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Fire and Ice: Pavin and Monty's disparate personalities affected the Ryder Cup result

Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin, 2010 Ryder Cup
Robert Beck/SI
TYPECASTING: Montgomerie (left) could be charming, dismissive and combative all in the space of 10 minutes, while Pavin mostly came off as impassive, terse and secretive.

Except that you don't decide matters of war and peace or orchestrate bank bailouts, being a Ryder Cup captain is pretty much like being president of the United States or prime minister of Great Britain. Some big job like that. By day, you glad-hand corporate chieftains, give speeches, sip ginger ale from fluted glasses. Then comes the real work, late at night, huddled with your assistant captains. You plot, you fill out mock lineup cards, you do your strategery. Before you know it, the single most intense week of your life is over and it's not coming back.

Colin Montgomerie, the European Ryder Cup captain, played the Tony Blair role in last week's matches at Celtic Manor, in squishy Wales. You know: the grandiose talking, the over­thinking, the wildly expressive face. (If you want to see some classic Tony Blair, check out Charlie Rose's September interview with the former British prime minister.) Montgomerie is inscrutable. He can be charming, dismissive and combative in the space of 10 minutes. Whatever his mood, though, he's a plus-4 talker.

After the longest and most amazing Saturday in Ryder Cup history, Montgomerie opened an evening press conference with a 778-word monologue about walkie-talkie battery capacity, Jose Maria Olazabal's rheumatoid arthritis, player passion and the redesign for the large on-course electronic scoreboards he ordered for Sunday's play. He exhausted himself.

And then there was the captain of Team USA, as Corey Pavin liked to call his club. He brought to mind George W. Bush (who was a member of Ben Crenshaw's kitchen cabinet at the 1999 Ryder Cup). Pavin, like 43, came off as impassive, fit, terse, secretive. Whenever he spoke, his head, impressively, remained amazingly still. Asked about the U.S. team room, Pavin said, "We have the room decorated a certain way for the team, but that's private."

Pavin's team room, you eventually learned, was no man cave, as the Hal Sutton team room was in 2004. It was not a place for self-revelation, as the Crenshaw team room was in Boston. It was more like a homey living room. The players' parents were invited in. Grandparents, in the case of 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, were invited in. Pavin was looking for the '79 Pittsburgh Pirates vibe. We are family.

The Corey Pavin who drove a four-seat buggy up and down a Welsh valley last week was not the Corey Pavin you might remember from the '91 Ryder Cup, the War by the Shore. That's when Bulldog, his nickname then, wore a camouflage cap to honor the American troops in the first gulf war. He won his one major, the '95 U.S. Open, with a gunslinger's mustache. He was a superb golfer and a lone wolf. He had the dismissive thing down cold.

Over the past decade Pavin lost the 'stache and the nickname, and moved himself off golf's edgy shoulder and into the safety of the middle. Ringo crossing Abbey Road. From there he could lobby for a job previously held by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus years ago, and Sutton and Tom Lehman more recently.

Last week Pavin brought an Air Force major, Dan Rooney, an F-16 fighter pilot, in to talk to the team. The move raised many sets of those imposing British eyebrows. One newspaper headline read Golf War. But Pavin had it all figured out. "I want these guys to be accountable to each other and have each other's backs, that's what happens in the military," the captain said, explaining his invitation to Major Rooney. Very measured, very reasonable. Back in the day he would have said, "I want these guys to kick ass and take no prisoners." "I've mellowed" has been a mantra of Pavin interviews for months now. His ability to stay on message last week was right out of the Karl Rove playbook. And this was the message: "There's not much to say. These guys know what they need to do." If he said that once, and he did, he said it four or five times.

His counterpart was all over the place. MON-tay, in the singsong Welsh accent, was stirring, sensible, funny and a little nutty. Explaining the coupling of Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington, a rookie-veteran better-ball team, Montgomerie said, "I think that's why that pairing was put together. Well, I know it was. [Beat.] Because I did it." Privately and publicly he made repeated, emotional references to Seve Ballesteros, patron saint of European golf. He ordered team waterproofs that actually repelled water.

Montgomerie allowed his players to tweet, but Pavin did not. There were withdrawal symptoms, surely, for Stewart Cink's 1.2 million followers. The English golfer Ian Poulter, who has 1.05 million followers of his own, posted this early one morning: "Bubba Watson throwing USA badges out from there [sic] balcony as we are all signing. He can't tweet so I will."

The European captain was intent on winning the various media battles, modern and otherwise. He said last week there was "method to everything I do," including his press sessions. Win over the press, you win over the republic, in this case the 45,000 Ryder Cup spectators at Celtic Manor, some of them overserved, many of them caked in mud. Monty, like other captains before him, referred to the spectators as "our 13th man."

