiger Woods out, a record number of rookies in the US team, the men who had played before used to being drubbed convincingly. The Americans however revelled in their underdog status, the new blood proved energetic, fearless and able to win, the men who had failed before were fired up to get the win they craved.

The gamble that Nick Faldo took to send out four of his top names in the last four groups did not work in his favour. The likes of Poulter and McDowell, who would have fancied taking on any opponent the form they were in, were out 9th and 10th, big name anchors Westwood and Harrington out in the final two matches. Poulter and McDowell duly won but as many feared, their wins were irrelevant, the Cup secured by the Americans before their results were in. The two big men at the end succumbed to poor defeats against Curtis and Campbell, two players who had really failed to perform the first two days, but then for all their status, neither had the European pair.

The major disappointment for Europe was the horrible performance of Sergio Garcia in the crucial first match. Garcia, the near invincible talisman of the previous recent victories was woeful against his American counterpart Anthony Kim. The American did play well, but Garcia gifted him several of the holes - plonking it in the water twice on seven, missing what was admittedly a tricky five footer to get one back on eight but one you'd expect him to get, three putting several holes, missing tiddlers. It's no wonder that when Garcia failed to get the win he needed on 14, Anthony Kim marched off towards the next tee box - he simply didn't believe he'd won the match so early. Kim the victor 5&4.

There was hope for the Europeans as they convincingly won the third and fourth matches. Justin Leonard couldn't rediscover the outrageous form he displayed on day one and Robert Karlsson kept going where he left of last night and won his match 5&3. Phil Mickelson is on the winning side once more, but his Ryder Cup record is still a little worse after this week as he went down to Justin Rose 3&2, the English rookie holing an excellent 30 footer to close out in style. Three points out of four for Rose in the end, good shooting cowboy.

One of the matches of the day was the second one out. It was imperative for Europe that Casey got something out of it to keep European hopes alive, and it's significance only grew as the day went on and US players began to take control of the middle order matches. It was a ding dong affair of high quality, as Mahan tried to get away at the turn, 2 up after eight, the dogged Casey pulled him back to all square with some great putting. They were level on the 17th then as Casey hit a bomb of a drive, we're talking JB Holmes length and a decent approach to the back of the green. Mahan's second shot wound up on the front on the putting surface, 40 feet away with a hump in its path. In a moment that was reminiscent of the Leonard putt at Brookline '99
which clinched the last American win, Mahan's putt shot like a heat seeking missile straight over the ridge and dead at the cup, rattling in off the back edge to a soundtrack of Euphoric cheering from the Kentucky masses. Had it missed it would have gone miles past, as it was it left Casey with a tricky 20 footer to stay with him, which was beyond him. It appeared to be the moment that confirmed the Cup would be in Azinger's hands.

That grip on the cup looked a lot more slippery as Mahan struck his drive however. Unbelievably Hunter found the water on the right off the tee, hadn't he been watching Kenny Perry, Boo Weekley and JB Holmes on the first day? If you're one up on the 18th at Valhalla and you're American, aiming a mile left appears to be the best policy... Mahan's second found the bunker, Casey had no such problems and found the green in two and the match was completed with a half point to either team. At that point it was a huge half point for Europe, who still had a chance of pulling off a draw or victory to retain the trophy.

But the middle matches were either in control of the US or about to be. Kenny Perry secured a win which meant the world to him. 48 years old, in what will probably be his final Cup, in front of a home crowd, Perry was in front by 3 after five holes and remained in charge of his match over Henrik Stenson throughout, cheered on by what appeared to be 40,000 of his neighbours and close friends, he recorded a 3&2 win.

Oliver Wilson was given a hard task against the hugely popular Boo Weekley and played well, not dropping ant shots to par, about 3 under for his round. Against another opponent he would have given a great game. Boo, however was in ridiculous form. His front nine included six birdies and a chip-in Eagle. It was testament to Wilson that he took the match as far as he did, at dormie 4 he holed a cracker to keep the match alive, but the BOOO-S-A's were allowed to ring out in victory on the 16th. What a player the Americans now have for the Ryder Cup, Weekley, who has professed to not really being a golf fan himself, absolutely loves it. Claiming European scalps must bring the same joy hunting does for Boo.

That left the US needing only two more points to claim the trophy, the scores 12.5-9.5. It looked like Jim Furyk would set up JB Holmes to make the winning putt as he seemed certain to finish off Jimenez on 16, but he missed a short tweaker to go down 17 with the Spaniard. JB meanwhile had been All Square with Soren Hansen when the leaderboard still had a look that gave Europeans reason to cling to hope. But a birdie on 16 left him one up with two to play and he promptly finished the Dane off on 17 with an exquisite pitch to two feet after his expected booming drive. Hansen nearly worked a miracle with his chip from the back of the green, but it lipped the hole and spun out to hand JB his win.

It was back to Furyk then to seal the victory. A good lag putt by Jim from 40 feet leave Jimenez needing to hole a 17 footer to keep their match and the tournament alive. Cruelly for Mig, the cigar smokin, pony tailed hero, his putt slid by and it will be that moment which will be remembered as how the cup was won. It's unfortunate, as it's always nicer that someone is remembered as the man who sunk the winning putt but that wasn't how it transpired this time, though Furyk will be remembered as the man to seal the deal. I'm really glad for Jim as he found it hard to be the man to lose the final 1/2 point to Paul McGinley at the Belfry, something which reduced him to tears and he was very sympathetic to Jimenez in his post match interview, you gotta love Jim. Even in the bad years, you could never question his commitment and he is well due this success.

It was a good and richly deserved win for the Americans. They played with a great intensity and won without any of the controversy or unsavoury goings on that occurred at Kiawah or Brookline. It was a fair contest, in spite of the hype that this was going to be a nasty one; it was all played in a great spirit. Most of all, they really did have to play great golf to win it as the Europeans did not fail to perform (apart from Sergio today...).

Finally, Good on Ian Poulter, Four points from five and unlucky to lose the first match he was incredible. He proved he was worthy of his place, no question. Whether having Darren Clarke there might have drawn a better performance from Lee Westwood will be debated ad nauseum, but no one can question that Poulter was well worth his pick; the question should have been why was Casey there instead of Clarke... Good man Ian.

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