MEDINAH, Ill. — The Ryder Cup didn’t end with the closing ceremony at Medinah.
In a tradition that began about the time Europe started winning with regularity, no Ryder Cup can be put to bed without second-guessing. It figures to last for at least a week, maybe until 2014 when the next one is played in Scotland.
Was it wise for U.S. captain Davis Love III to bench every player, particularly Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, for at least one match to keep them fresh for Sunday? Why did he put Tiger Woods in the 12th slot for singles? Does he regret his captain picks? Did it cost the Americans?
And was it really necessary for Justin Timberlake to read a poem during the opening ceremony?
Here’s what will be — should be — remembered about one of the greatest Ryder Cup competitions in its 85-year history.
Justin Rose made a 35-foot putt from the back of the 17th green.
It’s really that simple.
“That was one of the best feelings of my life to make that putt,” Rose said.
Martin Kaymer looked calm as ever when he holed a 6-foot par putt on the 18th that assured Europe of keeping that shiny gold trophy. Francesco Molinari won a half-point on a short par putt that Tiger Woods conceded for Europe to claim an outright win, 14 1/2-13 1/2.
This was not a Ryder Cup to contemplate failures. This was a Ryder Cup to celebrate success.
And no match — no birdie putt — was more significant than what Rose did on the 17th green. He was down one hole when his putt with plenty of pace disappeared into the cup to square the match. Rose made a 12-foot birdie on the 18th for a 1-up win over Mickelson, but odds are that Lefty wins that match if Rose doesn’t make the putt.
But he did, just like Justin Leonard on the 17th hole at Brookline when the Americans rallied from a four-point deficit.
In happier times Sunday, Love had said he thought Jason Dufner in the No. 9 slot was going to be the clincher for the Americans. If not for Rose winning his match, it could very well have come down to Dufner’s win over Peter Hanson.
So maybe Love had it right, and he lost out to a great putt.
“We had a lot of guys today that played well and just got beat,” Love said. “They got beat by some holed putt, chip-ins, some incredible shots, and some matches got flipped at the end on long putts and great saves by the other team. I have to congratulate them on the way they played. They played great.”
Ultimately, this Ryder Cup turned out the way everyone expected.
It featured the two strongest teams ever, all 24 players among the top 35 in the world ranking. Graeme McDowell was looking over the team rosters a few weeks out and said, “There’s a good buzz. I think it’s set up to be an awesome Ryder Cup. I really do.”
And it was.
The best Ryder Cup matches — really, the best golf tournaments — are those that are won and not lost. Kiawah Island, where Bernhard Langer missed a 6-foot par putt on the last hole, left too many people with a sick feeling. McDowell making a 15-foot birdie putt at Wales was great stuff.
European captain Mark James was a hero on Saturday night in Brookline for sticking with the same partnerships in building a 10-6 lead. He was vilified for sitting out three players until Sunday, all of whom lost. Even this year, Jose Maria Olazabal was taking his share of criticism for not playing Ian Poulter in fourballs on Friday, and for sending out Lee Westwood on Saturday morning after he didn’t show much game on the opening day.
Mickelson and Bradley won three matches by playing 15, 17 and 12 holes in a dominant display. Why not send them out? For one thing, Mickelson didn’t feel like he would have been effective. There’s a history of teams going four matches and running out of steam, such as Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik at Brookline. They went 3-0, fought for a halve in the fourth session, and neither made it past 15 holes on Sunday before losing.
Love was grilled Sunday evening about sitting them out until Mickelson stepped in.
“Hold on, Davis,” he said. “As far as playing Keegan and I, you need to hear something. Keegan and I knew going in that we were not playing in the afternoon, and we said on the first tee, ‘We are going to put everything we have into this one match, because we are not playing the afternoon.’
“And when we got to 10, I went to Davis and I said, ‘Listen, you’re seeing our best. You cannot put us in the afternoon, because we emotionally and mentally are not prepared for it. And I know you’re going to get pressure, because we’re playing so good.’ So you cannot put that on him. If anything, it was me.”
They both lost their singles matches, Mickelson to a clutch performance by Rose, Bradley to Rory McIlroy, the best player in the world.
The one area golf is as fickle in the Ryder Cup as any other tournament is the inability to predict who’s going to play well. Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker were the hottest players in September. Johnson went 3-0 in the Ryder Cup, Snedeker was 1-2. Zach Johnson had not been in the top 10 since July, and the only reason he didn’t win every match was because Poulter ran off five straight birdies late Saturday afternoon.
If there was room to second-guess anything, it was the ending.
The sole purpose of the Ryder Cup is to go home with the trophy, and Europe did that when Kaymer beat Steve Stricker to give Europe 14 points. As the defending champion, that’s all it needed. There was chaos around the 18th green, and Woods had a 1-up lead. Molinari thought about conceding the match until he saw Olazabal.
“They told me, ‘It’s not the same, winning or halving, so get focused and do your best.’ And that’s what I did,” he said.
With singing and swaying all around them, Woods chipped to 3 1/2 feet and missed the putt. He gave Molinari a putt of about the same length, and Europe won outright.
“It’s a tough spot to be in, because you’ve got to finish out the match, even though it’s useless because our team didn’t get the cup and they did,” Woods said. “So 18 was just, ‘Hey, get this over with.’ Congratulations to the European team. They played fantastic today, and they deserve the cup.”