By taking over every time there was a microphone in front of him, Montgomerie deflected attention from his players and their various issues, like Harrington and his dull play this year, Lee Westwood and his recovery from a torn calf muscle, and Rory McIlory and his sometimes balky putting. Montgomerie welcomed the old idea that players win Ryder Cups and captains lose them. He was the paternalistic captain, in the Seve tradition, constantly telling his 12 players how good they were, running highlight reels of their triumphs in the team room, cajoling those he found lacking in passion (McIlory and fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell at one point, the spectators at another). He took it upon himself to turn things around. Aloof he was not.

The Pavin captaincy took its cues from Tom Watson, for whom Pavin played in '93, the last time a U.S. Ryder Cup team won a road game. Watson's style was macho and manly and somewhat distant. He treated his players as adults. Pavin followed suit. "A good piece of advice that Tom gave me was to just let them go out and play in practice," Pavin said before the first shot was hit in anger. By the end of the week he was dropping the last two words. Veteran Ryder Cuppers like that, being treated as a grown-up. They respect it. Charm, warmth, the ability to schmooze, those are not Pavin's strong suits. A painful sight was watching him try to hug Mike Cowan, Jim Furyk's caddie, on Saturday afternoon, after Furyk and Fowler managed a halve with Martin Kaymer and Westwood. Fluff, a Mainer, is not really a hug guy.

When you get right down to it, the Ryder Cup captain Pavin most resembled was Bernhard Langer, who led the European team to a lopsided win over Sutton's U.S. team at Oakland Hills in '04. Langer took all the histrionics out of Ryder Cup play. His team was ruthless, efficient, excellent and boring. Through Sunday night Pavin's team, sadly, was just boring. (In Monday's singles the Americans were a thrill ride.) O.K., Jeff Overton, the screaming Hoosier, was never boring. But you get the idea.

It's easy to say that the Ryder Cup captaincy is overstated, but in actual fact you can't overstate it. Did Norman Dale put his stamp on the Hickory High basketball team in Hoosiers? It's about like that. When pros play for free and for pride, they're kids again. With four captain's picks, the U.S. captain creates a team in his own image, and for three of his picks Pavin went for family men with reliable putting strokes: Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Fowler, who brought his parents, grandparents and 18-year-old girlfriend.

For his fourth pick, Pavin chose Tiger Woods, the most unmarried man in America. He came to Celtic Manor without a date and without his mother. He arrived playing indifferently, played poorly when paired with Steve Stricker three times last week and, in the team hotel, was distant from his teammates for much of the week. (But he was great on his own in Monday's singles.) Paul Azinger won without Woods, recovering from knee surgery, two years ago. Had Pavin wanted to do something truly bold — beyond the retro flared pants and lavender cardigans — he would have left Woods at home. But Pavin couldn't do it.

For Monday's singles play, Montgomerie and Pavin made all the same moves. Hot players up front, tried and true in the middle, closers at the end. Men who spend their lives in golf tend to think the same way. They won't act the same way, but they think the same way. Pavin filled out his card and let his players do their thing, just as he had done on Friday and Saturday and Sunday. It was a dignified try and an awesome effort. At the closing ceremonies you could finally see Pavin's heart. Referring to his 12 golfers, he said, "It was an honor and a privilege to call them teammates." He was not the imperial captain, nothing like it. The effort of this 13-man team was awesome. It just wasn't enough.

And now, like Tom Lehman and Hal Sutton and Curtis Strange before him, Pavin will make his quiet, defeated return to tournament golf, to the Champions tour, in his case, which has all the intensity of an afternoon nap. He didn't really inspire his team. He didn't see that as part of his job. In the end his players made it close on talent alone, but in Ryder Cup play talent's not enough. That was Colin Montgomerie's point last week. Maybe Corey Pavin, the golfer, can still inspire himself. His chance to be Norman Dale has come and gone.

Letter to the U.S. Ryder Cup team

Hunter Mahan, Closing Ceremony, 2010 Ryder Cup
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. team was noticeably distraught at the Ryder Cup closing ceremonies on Monday.

LONDON — Dear U.S. Ryder Cup team:
This will probably be intercepted by Colin Montgomerie before it reaches your hands, but I thought I should write before I board my 1 p.m. flight from the left side of the road to the right, sound-as-a-poundto Two-Buck Chuck, Luke Donald to McDonald's.

It's been a long trip. If I'm exhausted and I didn't hit a shot, you guys must need 12 IVs. First of all, thanks for putting up a fight, making the 2010 Ryder Cup the most arresting tournament of the year, majors included. You guys saved the Cup from being remembered only for loathsome rain, mad rescheduling and utterly destroyed footwear.

