Eubanks: Some ties are better than others
In the last 18 Ryder Cups, the winner of the opening session has won the whole thing 15 times. So, says Steve Eubanks, the fact that Team USA came out with a 2-2 split is a great result.
By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com
MEDINAH, Ill. -- You can call it kissing your sister all you want, but some ties are better than others.
In the last 18 Ryder Cups, the winner of the opening Friday session has won the whole thing a total of 15 times. So the fact that Team USA was able to roar back to a 2-2 split after being down early in every single match has to give Captain Davis Love III goose-bumps.
Playing from behind adds pressure to a stage on which swallowing is almost impossible under the best of circumstances. And Team USA could have been down anywhere from one to three points if the back nine hadn’t gone their way.
Even the American losses were so exciting that Davis has to feel good about it.
The most exciting one featured the Northern Irishmen against two guys who look like they could do your taxes. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell certainly held the charisma advantage over Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, and for awhile it looked like they would they would parlay that into a rout.
The Europeans started the way they always seem to in the Ryder Cup, holing putts and chips, high-fiving and turning a crowd that was loud and boisterous on the first tee into back-pew snoozers. McIlroy chipped in for birdie at the fourth, eliciting the first exuberant European fist-pump of the day. From there the friends from Northern Ireland reeled off six birdies in seven holes, an extraordinary feat in alternate shot. McIlroy and McDowell took only 13 putts through 11 holes.
Just like, that Furyk and Snedeker went three down.
Then came the comeback. An up-and-down from the front bunker at the long par-3 13th started the run. After that, the U.S. pair went on a run of their own, reeling off two more birdies at 14 and 15 to square the match with two to play.
Pars at 17 took this one to the last, where rookie nerves finally came through. Snedeker, one of the straightest drivers in the game, blew the team’s tee shot dead right into the trees. Furyk could only punch out, and then Snedeker left the third shot 20 feet short.
McIlroy showed why he is the No.1 player in the world by hitting a long greenside bunker shot -- one of the toughest shots in golf under extreme pressure -- to two feet. With a Furyk miss and McDowell make, the Europeans earned their first point.
The other European point came when Ian Poulter and Justin Rose halved 16 and 17 with pars to close out Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 2 up.
As emphatic as that win might seem, it could have been so much worse. Tiger hit more foul balls than Barry Bonds, and Stricker didn’t play much better. The fact that they kept the European flag off the board as long as they did was nothing short of extraordinary.
The wins were a lot more fun for Captain Love and the Chicago fans. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley handed Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose their first-ever foursomes loss: not their first loss as a team -- their first loss in this format, period.
Mickelson and Bradley did it with flair and emotion and the kind of hot putting that got the gallery roaring. After falling one down on the sixth and staying there through eight, Mickelson and Bradley played the next seven holes 4 under.
In so doing, Mickelson displayed the kind of leadership that Davis wanted and needed from him.
“He is such a great partner,” Mickelson said of Bradley. “He pulls out great emotion in me. In these big events when the pressure is its highest, he is at his best … I love, love playing with this man.”
He will get another chance. Mickelson and Bradley go out again against McIlroy and McDowell in what is bound to be the match of the afternoon.
Tiger and Stricker go out again as well, which could lead to a lot of second-guessing.
In keeping the team together than hit it the worst, Davis had to sit the one that played the best.
Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner birdied five holes and looked in command the entire match, even when they fell one down. When Dufner made a three-footer for par on 15 to close out Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari 3 up, the team looked unflappable and unbeatable.
“We had a game plan,” Johnson said. “We played every practice round together, and we’re great friends. It’s about staying in the moment and Jason Dufner is one of the best at staying in the moment.”
Dufner has potential to be a folk hero in the making. From the first shot on, he looked like he was playing in a local member-guest instead of the biggest stage in the game.
“I like this format, this environment,” Dufner said. “For me it feels like there’s a little less pressure. I’m not trying to post a score. I’m just trying to play golf and enjoy the day.”
With that attitude, and a full point in his Ryder Cup debut, Davis might want to modify his plan. Jason Dufner could be the man of the matches.