Monday's blue sky was a welcome sight after the gray that preceded it. (Getty Images)
Lasting images of this Ryder Cup will be glorious, sun-splashed excellence
The weather was a huge story for three days during this Ryder Cup, but Steve Eubanks points out that the event's most indelible memories will be the blue skies, short-sleeve shirts and fantastic play that marked this final day.
By Steve Eubanks, Special to RYDERCUP.com
NEWPORT, Wales -- The wonderful and fascinating thing about history is how the importance of certain events tends to evolve over time. At the time, nobody thought Super Bowl I was much. They couldn’t even sell out the L.A. Coliseum. Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle at the 15th at Augusta National in the 1935 Masters might have been the “shot heard round the world,” but it wasn’t heard in Augusta at the time. Only a dozen people and one duck saw it.
The same is true in Ryder Cups. No one remembers the violent storms that rolled up from North Africa during the 1997 matches. Valderrama sounded like it was being carpet-bombed, and the first two days of matches had to be consolidated. But, 13 years after the fact, all that’s remembered is the great European victory for Captain Seve Ballesteros. At Brookline in 1999, the pre-match story was the “pay for play” controversy in which a few players complained about a lack of compensation for their efforts. Now, it’s the “Miracle at Brookline,” the largest comeback in the event’s history capped with that memorable 45-foot birdie putt by Justin Leonard at 17 within sight of the home of Francis Ouimet of “Greatest Game Ever Played” fame.
Now we have Celtic Manor, which for three days looked like the British home of frog gigging. But with the gorgeous Chamber of Commerce day and exciting golf that came on Monday, all the pig-slop mud and wet huddled masses in overcrowded beer tents were forgotten. The images of this week will be the blue skies, short-sleeve shirts, cheering crowds and fantastic golf shots that marked the final day of the 2010 Ryder Cup.
Fans who came back on Monday (35,000 according to Ryder Cup Europe officials) saw the best finish in many, many years.
For starters, European golf lovers finally got to see a glimmer of the old Tiger Woods. Shots like the second at the par-5 11th, where he twirled the club as the ball rolled close to the hole, to the short-iron approach at the 12th that spun back and into the hole for an eagle, to the flop shot from the rough on the hillside at 15 that stopped close, Tiger finally made the highlight reel and reminded the world why he is No.1. He played the last seven holes seven under par to thump Francisco Molinari 3 and 2, and finished the week 3-1-0, his best Ryder Cup ever.
More importantly for the people of Wales, the images of that match will show brilliant sunshine and both players’ caddies wearing shorts.
Mickelson found redemption (and a putting stroke) as well, never trailing in his match against Peter Hanson. Dustin Johnson won big in the warm conditions once the greens sped up, and Zach Johnson (no relation) lit up Montgomerie’s most controversial captain’s pick, Padraig Harrington. Steve Stricker came from behind to beat Lee Westwood, and in the Battle of the Good Guys, Stewart Cink and Rory McIlroy played to a halve.
On the European side, Ian Poulter told a reporter, “I will deliver a point.” Then the man who is fast becoming Europe’s next Sergio did just that, firing up the crowd and beating Matt Kuchar 5 and 4. Luke Donald also had a tremendous day, beating Jim Furyk 1 up.
By the warmest part of the day, it looked like it would come down to either the ninth match between the emotional Eduardo Molinari and Pavin’s most controversial pick, PGA Tour rookie Rickie Fowler, or the last match to go out, U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell against the man who didn’t lose a point in 2008, Hunter Mahan.
Fowler birdied 15 and 16, made a great pressure putt for birdie on the par-3 17th to claw his way back to 1-down with one to play. The electricity of the moment was palpable. In front of thousands in a cathedral setting around the 18th green, Molinari left a birdie putt six inches short, and Fowler drained a critical downhill 12-footer for his fourth consecutive birdie and a critical half point.
That made it 13½ to 13½ with one group left on the course: McDowell and Mahan.
Mahan had been there before, holing a crucial putt 40-foot putt against Paul Casey in his singles match in 2008, and McDowell was a major champion who not only broke a 40-year European drought with his U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach, but also won the Wales Open at Celtic Manor earlier in the year.
It was the greatest drama of the week. Forget the rain, the mud, and the god-awful lilac sweaters, McDowell stepping up to a 13-foot birdie putt at 16 to go dormie 2 was the moment everyone had hoped would eventually arrive.
“It was as nervous as I’ve ever been on a golf course,” McDowell said.
He didn’t show it. When that putt fell, you could have heard the roar in London.
Not since Tiger wobbled in a putt on the final hole at Torrey Pines in the U.S. Open has there been such an emotional reaction to a golf shot.
Twenty minutes later, Graeme McDowell, one of the nicest and most congenial guys on the European team, captured the final point for a home-team win.
Yes, it ended on a Monday, and, yes, it was a long, hard, disjointed week, but when history is written, all of that will be conveniently forgotten. The birdie putt McDowell holed at 16, bare arms held high in the warm Welsh sun: that will be the lasting imagine of this Ryder Cup.