(I know I'm supposed to remain impartial and unmoved, but the hell with that.)

Here's my mea culpa:

I said you had no chance of winning this Ryder Cup because I thought session three, when you won a half point out of six, must have felt like getting hit in the face with a salmon. And maybe it did. But I was wrong, and I've never been so glad for it.

Hunter Mahan, shake it off. You weren't feeling it with the putter. It happens. The fact that you lost the anchor match to Graeme McDowell, giving Europe its 14½-13½ victory, had nothing to do with nerves on 17, or even G-Mac's birdie on 16.

Just as you guys lost the Cup in the third session, you lost your match by not making a single birdie on the first 14 holes. So be it. Good for you for refusing to give up and making that birdie on 15 to keep us in our seats, with our cardiologists on speed dial.

About that weak tee shot and stubbed chip on 17. Think about this: Everybody's been there. Jack. Tiger. Rory. It's human. McDowell said he was so nervous he could hardly take the club back. Hunter, if time and space had conspired differently, and your ball had somehow dropped a foot from the pin on 17, it might easily have been the Euro hero who cracked and felt like his heart got run over by a double-decker bus.

We all know every match counts the same, all 28 of them. Trying to ID that half point you guys didn't get is like trying to unscramble an omelet.

Was it Stewart Cink whiffing a tiny birdie putt on 17? Phil Mickelson starting 0-3? Jim Furyk not quite finishing his comeback? Dustin Johnson putting with oven mitts and a rag mop for three days? Colonel Mustard in the kitchen with a leaky golf bag?

It doesn't matter.

Do you guys have any idea how much you just upped the ante for Medinah 2012? The Ryder Cup is only as good as it is competitive, and you guys have come a long way from Oakland Hills 2004, a Euro rout and the saddest, most lifeless event I've ever covered.

The only thing I remember with any fondness whatsoever was some wise guy in the crowd telling Michael Jordan that smoking cigars would stunt his growth. (True story: Miguel Angel Jimenez used to be 6-foot-9 power forward for the Spanish national team.)

Rickie Fowler, wow. No one survives being 4 down with six holes remaining, and especially not a 21-year-old rookie who hasn't won on Tour and at first glance still looks more like the cover of Tiger Beat than a guy who may some day beat Tiger.

If McDowell deserves a statue at Celtic Manor, Rickie, you ought to get a building named after you, or perhaps something a little more region-specific, like the Severn Bridge or a cloud formation. At the least you ought to get a nice Christmas card from Sir Terry Matthews. Those birdies on 17 and 18 sent a tremor across the course and transformed Sir Terry's big Welsh idea from a swampy mess into an instant classic.

Stewart, your passionate defense of Hunter in the U.S. team presser was the most eloquent, poignant thing anyone said all week.

Phil, job well done to you as well. Okay, maybe not the first three days, but the last one, when you dusted Peter Hanson and gave Hunter a nice assist in the media tent; it left a good impression. It was nice to see you finally playing like Phil Mickelson again, and to see Amy feeling well enough to make the trip over.

And while we're on the subject, Tiger, welcome back. Looks like all those swing changes you've been working on with Sean Foley are working, no? I shudder to think what this means for 2011. So do the 23 other guys in uniforms at Celtic, most likely.

Jeff Overton — I get it now. I understand how you qualified for this team. What I don't understand is how you haven't won yet with that putting stroke. You were a real find for the U.S. team and if I'm Davis Love III, I'm already penciling you in for 2012.

Well, I've got to cut this short because my flight is about to board. Buck-up. Hang in there. And remember: Sulking stunts your growth.

Boom, baby,
Cameron

Hot this week? Monty, G-Mac, Bad Hair. Not Hot? Pavin, Paddy and Phil

Colin Montgomerie, Tuesday
Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Colin Montgomerie called the Europeans' triumph at Celtic Manor, "the greatest moment of my golfing career."

Click here to submit a question for Alan's next mailbag.

HOT
1. Monty. Captain Charisma dwarfed his diminutive American counterpart, charming the press, firing up the crowds and, most importantly, morphing into a latter-day Churchill in the team room with stirring oratory and a palpable we-have-nothing-to-fear vibe. I wish I could hate Monty, but it's just not possible. Especially today.

2. G-Mac. A stud in team play and then a hero in the end, McDowell took on the suffocating pressure with courageous shot-making. An Open at Pebble and now the man of the match at the Ryder Cup? Not a bad few months!

3. Mild-mannered Cheesehead. Steve Stricker carried Tiger to two wins and then, in one of the week's most macho performances, led off the singles by beating the world's best player in an absolute thriller. We knew Stricks was good, but it was a blast to see him turn into a cold-blooded killer.

