Europeans excel as US stars falter under pressure

PHIL HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2012
Ryder Cup
Reuters
JUBILANT: The European Ryder Cup team after beating the US.

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OPINION: As one team rose to the occasion, the other sank under its weight.

And once again it was the team with the greater star power and depth that failed to measure up to the moment at the Ryder Cup.

Europe equalled the greatest comeback in the 85-year history of the Ryder Cup with their barely believable final-day performance in the singles, clawing their way back from 10-6 down.

But theirs was even more impressive than the great American Brookline comeback of 1999 as they did it in front of a hostile crowd who cheered every wayward shot from the Europeans.

It is finishes like this that have cemented the competition as the greatest in golf. The drama and intensity even outdo the four majors.

There is nothing else quite like it in the sport. Some may question this but it is clear that the pressure felt by the players is far greater than in majors because they are representing their country (or continent) and team-mates.

How else to explain Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of his generation, garnering just half a point from four matches, Steve Stricker, one of the best putters on tour, missing putt after putt, or the heroics of Ian Poulter.

The mad-eyed English clotheshorse is ranked 25th in the world, has hardly ever challenged in majors but put him in a Ryder Cup team and he transforms into Superman.

While Woods couldn't win a match, Poulter won all four of his. He has more illustrious team-mates but he was the catalyst behind the improbable victory.

He began their comeback on Saturday by grabbing an unlikely point with a birdie onslaught at the finish and then carried it into the singles, beating US Open champ Webb Simpson.

That win took his record to 12 wins and three losses in Ryder Cup competition, among the best ever. And remember there are no mugs in American Ryder Cup teams - it is the 12 best players in the United States.

Only Jim Furyk in this year's side is ranked lower than Poulter. Yet he has lost just three times and never in singles.

There was also an introduction to what may be the next great rivalry in golf with the intensity of Keegan Bradley versus the jaunty swagger of Rory McIlroy. The Irishman won this one.

Two of the veteran American players carried one-hole leads into 17 only to lose by one. But they were very different losses.

Furyk choked while Mickelson lost to some incredible putting from Justin Rose.

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The graciousness of Mickelson in what must have been a heartbreaking loss was at odds with the shameful behaviour of some of the hometown fans who were boorish in the extreme, living up to the ugly American tag.

There have even been accusations that one fan taunted Rose over the death of his father while others abused wives of European team members.

It is a pity because the competition was played in good spirit, which hasn't always been the case.

As well as Mickelson's applause for Rose, Sergio Garcia showed his sensitivity with no celebration after Furyk missed a simple putt on 18 to lose his match.

It seemed appropriate that Martin Kaymer had the final say. Twenty-one years ago at Kiawah it was a German (Bernhard Langer) who had the last putt and missed to lose the cup.

This time the only other German to play in it didn't miss to seal the victory in the Miracle at Medinah.

- Canterbury

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