Remember When: 2012 Ryder Cup
Nine years later, the “Miracle at Medinah” remains fresh in the memory of anyone who watched the thrilling final day. The Americans appeared en route to an easy win, spending much of the first two days pouring in birdies and captivating partisan crowds on the No. 3 course. But when the final putt was holed it was instead the visitors who earned an improbable victory, flipping the script from 13 years earlier at Brookline.
Let’s take a look back on the key players and turning points from a wild three days in the Chicago suburbs, where missed chances haunted the home team and a certain Englishman entered rarified air:
The Europeans entered as the defending champs, having reclaimed the trophy at Celtic Manor in 2010, two years after the Americans posted a rousing victory at Valhalla, the last time the matches were held on home soil. Both sides featured first-time captains: the Europeans were led by Jose Maria Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion who made seven teams as a player, while Davis Love III served the first of what would be two stints as captain (2016) on the American side.
The teams featured three of the four major champions from 2012, with U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson and Masters champ Bubba Watson making their first and second Ryder Cup teams, respectively. The Euro side featured then-world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, just one month removed from an eight-shot romp at the PGA Championship. Nine of the top 10 players in the world rankings participated, including No. 2 Tiger Woods, with the American squad loaded; of the 12 players on Love’s roster, only captain’s pick Jim Furyk (23rd) was ranked outside the top 17 in the world. Olazabal’s team included unexpected qualifiers Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie, but it was the captain’s picks of Ian Poulter that would prove pivotal.
The Turning Point
This probably has two parts: one that begins Saturday afternoon, and one which starts at a Sunday morning alarm. With the U.S. holding a massive 10-4 lead during Saturday fourballs, Poulter caught fire and lifted himself and McIlroy to a narrow 1-up win over Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, while Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald edged Woods and Steve Stricker by the same margin in another match that ended near sunset. Instead of trailing 12-4 or 11-5, the Europeans instead faced the same 10-6 deficit the Americans had rallied from at Brookline in 1999.
The second came when McIlroy worked out his time zone math: seeing an on-air graphic that displayed his Sunday singles’ match in ET instead of local (CT) time in Chicago, the world No. 1 nearly missed his tee time entirely. Just minutes away from forfeiting a critical point to Keegan Bradley, McIlroy got a police escort to the course (while riding in a car driven by his future wife) and headed straight to the tee.
Much like the playbook in 1999, this comeback included a fast start as the Europeans won five of the first six matches to create an 11-11 tie. Included in those early results were McIlroy dispatching of Bradley despite his alarm issues, Justin Rose turning the tables on Phil Mickelson with a lengthy birdie on the 17th en route to a 1-up win and Poulter solidifying his status as Ryder Cup hero by beating Simpson to end the week undefeated. Garcia won his final two holes to snatch a full point from Jim Furyk to give the Euros their first lead, and with the score knotted at 13, all eyes turned to Martin Kaymer.
His match with Stricker reached the 18th hole where the German rolled in a 6-foot par putt to ensure the Euros enough points (14) to retain the Cup. The anchor match between Woods and Francesco Molinari produced the lone draw of the day, making the final margin 14 ½ to 13 ½.
The biggest takeaway was that the score from ‘99 had been settled in emphatic fashion. The outcome was an emotional validation for Olazabal, who credited as the team’s inspiration Seve Ballesteros, his friend and countryman who had succumbed to brain cancer the previous year. It was a crushing blow for Love, although he would get redemption four years later at Hazeltine in his second stint as captain.
The Medinah comeback was the most memorable highlight of a decade-plus run of dominance for the Europeans, as they won six out of seven matches between 2002-14. The hero from the weekend was Poulter, whose match-play antics have been haunting U.S. sides ever since.