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Monday, October 1, 2012

USA Melts Down at Medinah

Rory McIlroy’s police escort from his hotel to Medinah, just in time for his 11:30am (Central) tee time should have sounded the alarm for team USA. Europe’s number three player on Sunday avoided a major league blunder, stepped right onto the course without any warm-up and played his way to a 2 and 1 victory over Keegan Bradley for a European 3-0 start on the Ryder Cup’s final day of play. This in itself should have been a sign for the Americans; it was not going to be the dominant finish they had hoped for and a collapse wasn’t far away. What took place from that point on however is well, just a travesty? The United States, which opened the final day of play with a commanding 10-6 lead, had still only given up its margin for error with plenty of golf remaining. But the momentum had swung and the United States squad then found itself under pressure. But not just normal golf pressure, Ryder Cup pressure. The weight of holding up both team and country, not just oneself and it proved to be too much for several U.S. players to handle. The first to gag, or be outplayed, however you personally would like to put it was Phil Mickelson. Lefty, led Justin Rose by a shot heading onto 16. Rose however picked his game up to another level. He drilled a 12-foot par to halve the hole. He then knocked down a 35-footer from the back of the green to win the 17th outright, tying the match. On 18, he then drained another 12 foot birdie putt to capture the match, tying the overall competition. Rose simply took his play into another gear that Mickelson could not match and from this point on, it all seemed to fall apart for the squad captained by Davis Love III. Six of the 12 matches on Sunday, weren’t determined until the 18th hole and the United States only won just one. Maybe the most painful and telling of the growing pressure the U.S. team felt was blown lead by Jim Furyk, one of Love’s Captain’s choices for the team. He outplayed Sergio Garcia for 16 holes only to go belly-up with bogeys on both 17 and 18 losing his match to the Spaniard 1-up, as the Americans lead was completely gone with just four matches remaining. The next big choke job came from another of Love’s Captain Choices in Steve Stricker. He was all-square with Martin Kaymer heading to 17. Simply put, the German birdied and pared while the American finished par, par and that was it. With the win, Europe pulled a full point in front with just one match remaining, Tiger Woods versus Francisco Molinari. Since the defending champion retains the cup in the matter of a tie, Woods finish was left meaningless even with his halve, all part of a 14 ½ to 13 ½ European victory. So who deserves the heat in this debacle that adds to the European total of nine Ryder Cup victories to just four for the United States since 1985? Well the guy who didn’t even compete takes the most. Davis Love III had four captain’s picks on the team. The only one who played well was Dustin Johnson, as he went undefeated at 3-0-0. The other three, Brandt Snedeker, Furyk and Stricker finished a combined 2-8-1. With a record like that, his judgment has to be questioned. You can add Tiger Woods to the list as well. Even though his final match on Sunday was basically meaningless at the finish, Tiger’s halve point was his only positive contribution to the competition as he failed to generate a single full point for team USA. The bottom line however is the Ryder Cup is always won and lost on Sunday with the singles matches. The two American’s that fell apart in crunch-time were Furyk and Stricker. Both just happened to be playing down the stretch when the United States needed a win and neither made it happen. When you play in the spotlight, either the glory or blame comes your way. Unfortunately for both of these guys, they failed at the wrong time. But the greatest collapse in Cup history took a total team effort along with some luck from the other side. When McIlroy managed to avoid the biggest blunder in Cup play and turn it into mojo for a European rally, it wasn’t too hard to see what has about to take place.

Will it take a Miracle at Medinah?

Where have all the great shots gone? That’s what American golf fans must be asking when the talk turns to the biennial team event know of course as The Ryder Cup, played this year on American soil at Medinah. During the event’s first 56 years, the stars and stripes dominated the competition but the United States and Europe have been playing since 1927, so we can all do the math. Since 1985 with the Europeans led by the late Seve Ballesteros, team red, white and blue has been just that, blue! Just four cup victories over the last 26 years. Narrow victories coming in ’91 and ’93, an amazing comeback under Ben Crenshaw in ’99 at Brookline and a whopping five point victory at Valhalla with Paul Azinger guiding the squad back in 2008. Well, in this political year isn’t in about time for team USA to show some pride and confidence? After all, that’s what the competition really comes down to, who gets hot with the putter and the confidence to step up in the heat of the moment. Case in point; The Battle of Brookline win 14 years ago. Crenshaw’s crew was getting housed heading into the final day of play, trailing 6-10 with the Europeans only needing 4 points to retain the cup. But United States pride came shining through, as the U.S. captured the first six matches of the day, taking the lead. Jim Furyk upset Sergio Garcia giving the Americans their 8th point of the day and then the United States celebrated wildly as Justin Leonard halved his match with Jose Maria Olazabal, leading a pre-mature celebration of epic proportions on the 17 green, before the Spaniard even had a chance to keep his team’s chances alive with a putt to win the hole. It’s still the greatest United States memory in recent Ryder Cup history and that’s the type of enthusiasm and confidence that has been lacking. Maybe a reason for doubt entering Friday’s 39th Ryder Cup is the year’s dominance of the European players. Team Europe sports four of the top five players in the World Ranking (Rory McIlroy and company), and that doesn’t even include their best cup players according to record in Ian Poulter (8-3-0) and Garcia (14-6-4). Team USA counters with five of the top 10 in the world, including a revived Tiger Woods (2nd), who won the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships at Medinah. Despite Tiger’s reemergence as one of the top players in the world, his Ryder Cup record both team-wise and individually leaves a lot to be desired. In Woods presence, the United States is just 1-5 overall, while Tiger has been anything but an animal in the competition going 13-14-2 during his own matches. Woods hasn’t coward under the criticism of his play in the game’s overall biggest event. “I needed to go get my points for my team,” and I didn’t do that. Hopefully I can do that this week, and hopefully the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling “, Woods told Sports Illustrated.Com. Woods opening play during the first day of competition on Friday didn’t improve however as during the alternate ball foursome, he and teammate Steve Stricker started things off with a 2&1 defeat to Poulter and Justin Rose. As of this writing, after the morning round the overall competition was even at 2-2. Another reason for renewed U.S. hope is the play of American rookie Bradnt Snedeker. One of four rookies for team red, white and blue, Snedeker is the hottest player on either team after winning the Tour Championship and the Fed Ex Cup last week. But what’s done on the PGA Tour and in major championships for that manner has little or no meaning when it comes to The Ryder Cup. Phil Mickelson’s four majors and Tiger’s 14 don’t intimidate anyone with the world team title is on the line. “Lefty” playing in his ninth Ryder Cup sports a record of just 11-17 and 6. Those aren’t personal stats that exactly excite the home crowd, who can really play a role in the play of either team depending on what continent the competition is being held that year. Without a doubt, team USA will be relying on the Chicago-area crowd to be rowdy, supportive and acting like it’s a Bears game out there after every American made putt. The United States roster which carries four rookies in Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson who looked solid at last year’s President’s Cup, going 3-2-0 overall, could use the enthusiasm and kind of young innocence to provide an extra boost. Whatever the case, the run of European dominance in this event is a mystery. The bottom line is team USA captained by Davis Love III, a six-time veteran of the competition (2-4) needs to show some sac and simply outplay the visitors. There is no logical reason for Europe’s domination of the event over the last three decades. In this year of great national pride in the United States, it shouldn’t take a miracle for team USA to show some guts, make some shots and grab a little “Old Glory”, at Medinah.

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