The 39th Ryder Cup might have been the best. Each day was a thrilling celebration of the sport as the golf fans of Chicago provided an electric soundtrack. Sunday’s emotional comeback by Europe to win 14 1/2 – 13 1/2 was one of the most riveting days in golf history. Who were the winners and losers of this Ryder Cup?
MVP – Ian Poulter: On Saturday, with Europe down at one point 10-4, he single-handedly turned the momentum of the Ryder Cup, closing with five straight birdies in his four ball match. On Sunday, it all carried over to his teammates who started with five straight wins, including one by Poulter, again in clutch fashion. He saved par at No. 16 after shanking an iron shot when a crowd roar went up in his backswing, then won the 17th and 18th holes against Webb Simpson. Poulter went 4-0 to bring his Ryder Cup career mark to 12-3, the best record in event history.
Sunday MVP – Justin Rose: He made a 12-foot par putt on No. 16 for key halve and birdie putts of 35 and 12 feet on the final two holes to turn defeat into victory against Phil Mickelson. Lefty didn’t lose this one, Rose won it. The Brit started with birides on the first two holes to grab the lead and made an eagle at No. 7, but still needed a spectacular finish.
Non-Playing MVP: The state trooper who rushed Rory McIlroy to Medinah on Sunday morning deserves a bottle of Cristal and lifetime playing privileges in Europe. McIlroy, set to tee off at 11:25, arrived at the course at 11:14, rushed to the clubhouse to change his shoes, hit a few putts, and went out and beat Keegan Bradley 2 and 1. McIlroy (3-2) showed no early effects of his lack of a warmup, playing his best round of the event, making six birdies. He said he was confused by the Golf Channel, reporting his 12:25 (Eastern time) start.
U.S. MVP – Keegan Bradley: He lost on Sunday, but the Ryder Cup rookie did for the U.S. in the first three rounds, what Poulter did for Europe in the final two. Teaming with Phil Mickelson, Bradley (3-1) lit up Medinah with his adrenaline-fueled game, energizing the crowd and his teammates. The U.S. might have put Europe in a deeper hole on Saturday, but captain Davis Love III benched Bradley and Mickelson in a decision that will be questioned for years.
Least Valuable Player – Steve Stricker: In the partner matches, Stricker (0-4) gave little help to Tiger Woods. On Sunday, he played the final eight holes in 3-over-par, losing to Europe’s weakest link, Martin Kaymer. Stricker was the only player in the competition who failed to secure at least a half point for his team. It might be time to retire Stricker, 45, from Ryder Cup competition. He was the oldest player in this year’s event.
Last Chance at Glory: Until the Sunday singles, it was a lost weekend for Euros Lee Westwood (1-3) and Paul Lawrie (1-2), who rebounded with decisive victories after playing miserably on Friday and Saturday.
Greatest Ryder Cup Comeback: Until Sunday, the greatest final-round rally in Ryder Cup history came in 1999 at Brookline when the U.S. came back from 10-6 down. Sunday’s rally by the Europeans – also from 10-6 down however — trumps it as it came on foreign soil.
Don’t Blame Tiger: With the exception of his opening round, Tiger Woods (0-3-1) played well. But he got no help from Stricker in the partner matches. Love should have benched Stricker early and matched Woods up with another player from his loaded roster.
No Love for the U.S. Captain: In the post-match interview, Phil Mickelson took the bullet for Davis Love III, telling the press that he insisted on sitting out the Saturday four ball. That’s fine, but it was Love’s job to do what was best for the team, not to make Mickelson or other players on the team happy. The U.S. would have been better served with a strong-willed coach who put the needs of the team ahead of the feelings of his players.
Best Show of Sportsmanship — Rose/Mickelson: When Rose, on the verge of defeat, made clutch putts at No. 16 and 17, Mickelson applauded and flashed thumbs up. When Rose dropped his putt to clinch on No. 18, he exhorted, but only for an instant. Noticing Mickelson approaching, Rose stopped to accept congratulations and offer condolences.
Worst Show of Sportsmanship – Francesco Molinari: With the Cup clinched and both he and Tiger Woods facing inconsequential putts for par, the Italian should have conceded and surrendered his individual match, rather than make the already deflated Woods putt, when all he wanted to do was get off the green and let Europe celebrate. After missing from 3 feet, Woods gave Molinari his putt – a classy move, even if Molinari didn’t deserve it. In a similar situation after the U.S. rallied to win at Brookline in 1999, Payne Stewart conceded his individual match with Colin Montgomerie.