Elliott: And yet
Bill Elliott, Golf Monthly Editor at Large, and Chairman of the Association of Golf Writers, looks ahead to final day of The 2012 Ryder Cup, and whether Europe can stage the greatest Ryder Cup comeback since 1999
IT'S not impossible. It's never impossible. But the other weary fact is that statistically it is now the far side of highly improbable that Samuel Ryder's pretty chalice will be flying back across the Atlantic tomorrow.
No-one knows this better than José María Olazábal whose grimaces while watching the United States extend their lead to four points told its own sad story of the way these 39th Ryder Cup matches have been falling this weekend.
Along with the dazzling thousands of crimson and gold leaves that have fluttered on to Illinois soil, European hopes of another sensational victory on a foreign field too have been brought to ground with the biggest of bumps.
It's never been easy of course to succeed in America where the sight of even a tiny Stars and Stripes tends to unzip an awful lot of noisy patriotism. Here at Medinah they have a really big flag that rears up behind the 18th green to make its own over-sized statement.
And yet...don't tell any of this to Ian Poulter whose five birdies on the bounce from 14 through 18 is one of the truly great performances by anyone from either side. Ever. Single-handedly, Poulter lifted Europe from nowhere to somewhere. Four points behind going into the last day means that maybe, just maybe, this Ryder Cup is still up for grabs.
Never mind that big flag, yesterday's biggest statement was made by the slim bloke with the scary, staring eyes and the extraordinary self-belief, the former assistant-pro who turned himself into a world class golfer almost as an act of self-will.
It meant that Olazábal was able to gulp back his rising despair and offer instead a small but significant trumpet-call of optimism. “Those last two matches were massive for us. That gives us a chance. It's been done before (Brookline 1999 when the USA came from four points behind) and I have to say that things have not gone our way, especially on the greens. At one point in this match I believe that momentum will come our way and why not tomorrow.”
It meant also that Olazábal's strategy for his singles line-up had to be to top load all the way from first out to last. If this Ryder Cup is to be saved then each of those players has to take inspiration from Poulter and find the champion within themselves. It's simply a matter of pride and, of course, passion.
There are few lonelier places in sport than the final day singles. Nowhere to hide, no-one to hide behind. These men are on their own. Still a team but on their own. As Joe Carr once pointed out, while stroke play might be the better test of golf, match play is by far the better test of character.
No surprise then that Luke Donald leads the way against Bubba Watson, that Poulter is up next versus Webb Simpson before Rory McIlroy takes on Keegan Bradley. Strength all the way. I've studied these line-ups and I see us taking seven points but I am afraid I can't see us gaining more than that. If I am correct Europe will lose by two points.
The good news, however, is that I am often wrong. I hope this will be the case again today. We shall see. With Seve Ballesteros's silhouette on the European bags and the team in his famed blue and white colours anything might yet be possible. The great man would have relished the challenge.