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The Eagles Have Landed In The Glen

The 40th edition of the Ryder Cup at the Centenary Course at Gleneagles in Scotland was basically won after the completion of the afternoon foursomes (alternate shot) matches on Saturday.

After the U.S. team rallied in the morning best ball matches to close the gap to 6 ½ to 5 ½ points, the European team won 3 ½ of a possible 4 points in the foursomes to almost ensure a victory the following day.  That would give Europe a staggering 7 out of a possible 8 points in golf’s most difficult format in the two afternoon sets.

The Europeans, who were heavily favored coming into the week, played the part and were a cumulative 110-under par for the week compared to the American side’s 78-under par total.

Leading the way was England’s Justin Rose who was unbeaten with a superb 3-0-2 record.  In a dazzling display in Saturday’s fourball match, Rose and his partner, Henrik Stenson, reeled off 10 consecutive birdies in their 3-2 win over Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar.  Stenson and Rose would be a perfect 3-0 when paired together.

This was Europe’s 8th win in the last 10 Ryder Cups which really amounts to total dominance over the once unbeatable American team.

Ultimately it is the players who determine the outcome of the Cup, but U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson made a series of mystifying decisions.  U.S. superstar Phil Mickelson and young star Keegan Bradley played so brilliantly together at Medinah in 2012 going 3-0 as a tandem there split their Friday matches to be 1-1 after day 1.  Watson would sit both players for both Saturday matches which seemed inconceivable for the most successful union in recent U.S. Ryder Cups.

In seemingly contradictory logic, Watson continued to send out Ricky Fowler and Jimmy Walker, who tied their first three matches before losing their Saturday afternoon foursomes match to Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell.

Webb Simpson, who was one of Watson’s three Captain’s picks, played in only one match losing with   partner Bubba Watson 5-4 in Friday’s opening morning fourball match.  Why would you pick a player and then only play them once?

When interviewed after finishing his victory in the singles match over, Phil Mickelson was asked if he thought that the Europeans had found a secret formula for all their success.  Mickelson responded with a very succinct: “yes”.  He qualified his response by saying that the American team should revert back to what U.S. Captain Paul Azinger did in the 2008 Cup matches which was the last time they had reason to celebrate.

Part of the “secret formula” that Azinger employed was that he had all the players do personality profiles beforehand so that he paired compatible players (personality and style wise) with each other.  I remember talking to Carey Mumford during the Sunday morning Singles matches.  Carey had watched the pairings for the first two days in the fourball and foursome matches and then saw the order in which Azinger sent the players out and had called me excitedly telling me that “they profiled the players!”

Azinger had sent the fast paced styles (Driver and Persuader) out in the early matches (Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson and JB Holmes) and the slower paced styles (Analyzer and Craftsmen) in the last matches (Boo Weekly, Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell).  Doing so allowed the players to play their at their “speed” as evidenced by Anthony Kim who dispatched Sergio Garcia in a little over 2 hours with a 5 & 4 rout of the Spanish star.

If there was a silver lining for the Americans, it was the play of their two youngest players, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.  The two rookies were paired together in Friday’s opening fourball match and were 5 & 4 winners over Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter.  But in another much questioned decision, Watson did not play the two again in the afternoon matches opting instead to insert players who had not played in the morning matches.

Spieth and Reed were then 5 & 3 winners in Saturday’s morning fourball match over Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer before tying Europe’s dynamo of Rose and Martin Kaymer in the afternoon foursomes.  Reed finished the week with an unbeaten 2-0-2 record while Spieth would be 2-1-1.  Along with Mickelson, who posted a 2-1-0, mark they were the only American players with winning credentials.

In the press conference afterwards, Mickelson made a bad situation much worse by further praising Azinger’s tactics saying that the U.S. teams for the last several years had ignored the 2008 blueprint, and should revert back to it.  However correct he may be, it was ignoble of Mickelson to make such a caustic critique of Watson and his Captaincy while they were seated on the same podium and to so, in such a public fashion.  Watson graciously shrugged off the remarks by replying that he and Mickelson obviously had different management styles, but it will be a dark cloud that lingers for a long time.

The simple fact is that the Europeans played better than the Americans, and deserved to win.  The sad truth is the ugly ending which will become a part of two great players’ legacy.  5-time Major Champion, Mickelson, whose public comments were inexcusable and 8-time Major Champion, Watson, whose decisions were so questionable.

Conversely, Europe’s Captain, Paul McGinley, seemed as though he could do no wrong and who so enigmatically created an environment obviously embraced by his players.  McGinley becomes the first winning Cup Captain from the Emerald Isle and certainly one of the most popular.

At the end of play, the Europeans were convincing winners with 16 ½ points to the 11 ½ for the U.S.  There were a host of heroes for the Euro’s with the aforementioned Rose and Stenson being just two.  World #1 Rory McIlroy overcame some early poor form to be 2-1-2 while fellow Northern Irishman McDowell was a perfect, 3-0.  24 year old rising star, France’s Dubuisson was unbeaten at 2-0-1 in a very impressive debut.  Lee Westwood became Europe’s 2nd all-time winningest player when he notched his 23rd career point (20 wins and 6 ties) in this, his 9th appearance.

38 year old Ryder Cup rookie, Jamie Donaldson from Wales, would fittingly be the player capturing the winning point when he defeated Bradley 4 & 3 to be 2-1-1 for the three days.  Donaldson’s story is an inspiring one as the self-professed “late bloomer” is aging like a fine wine.  10 years ago, Donaldson was told to stop playing the game but ignored that advice and persevered to play the game he loves so much.  His first win on the European Tour didn’t come until his 255th start in 2011, and five weeks ago he had not qualified for this team.  McGinley had been very frank with Donaldson saying that if he did not qualify he would not pick him as one of his Captain’s picks because he would be forced to pick 3 players who had Ryder Cup experience.

It was then that the gritty Donaldson further demonstrate d his resolve by winning the D+D Real Czech Masters for his third victory on the European Tour, and more importantly, for his place on the Ryder Cup team.

As an exalted McGinley embraced Donaldson on the 15th green after his singles match ended, and held his face with both of his hands, he would say that “this is what this is all about.”

We agree.