4. Jeff Overton. He was the breakout personality of the Cup. Where can I get my "Boom, baby!" t-shirt?

5. Bad hair. Both Rory and Rickie struggled at times but showed massive cojones in fighting back to steal halves in their singles matches. Special shout-out to Fowler's incredible four-birdie finish. There are very, very few players in the world who could have made that putt on 18. I am now, at long last, a believer.

NOT
1. Corey Pavin. Where to begin? He was Nixonian with the press: paranoid, awkward and smug. On the golf course the one-time Bulldog displayed zero passion; he may have been trying to radiate calm but instead appeared overwhelmed. He was no better in the team room. One insider described him as, "very even-keeled. Maybe a little too even-keeled." The raingear didn't repel rain, the lilac cardigans didn't fit, and his opening and closing speeches induced narcolepsy. Finally, he put Mahan, a momentum player who's not known for battling it out when things go bad, in the anchor match. (I'd much rather have had the noted scrapper Zach Johnson, who went off 11th.) Pavin enjoyed only one bit of good luck: the singles rally changed the narrative of the Cup and prevented him from getting absolutely B-B-Q'ed by the golf world.

2. Jim Furyk. The putative team leader was trusted with the third spot in singles but blunted the Americans' early surge with an ugly loss that included making a mess of the 18th hole. Furyk is always celebrated as a tough competitor, but his 0-2-1 misadventure in Wales drops his Ryder record to a desultory 8-15-4.

3. Phil. His strong play in singles only highlighted how weak he had been as a partner, going 0-3. Phil the Thrill was once among the Americans' most dynamic Ryder Cuppers, with an 8-5-3 record in his first four appearances. In the four since, he's a this-must-be-a-misprint 3-12-3. Why has the U.S. lost six of the last eight Ryder Cups? Mickelson and Furyk deserve much of the blame.

4. Paddy. Capt. Montgomerie made a stirring case for Harrington's behind-the-scenes leadership — along the way justifying a controversial captain's pick — and the likeable Irishman did somehow put two points on the board, but his play alternated between shaky and atrocious. Have we witnessed the end of the Paddy era?

5. Hunter. It was a big ask to beat the reigning U.S. Open champ as he was being propelled by a giddy crowd and the ghost of Seve, but Mahan, ordinarily one of golf's most explosive players, managed only one birdie in 17 holes. Hopefully this disappointment steels him to achieve his considerable potential. We'll see.

PGA Tour Confidential: Europe wins the 2010 Ryder Cup

Graeme McDowell, 2010 Ryder Cup
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell scored the winning point for Europe.

Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

NAME YOUR U.S. MULLIGAN
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: With apologies to SI's Peter King, welcome to Monday Afternoon Quarterback, Ryder Cup style. We've proven that we can bring our A game when it comes to second-guessing, so let's get right to it. It's easy to beat up Hunter Mahan for the way he played the 17th, but winning the final two holes against a player the caliber of Graeme McDowell was a tall task. As Phil Mickelson said, "We could look anywhere in those 28 matches to find that half-point." So find it for me. Name the match, the hole, the approach shot, the putt, whatever, that the Americans would like to have a mulligan on.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Cink had a few down the stretch. Definitely at 17. If he pulls out that match, which McIlroy seemed to be trying to lose on 18, it's all different. That's the first one that jumps out at me.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Stewart Cink, 17th hole, four-foot birdie putt. He missed it, and halved his match with McIlroy.

David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Cink's missed putt on 18 that swapped a half-point for a full point against Rory McIlroy, especially after Rory dumped his approach to 18 in the bunker, hurt.

Morfit: On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that Cink was the only American player who went undefeated at 1-0-3, scoring 2.5 points. He is a very good Ryder Cupper.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Good point, Cam. Remember how everyone criticized Pavin for making Cink a captain's pick? Experience counts.

Dusek: Jeff Overton didn't have any experience coming into this Ryder Cup and he was great. Fowler also showed a lot of guts. I think players are either good in the Ryder Cup environment (Ian Poulter) or they aren't (Phil Mickelson).

Morfit: Overton was a revelation. I'll never forget that reaction to his hole-out. "Boom, baby!" And it was nice to see him rout Fisher, who it must be said didn't play particularly well.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: The Molinaris stole a big half point from Kuchar and Cink in that four-ball match. Also, any one of Phil's matches.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It was the spanking that the U.S. Team took on Sunday. They lost all but half a point. That was the deciding day.

Gorant: Farrell is right. Dropping five-and-a-half out of six points in the third session was a total team failure that turned the entire event. Taking it a step further, you could say that it was won on Saturday, since the Euros jumped to big leads in almost every match before play was suspended.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil's 0-3 start was my biggest surprise. I figured he and Dustin would be all but invulnerable.

