Through the three sessions of team play, the Americans had tallied no wins on the driveable par-4 15th hole. (Getty Images)
Big-hitting Americans surprisingly vexed by short par-4 15th hole
Before the Ryder Cup started, the driveable par-4 15th at Celtic Manor looked like a hole the big-hitting Americans would eat up. But as Steve Eubanks points out, it hasn't worked out that way.
By Steve Eubanks, Special to RYDERCUP.com
NEWPORT, Wales -- When you look at the number of matches that have broken Europe’s way late, one remarkable statistic stands out. On the short, driveable par-4 15th, a hole that should favor the Americans’ length, the U.S. entered the singles matches with 10 halves at 15, five losses, and zero wins. Nada. A shutout. A no-hitter. The one hole where being long and aggressive should pay off for the Americans, they didn’t scratch in fourball or foursomes.
It wasn’t until 12:05 on Monday afternoon when Steve Stricker rolled in an eagle putt that any American won the 15th.
It is baffling. Standing on the 15th tee early in the week, Frank Nobilo, Andy North and Paul Azinger all agreed that it was a perfect hole for the Americans. Uphill with a 246-yard carry over a cluster of trees, the three players-turned-TV-analysts ran through the list of U.S. players who should eat the 15th alive.
“Dustin (Johnson) can hit iron,” North said.
“How about Bubba (Watson): he can’t hit driver,” Nobilo responded.
North countered with, “There’s rough on the right, but it only needs to be in the air 260. Paul and I can do that.”
“Perfect for the Americans,” Zinger said.
Not so much, it turns out. In the Session Two foursomes, Watson and Jeff Overton were 1 up over Ian Poulter and Luke Donald through 14. Rookies against the stalwarts -- just the kind of upset that could have set the U.S. on a glide path to victory. But despite being the second-longest hitter on the team behind Dustin Johnson, Watson clipped a tree with his tee shot on 15 and the Americans lost the hole to an easy European birdie. They would go on to lose the match 2 and 1.
Then on Sunday, Poulter did it again, this time with Martin Kaymer against Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in the fourballs. One down after Mickelson three-putted the 14th, the Americans both found the right rough, but Kaymer hit it in the hazard and Poulter found the high grass on the right as well. But Fowler bladed his pitch over the green, Mickelson hit his pitch six feet long and Poulter found the putting surface. Mickelson missed. Poulter made, and the match was all but over.
Then, late on Sunday, everyone saw the Francesco Molinari’s two-foot birdie putt at 18 to halve the match with Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar and deny the Americans a single victory in the final session. But forgotten is that the Americans were 1 up through 14, and the Molinari brothers squared the match with a birdie at 15.
Those are the vagaries of match play. A hole that should have played into the Americans hands was their Achilles heel all week. When the history of Celtic Manor is written, students of the game will look back at the shortest par 4 on the course as a pivotal piece of ground.