MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - The glorious unpredictability of the Ryder Cup was unveiled in all its majesty on Sunday when Europe pulled off one of the most unexpected and dramatic comebacks seen on a golf course.
Against all expectations, the Europeans won eight of Sunday’s 12 concluding singles matches to overturn a four point deficit and defeat an American team that seemed destined to win.
The Ryder Cup, more than any other golf tournament, rarely disappoints because it tests the nerves as much as the skills of every player but rarely has it seen a day as captivating as Sunday at Medinah.
There is no prizemoney and no ranking points but the pressure can be overbearing. The conflicting emotions of winning and losing are heightened.
For the Americans, Sunday’s defeat was unpalatable.
“It was certainly a difficult loss,” said U.S. captain Davis Love III. “It’s never fun any way it happens. Today was certainly not what we expected.”
Tiger Woods only got half a point from his four matches this week while Bubba Watson, who won the Masters in a playoff in April, lost his singles match on Sunday, when the weight of expectation was heaviest.
So too did Webb Simpson, the reigning U.S. Open champion, and Keegan Bradley, last year’s PGA Championship winner, as well as four-times major winner Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker, who pocketed more than $10 million when he won the FedExCup playoffs earlier this month.
For others, the unique format of the Ryder Cup can be a source of inspiration. The Englishman Ian Poulter says the pressure-cooker atmosphere brings out the best in him.
He has never won a major but won all four of his matches at the Ryder Cup, making clutch putts when it really mattered, hugging and high-hiving his team mates like he’d scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
“It’s a passion I have, it’s a passion I’ve seen at the Ryder Cup for years and years as a kid growing up, and it’s something that comes from within,” Poulter said.
“I just love it. It’s something very, very special to be a part of.”
Belgian rookie Nicolas Colsaerts made eight birdies and an eagle to win a four-ball match on Friday while 43-year-old Scot Paul Lawrie won his singles match on Sunday in his first Ryder Cup appearance since 1999.
Players feel the pressure more in Ryder Cup because every shot they play impacts on their team mates, something that doesn’t happen in regular tour events.
“It is the most special and unique golf tournament we have, period,” said Rory McIlroy.
“There’s nothing better than celebrating a win with your teammates. We don’t get to do it very often, and you know, when we do, it’s just so nice to have these guys around and to celebrate it with them.”
The crowds are bigger and louder than normal tournaments. The polite claps and applause from the galleries give way to full-throated roars and football chants.
The pressure is relentless and escalates day by day, hole by hole. On Sunday, it was the last two holes of the three-day event that proved decisive.
The 17th hole, a tricky par three where players hit across the water, provided a great amphitheatre for the drama but the key moments all went Europe’s way.
Mickelson and Jim Furyk both lost their matches after heading to the 17th with the lead. Webb Simpson and Steve Stricker also lost after being all square on the 17th while Woods squared his match with Francesco Molinari after leading when he teed off at 18.
“What happened today will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup, it was a huge comeback,” said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.