Morfit: I give a lot of credit to Phil and Dustin for bouncing back with singles wins. And while I'm at it, I'd like to say hi to U.S. assistant captain Paul Goydos, a devout PGA Tour Confidential reader who just gave me grief for saying the U.S. had absolutely no shot. Hi, Paul!

Dusek: After getting waxed on Sunday in Foursomes, I had a feeling that Tiger and Stricker were going to come out swinging in singles. Both of their wins were impressive. And it seems like Mickelson — who was none too happy with Johnny Miller about some of his on-air comments — had a little extra fire on Monday.

Gorant: I think Fowler's performance will stand out, too.

Morfit: Jim Furyk stuck a wedge to four feet on 18 to steal a half point when he was playing with Rickie Fowler in the second session, but, needing to duplicate the feat against Luke Donald on Monday, he dumped his wedge in the right bunker.

Dusek: If Dustin Johnson makes any number of putts on Friday or Saturday you could argue that he makes a positive impact on the overall match. What American fans wanted, what they expected, is what they saw when he crushed Martin Kaymer (who basically rolled over).

Godich: The half-point that the Molinari brothers stole in the last match on the 18th hole on Saturday was huge as well. Huge psychological difference being two points down instead of three.

Hack: More than any shot, I'll remember how shattered Hunter Mahan was during his presser. He could hardly speak. Felt for him.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Like Gary said in his column, that chip was a Hail Mary anyway. He didn't even get the pass past the line of scrimmage, but his chances of scoring there were very slim. Hopefully he can take some solace in that.

Dusek: I thought it was wonderful how Mickelson swooped in to protect Mahan, who was overcome with emotion. And Cink's comments of support were also great to hear. I'm not sure if only 10% of the players on Tour would mean it if they said they'd want to be in Mahan's position, but the fact that everyone circled the wagons around Mahan was good to see.

Evans: Mahan is being too hard on himself. I think he's more embarrassed about that flubbed chip shot than he is that he got beaten by the U.S. Open winner who played well all day and made a bunch of putts.

THE FUTURE OF THE U.S. TEAM

Godich: And what does this Ryder Cup portend for the U.S.?

Hanger: I think the future is bright for the U.S. That was great experience for our rookies, who played very well. Get a healthy Anthony Kim back in the mix, and they could be a force.

Gorant: Chicago in October is no guarantee for nice weather either. But there will be big crowds, lots of chanting and Davis Love with the ear piece and golf cart. Hard to say who'll be playing well then, but it's possible to see Phil and Tiger getting sentimental about the thing as they move into the back halves of their careers. U.S. Wins 16-12. Write it down.

Herre: I was impressed by a couple of the young guys on the U.S. Team — Fowler and Overton. We're going to need to find a few more of them, as we're getting kind of old.

Reiterman: Both teams have plenty to be excited about. Europe won without Casey, Rose, Karlsson, Stenson and Quiros to name a few. U.S. can counter with Kim, J.B., O'Hair, Glover, Watney and maybe another run from Justin Leonard.

Dusek: I think the United States is in better shape now than we gave it credit for a few weeks ago. Fowler, Kim, Dustin Johnson, Overton, the Chicago crowd ... there's reason for optimism at Medinah.

Evans: Of course there is reason for optimism. The U.S has more than enough good players to field a competitive team for the next five Ryder Cups.

ANOTHER ANCHOR?

Godich: It's no secret that the short game isn't Hunter Mahan's strength. He's 118th on the PGA Tour in putting and 91st in scrambling. Who might have been better suited to slot there?

Morfit: Tiger Woods. Although there was absolutely no way to have known he would do what he did. Seven birdies and an eagle? Uh, that'll do it.

Herre: Maybe Phil would have been a good choice to go last.

Dusek: Monty not only had the luxury of front-loading with Westwood, Donald and McIlroy, but he could save an ace for the final spot because he had the lead. I'm not sure Pavin had that luxury. Until today, Phil hadn't shown anything.

Godich: Great point, Dave. I would've considered Furyk, but he didn't exactly exude confidence with the way he played in his first two sessions.

Reiterman: Maybe Zach Johnson would have been a better choice, but Pavin didn't have too many options. That's what's hard about coming from behind. You need the best guys out there early to give you any chance for a rally.

Gorant: The anchor position is tough, because if you put Tiger or Phil back there and the Cup is decided before their match concludes, everyone says, "How could you go down with your best bullets still in the chamber?" No easy answer.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I've always thought you should anchor with a player whose career can't be defined by a Ryder Cup failure — i.e., a multiple major-championship winner or a previous Ryder Cup star. That would be someone like Mickelson or Harrington or Westwood, even if they're not on top of their games. Put the load on somebody who can handle it.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: You need a Rivera in the closing spot (and the opening spot). Experienced and clutch.

