Vive La France
The 2018 Ryder Cup was the 42nd edition of the biennial matches between the USA and Europe and was played in France for the first time at Le Golf National in Paris.
The underdog European team was hoping to draw from the euphoric support of their fans to act as an equalizer to the much deeper American side. They would also have history on their side with the last home European loss coming 25 years ago.
Friday’s opening Fourball matches ran true to form when the opening American duo of power players, Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka won a see-saw match against two of Europe’s best, world #1 Justin Rose and Spain’s Jon Rahm, 1-up.
A dominating back-9 by American’s Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler saw them beat Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen 4&2. The third match was another U.S. victory with best friends Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth pulling out a 1-up win over the English duo of Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton.
The Euro’s morning was saved from a whitewash by the less heralded team of Italy’s Francesco Molinari and England’s Tommy Fleetwood who bested the American marquee team of Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed 3&1.
The European teams have always thrived in Foursomes (alternate shot) formats and Friday’s afternoon session was no exception.
In a complete turnaround from the morning’s Fourball matches, the Euros dominated in every match and swept the Americans, 4-0. Stenson and Rose dispatched Johnson and Fowler 3&2 while Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Sweden’s Alex Noren crushed Americans Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau 5&4.
The domination continued with McIlroy and England’s Ian Poulter beating Americans Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 4&2. Capping the perfect European afternoon were the tandem of Molinari and Fleetwood who outplayed the heavily favored American duo of Spieth and Thomas 4&3, which at the end of the day culminated in a 5-3 lead for the home team.
European momentum would carry over into Saturday’s morning matches. The first match was captured by Garcia and McIlroy who were 2&1 winners over Koepka and Finau. Casey and Hatton handled Johnson and Fowler easily 3&2 and the hottest Euro team of Molinari and Fleetwood continued on their merry way with a 4&3 trouncing of Woods and Reed.
A closing birdie by Spieth and Thomas to prevail 2&1 over Poulter and Rahm salvaged what could have been a debilitating morning for the Americans but they still trailed 8-4 as they headed into the afternoon Foursomes matches. It was the largest lead at this stage of the Ryder Cup that either team had enjoyed since the modern era of the matches began in 1973.
And they would not take their foot off the pedal on Saturday afternoon. Rose and Stenson were 2&1 winners over Johnson and Koepka and when Molinari and Fleetwood crushed Woods and DeChambeau 5&4 the Europeans had taken complete command of the Cup and were ahead 10-4. Molinari and Fleetwood became the first European team in history to be a perfect 4-0 in the team matches.
Watson and Simpson won going away over Garcia and Noren 3&2 and the day’s last match ended in a boost for the U.S. when Spieth and Thomas cruised to a 4&3 win over Poulter and McIlroy, but the Europeans had one hand firmly on the Cup heading into Sunday singles.
European Captain, Thomas Bjorn’s tactics were obvious as the announcements for Sunday’s singles pairings were made. Bjorn put 5 of his best 6 players in the first six matches (McIlroy, Casey, Rose, Rahm, Fleetwood and Poulter) with the idea being that among these players lay the prerequisite 4.5 points needed to win the Cup.
These tactics seemed to fail as Thomas would best McIlroy 1 up in the first match and then Simpson upset Rose to claim his match 3&2 and close the gap in the points to 10-8.
The weak link in those six opening Europeans was Casey (a Captain tries to “hide” weaker players in a cluster of dominant ones) but he showed his mettle in going tete a tete with reigning U.S. Open and PGA Champion, Brooks Koepka, ultimately getting a halve in a well-played match. It could prove to be a pivotal half point for both teams. With the score now 10.5-8.5, the U.S. team had narrowed the gap and made the chance of an unlikely comeback a reality.
When Finau dismantled the “Euro Goliath”, Fleetwood 5&4, the gap had shrunk to 10.5-9.5 and Mother Momentum was clearly filling U.S. sails.
The pivotal match appeared to be Rahm against Woods. With the Spaniard in control of the match for most of the day a shaky missed short putt on the 16th holes sliced his lead to 1 up over Woods, but the 23-year old Spaniard made a stirring birdie on the 17th hole to close out the match 2&1. Incredibly, given his spectacular play of late, Woods would finish this Ryder Cup 0-4.
Just when you think that you have things figured out……
In a surprise match Olesen handled Spieth with ease and was a 5&4 winner over the former world #1.
Poulter, who turns into a combination or Superman/ Crenshaw and Hogan in these matches put another feather into his much feathered cap, with a win over newly deposed world #1 Johnson and claimed another point for his Ryder Cup cupboard with a 2 up win.
Garcia prevailed over Fowler 2&1 making the 41-year old Spanish star the highest point getter in the history of the Ryder Cup with 25.5 points. Now Europe just needed one more point to clinch the trophy.
Mickelson also made history this week by playing in his 12th consecutive Ryder Cup team and on Sunday by playing in his 47th match which is one more than Europe’s Nick Faldo. Sadly for Lefty his game was not up to its usual brilliance and he lost to Molinari.
Fittingly that point would come from Molinari who has had quite a summer. The amiable 35-year old Italian triumphed in June at The Open Championship and with his victory over Mickelson becomes the first European player in the annals of the Cup to be a perfect 5-0 for the week.
For the record, Reed would beat Hatton 3&2 while Stenson blew past Watson 5&4. The last match on the course between Noren and DeChambeau ended with a 2 up win for Noren leaving the final score 17.5-10.5.
The week was exactly what Samuel Ryder wanted when he created what was originally a match between England and America. The week was filled with spectacle, amazing golf, bon homie and was played with ferocity and grace, in the great spirit of the game.