MEDINAH, Ill. — Fans were asked to wear red to the Ryder Cup Sunday to show support for the U.S. team, but it was like showing that color to a herd of bulls.
Team Europe, perhaps tired of two days of “USA! USA” chants and doubles matches in which they often did little but play from behind, flared their nostrils once they got into Sunday’s singles matches.
Needing an unlikely eight of Sunday’s 12 possible points to retain the Cup, they earned 8.5. When the Americans needed a big putt down the stretch from the likes of veterans Jim Furyk or Steve Stricker, they got none.
Was it a rally for the ages or a choke that will long be remembered? The former is definitely the case. The latter? Well, three wins, one draw and eight defeats in mano a mano competition was the result. But those Euros weren’t given anything as much as they rose up and took it.
NBC’s Johnny Miller called it the “colossal collapse in Chicago.” Hey, the U.S. did go from 10-4 up midway through Saturday afternoon’s four-balls to 13.5-14.5 down.
Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson were steamrollers when they combined to win three doubles matches, but neither were victorious Sunday. Mickelson lost to Justin Rose on the 18th hole of perhaps the best match of the event.
Tiger Woods, 0-3 in doubles with partner Stricker, was placed last on the U.S. singles lineup by captain Davis Love III to save the nation’s most-accomplished player for the end in case the best closer of this golf generation had to finish the job.
But Woods’ final hole was just for accounting purposes, because Stricker bogeyed the 17th hole to fall 1-behind Martin Kaymer, and Kaymer matched Stricker’s par on No. 18 to win the match and give the Europeans the 14th point they needed to retain the Cup.
Woods conceded a 3 1/2-foot putt to Molinari on the final hole that halved his match and prevented a 14-14 tie in the total score. The defending champion keeps the Cup in the event of ties.
“It was already over,” Woods said of the concession, and he was right.
From well behind the 18th green with most of his American teammates, Zach Johnson had his head down after Stricker failed to tie his match with Kaymer. Johnson also looked somber in the U.S. team’s post-match press conference.
But he can hold that head high. He capped a terrific 3-1 performance here over three days with a hard-fought, nerve-racking 2-and-1 victory over 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Johnson jumped 3-up just four holes into the match, and led by no fewer than two holes the rest of the way.
“Early on I felt great,” Johnson said, “just going into a rhythm, just hitting solid shots. That kind of put pressure on him.”
The Cedar Rapids native had several very good opportunities on the back nine to add to his 2-up lead, but cashed none of them. You kept wondering if that would bite him later.
But when he needed to make a 7-foot par putt on No. 16 to halve the hole and be 2-up with two holes to play, Johnson delivered.
“I hadn’t made a putt all day,” he said. “Frankly, I hadn’t made a putt all week. That was huge.”
McDowell’s tee shot on the par-13 17th went over Lake Kadijah and the green, landing in the rough above a bunker. Johnson put his shot safely on the green, 30 feet from the cup. After McDowell’s chip funneled eight feet from the hole, all Johnson needed to do was two-putt to halve the hole and win the match.
It took just one putt, actually. McDowell conceded the remaining 3-footer, and one of the weekend’s last rounds of “USA!” chants from the crowds rang from the greenside bleachers and from fans watching from the other side of the water.
It was Johnson’s third Ryder Cup, but first on home turf. He has yet to be part of a winning team, but not because he hasn’t carried his share of the load. His career mark is 6-4-1.
Only Europe’s Ian Poulter (4-0) and American Dustin Johnson (3-0) had better records than Zach’s 3-1 in this year’s competition.
“Phenomenal,” is how Johnson described the experience minutes after his match ended and the team title was still in question. “Phenomenal. The fans, the team, the camaraderie, the chemistry. Everything about it has been phenomenal.”
That also describes the job the European players did on Sunday.
“This would be the greatest comeback in the Ryder Cup,” said Europe’s Lee Westwood. “Ever.”