Hack: But that's the exactly point. The U.S. didn't have a Rivera.

Dusek: And Monty had more Riveras at his disposal than Pavin did. You want to put Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, in the 12-spot, fine. But do I have more faith in Zach winning against Graeme McDowell? Not really.

WHO REALLY WANTS THE PRESSURE?

Godich: Moving on, Stewart Cink said that every player talks about wanting to be in the anchor position, in Hunter Mahan's shoes, with the chance to win the Ryder Cup, but that only a few guys really mean it. Agree?

Gorant: I think so. It's like saying "we really wanted to win for our captain" and saying that the fans were really knowledgeable and fair. You say it because it's one of those things that you're supposed to say, it's expected, but it doesn't mean you really believe it.

Hanger: I think the guy who truly wants to have the last shot to win the Cup, and wouldn't rather quietly knock off the 10th or 11th point on the way to a team victory, is rarer than rare. That's Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or Joe Montana or Tiger Woods. Ain't many people who would truly ask for that given the choice. Not to say many couldn't pull off the shot, but who'd volunteer?

Lipsey: By trying to help his pal, Cink added fuel to the fire for Mahan, adding more spotlight to the gaffe. The fact is, the Cup was down to one match and Mahan choked with the flubbed chip. Had he holed the chip, maybe the U.S. would've won and everybody would be calling Mahan a hero. In the Super Bowl, if somebody drops a pass in the last minute to lose the game, they look at that pass as the cause, not what happened for the previous 59 minutes.

Hanger: If he'd have holed his chip, it would have been Larry Mize chipping in to win the Masters. Missing as bad as he did showed nerves, no question, but it would have been a miracle.

Godich: I have a bigger problem with Mahan's tee shot. He's got to put the ball on the green, give himself a chance to make birdie. When he came up short, the match was essentially over.

Gorant: Yep, once he came up short you knew he was cooked. His strength is iron play, and if he was too tight to hit a solid one off the tee, he had no chance on the chip.

Hack: Agree with the sentiment, but not the percentage. Ten percent seems a little low for a professional golfer. But, then again, maybe he knows something we don't.

Herre: Agree. That's why I think Mickelson might have been a good choice to go last — he would've embraced and relished the opportunity.

Hanger: Ok, I hate it when people make war analogies in sports, but it's a little like charging onto the beach out of that landing craft in the No. 1 position. Most would rather be in the middle of the pack and get the glory later. Most times, the guy in front didn't choose to be there. It just worked out that way.

CAPTAIN PAVIN: FIT FOR DUTY?

Godich: What do we think about the job of U.S. captain Corey Pavin, and how much influence do we think captains really have on the outcome of the Ryder Cup?

Hanger: You can't put this on the captains, win or lose. No matter who they paired or when they put them off, you can find nits to pick. Twenty-eight matches, thousands of shots, and the U.S. lost by a point to a team that everyone thought was a massive favorite. That sounds like good coaching to me.

Morfit: I'd go with a whole lot of actual shots before I looked at Pavin.

Lipsey: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. The Americans lost. The captain led a losing team.

Herre: In the final analysis, this Ryder Cup will be remembered for two things: Sunday's big day by the Euros and Monty out-captaining Corey Pavin. As they say, players win the Ryder Cup and captains lose it.

Hanger: They should stop saying that. Also, I think American fans will remember it for the comeback that nearly was.

Garrity: I agree with Jim's point about players winning the Ryder Cup, but not the part about captains losing it. If you believe the latter, it means that Corey is a far better captain than Monty on weekdays, but Colin is unbeatable on weekends. The big shifts in momentum support my long-held contention that the captains are not the story.

Herre: But the captain always gets blamed for the loss, with the possible exception of 1991, when everyone blamed Bernhard Langer.

Hanger: But that doesn't mean they should get blamed.

Garrity: The fact that the captain always gets blamed for the loss actually supports my position that it's just knee-jerk scapegoating. The losing captain is ALWAYS portrayed as a cluck, the winning captain is ALWAYS hailed as a genius. (Ian Woosnam?!!) When both captains are brilliant or when both captains suck, you still end up with one "fearless leader" and one dope.

Herre: Goes with the territory, and they know it.

Hanger: Jim's right that they know it, and that it's inevitable. I'm just saying it's not right.

Dusek: Then for a U.S. captain, what's the allure of the job? If you win, it's because the players execute well. If you lose, then you were a bad captain.

Herre: Good question, David. I guess because it's such a small fraternity. You always hear how when the past captains get together, the RC is all they talk about. It has to be a truly unique experience.

