Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

USA magic blew away Faldo’s plan

Nick Faldo

The week began with question marks over Nick Faldo's leadership and inevitably, it, ended with a giant query flashing high above the targeted scalp of the Europe captain.

But there was no doubting the joy of America as they came through a nerve-filled final day to win their first Ryder Cup in nine years and just their second in 15 years.

It said everything about the staggering reversal that as Paul Azinger was being hailed as an inspiration, Faldo was being slammed. As soon as the singles match-ups were released there were raised eyebrows as to the Europe running order.

With a 9-7 overnight deficit the visitors needed points and needed them quickly. Yet Faldo put what many considered to be his three premier performers out last.

It meant that when Jim Furyk collected the final point needed for America to reach the 14.5 point golden milestone, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington were stranded, the results of their matches irrelevant. Strange choice. Very strange, indeed.

Nothing should take away from the American achievement, however. Thanks to them, the Ryder Cup felt like the Ryder Cup again here last night.

Everyone wanted to be on that first tee as those opposing upstarts, Sergio Garcia and Anthony Kim, teed off the deciding singles with an edge that cut through the tension.

The star of the show's opening acts, Ian Poulter, was shown sprinting from the clubhouse to witness the first drive of his Spanish team-mate. When Poulter arrived they were all there, Europeans and Americans both. And so it began.

Within a few minutes, Kim had plonked a short iron to within a few feet of that first pin and within another 60 seconds Garcia had followed his junior's lead. It was the start Kentucky had anticipated and already the flame beneath the cauldron was fired.

The needle between the pair was obvious with short putts not conceded and rules decisions disputed, but through it all Kim out-Sergioed Sergio. The 23-year-old rookie simply rolled him over with his panache, his energy and a series of thunderous shots and when he closed out the match 5 and 4.

The focus could then fall on the matches below and when Robert Karlsson humbled Justin Leonard 5 and 3 and then, 20 minutes later on the 16th green, Justin Rose beat Phil Mickelson 3 and 2, Europe had made their early impression on the board.

The latter’s performance was particularly impressive as the Englishman capitalised on the world No 2's continued miserable Ryder Cup form — this was Mickelson's fourth consecutive loss in the singles — although it was the events in the second match that was more representative of the tightness of the tussle.

Hunter Mahan’s outrageous 40-footer on the 17th was greeted like a hole-in-one to win a major but, in the event, Casey was to survive. Mahan was clearly overdosed on adrenaline and drove into the water on the 18th — half a point each way. But then the Kentuckian Kenny Perry lowered Henrik Stenson 3 and 2 and then Boo Weekley did the same to Oliver Wilson, only this time by 4 and 2.

America were now big favourites to win their first Ryder Cup since 1999, but with half of the matches still to be settled anything seemed possible and, in many respects, the uncertainty was all that seemed to matter.

Finals days of Ryder Cups are all about looking at the singles match-ups, marking down the way you envisage each one going and, with a sense of frenzied mathematic anticipation, adding up the scores accordingly. Different pens from different minds end up with different climaxes.

Perhaps the anticipation was misplaced and perhaps Faldo's game-plan of putting his apparently best players out last and therefore stranded was about to backfire spectacularly. Padraig Harrington asked to take the anchor role and the captain already said he was not going to argue with the player who had won the last two majors.

Before being benched for the Saturday afternoon fourballs, Harrington had gone eight consecutive sessions without a victory. The Irishman could only content himself that, going into this denouement, he was in good company. Garcia and Lee Westwood had also failed to win a match here on Friday and Saturday, which was a pretty incredible stat seeing as this trio was unarguably regarded as Faldo's best players coming in.

There would have been long odds given against that scenario, but then the bookies would have been using up a lot of chalk pricing up much of what happened in the two enthralling opening days.

What odds America rediscovering their soul and doing so with a bunch of golfers who were considered less Tiger and more Tiddles. And it is their roar that has been their most surprising quality.

Saying that, the world of golf knew that a character like Weekley would be a natural in both playing up to the most passionate galleries in the game and in whipping them up. As his match against Wilson began, Weekley did a mock hop through the rough as if he was riding his driver in the Kentucky Derby.

The crowd went into raptures. Maybe, Westwood was right and maybe the Floridian redneck did g o over the top in the Friday fourballs in beckoning for the Louisville mob to raise the volume as the Euro pair were still sizing up their putts, but the downside of his exuberance in no way negated the upside of his rekindling of the patriotic passions.

Doubtless a response to the "Bear Pit" of Brookline, Oakland Hills was dead four years ago. Now the pulse has returned.

Interestingly it has not been pumped up by the genius of a Woods or even a Mickelson but by mortals, talented as they may be, such as Weekley. Boo has been central to the restoration of pride in American golfers and yesterday morning he was praised to the sporting heavens by his captain.

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