Hack: The allure is the status and the competition. They have gray hair. Their best playing days are behind them. It's a feather. Or a dagger.

Gorant: As I recall, Azinger managed to make the '08 win all about himself. Still riding it, too.

Dusek: Fair enough ... but I still think it's the horses in the race, not the jockey.

Morfit: That does it, I'm blaming Bernhard Langer for today's loss by the U.S.

Evans: Pavin did a good job. He was under a lot of pressure after Zinger's performance in '08 to be a commanding leader with great tactical skills. And it's not like Monty was Patton. He just let his guys play.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: If Monty was Patton, we'd all be speaking German. Seriously, Monty was a good captain but so was Pavin. His captain's picks played well and his players showed a lot of resiliency. Even his Overton/Bubba gamble paid off.

Hack: The Ryder Cup captain is the least consequential "coach" in sports. He doesn't call for a squeeze bunt or tell his players to play man-to-man or zone or nickel or dime. Monty didn't help Graeme make that putt on 16 anymore than Corey caused Hunter to flub that chip on 17. At the end of the day, it's about the players and the putts.

Dusek: Athletes who execute well make their coaches look brilliant.

Gorant: I think with the format change, the captains played a smaller role than ever. After the first session, there wasn't much to it. Other than, you know, buying rain gear that was actually waterproof.

Morfit: Even the rain gear story was stupid and overblown. It just showed what an inferiority complex the U.S. has developed over the last 15 years.

Herre: The U.S. should feel inferior. One win in Europe in almost 30 years? C'mon.

Morfit: One more thought on Pavin. We have absolutely no idea what he was like in the team room. He has a very odd relationship with the press, once bringing his own tape recorder to an interview, which might be one reason why he turned into robo-captain on the dais.

Dusek: Cameron makes a good point. Pavin was stern in front of the cameras all week, but we've got no idea what he was like in the team room. And if he doesn't present himself as genuine (whatever that is) in front of the team, they won't accept his message as well. Pavin had to be Pavin just like Monty had to be Monty. And since Colin is more quotable, he won the media battle.

Lipsey: The Euros all said how badly they wanted to win for Monty. He rallied them in the months leading up to Wales and during the event. Say what you want about Monty and Ryder Cup captains, but Monty had his charges fired up.

Hanger: It's a chicken-or-egg argument, Rick. Were they fired up because they cleaned house Saturday evening and Sunday, or did they clean house because they were fired up? Sure, I think Monty was great and inspirational, but I think Pavin inspired a lot of loyalty in his troops as well.

Garrity: If it's a chicken-or-egg argument, I choose chicken. You don't win because you're more fired up than your opponent. You simply look more passionate because you get to pump your arm like crazy and bare your teeth when your chip shot rattles in.

Gorant: Yeah, and they wanted to win for Seve, and for Sergio and for a million other "reasons." That "we wanted it for our captain" blather is mostly lip service.

THE NEXT CAPTAINS

Godich: Since the captains were such a hot topic, who leads the two teams at Medinah in 2012?

Hanger: I want Jimenez as the Euros' playing captain.

Lipsey: Davis Love has to be the favorite to be captain.

Reiterman: Love for the U.S., Clarke or Olazabal for Europe.

Lipsey: Clarke. Ollie is too reserved, uncomfortable in the public eye and with the media. SI once sent a writer to Ollie's home in Spain, and he refused to open his front door.

Godich: Ollie would do it in a heartbeat.

Hanger: Maybe we could get someone totally unqualified for both captains' jobs so we could once and for all figure out if the captains matter. I'm thinking John Daly for the U.S.

Herre: Charlie, are you sleep-deprived?

Hanger: Little bit.

Lipsey: Daly does have two majors, twice as many as Pavin

Evans: Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers overwhelmingly pick Davis Love III for the U.S. Job. Olazabal has to be the guy for the Europeans. His playing days are done.

Herre: I'd take Zinger in a heartbeat but think the PGA will probably go with Love.

Reiterman: I know it won't happen, but I would love to see Zinger and Monty go at it for the next two or three Ryder Cups.

Dusek: Love and Olazabal makes a lot of sense. It just doesn't seem like Mark O'Meara is going to get a captaincy and I think the Europeans would be wise to save Darren Clarke for their next home match.

Stirring American comeback will be remembered despite Ryder Cup loss

Rickie Fowler and Corey Pavin, 2010 Ryder Cup Monday
Robert Beck/SI
Rickie Fowler's gutsy half a point was one of the many amazing feats the Americans pulled off for captain Corey Pavin.

NEWPORT, Wales — There's no word for a miracle that wasn't.

In 1999, the American Ryder Cup team had the Miracle at Brookline, the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. On Monday, the U.S. had its second greatest comeback but came up excruciatingly short. Do we call it the Near-Miracle of Wales? Or do we just call it a defeat?

Truly, it was a miracle of a rally even though Europe held on to win, 14 ½-13½. But for now we can look back at the small wonders the Americans pulled off.

Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, who hadn't broken an egg between them in three previous matches, won handily.

Tiger Woods broke loose on his last seven holes with five birdies and a par-4 eagle. He looked just like a guy we remember named Tiger Woods.

Steve Stricker went up against Europe's best, Lee Westwood, in the opening singles match and took him down. It was a must-win situation for the U.S. and Stricker slayed the giant. Wisconsin 1, England 0.

Rickie Fowler came from 4 down on the final nine and birdied the final four holes, including unbelievably clutch putts on the 17th and 18th, to earn a dramatic halve that gave the United States a last chance to retain the Cup. Anybody still want to second-guess adding Fowler to the team as a wild-card pick? He made two clutch putts on the 18th during the week to save two half-points. You know those experts who prematurely ordained Fowler a great player? They were right. He's definitely got "it."

Hunter Mahan awakened, despite his flubbed chip on No. 17. With the entire Ryder Cup outcome down to him, he made birdie at the 15th hole to get back in the deciding match against Graeme McDowell. He was just 1 down with three to play before McDowell's dramatic putt on No. 16. It was Mahan's only birdie of the day, but he pushed McDowell to the limit before stumbling.

• An American team that seemed lifeless in Sunday's unique six-match session, the session that cost them the Cup when the Euros won five matches and halved the other, made the charge of a lifetime in the Ryder Cup's first Monday finale. After that Black Sunday, it seemed likely the Americans would fade and go home on the short end of a blowout.

Instead, something amazing happened, even if it didn't come with a trophy and a super-sized bottle of champagne. The United States almost won this Ryder Cup.

"There were a lot of points out there today when I thought, 'We're not going to win this,' " Westwood said later during the wild celebration. "It was incredible. You never see things like what happened at the 17th green (after McDowell clinched the Cup). It's one of those Ryder Cups that had everything."

Vice captain Darren Clarke added, "It could've gone either way, it really could. The U.S. played fantastic. The Americans just came out too strong. They did it in Brookline on Sunday and they did it again today. Fortunately, we were able to pull through."

This loss is not going to be a black mark against American golf, it's going to be celebrated for the effort the U.S. gave. When captain Corey Pavin spoke with the media after the disastrous Sunday session, he dropped all the old bromides about how proud he was of his players and how hard they tried. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But in the end his team proved its mettle and will be remembered not for its third-round wipeout but for its pedal-to-the-medal fightback.

There will not be a lasting stigma on Mahan for that stubbed chip on the 17th hole. Chipping, his peers know, is his Achilles heel. The Cup was riding on Bernhard Langer's putt at Kiawah Island in 1991. In Mahan's case, he was throwing a Hail Mary pass.

After McDowell holed a slick downhill birdie putt to go 2 up at the 16th, Mahan had to win the 17th and the 18th. The odds were against him. McDowell is the U.S. Open champion, had the home crowd and was solid as Stonehenge all week. Once McDowell's tee shot reached the fringe on the 17th, Mahan had to birdie the long, downhill par 3. Mahan made poor contact and came up 10 yards short and then hit a lousy chip. His lengthy par putt from off the green came close, but it had to go in. He didn't lose the Ryder Cup; he just couldn't prevent McDowell from winning it.

That explanation works for the team, too.

The temptation with a close loss is to armchair quarterback all of the matches. It's easy to find another half point somewhere in every session — too easy. But it boils down to this: When you have three team sessions in match play, you can't get essentially shut out in one of them.

And remember, the opponents were pretty darn good.

The Europeans were favored heavily, by bookies and journalists. One British writer took a pre-tournament poll. Of 31 writers who filled out a slip, 28 of them picked Europe to win. The Europeans were thought to be the much better team. The Americans proved they're just as good.

For American fans, this should be easier to take than any other American loss of the past 15 years. The Euros got the Cup back and thrilled the home crowd, which is good for golf in Europe. The Americans showed remarkable resiliency and heart and sportsmanship and played great, which is good for golf in America. (And U.S. players' egos.) No player left in disgrace, and all made critical contributions.

Did both teams leave as winners? It sounds corny, but maybe this time they did. When NBC went back to the booth for a wrap-up, Johnny Miller said simply, "I loved every minute of it."

Despite the loss, it's going to be a long time before Americans forget about this Ryder Cup in Wales.

That may be a miracle in itself. On Monday, it wasn't the only one.

U.S. team rallies around Mahan after bitter defeat

Hunter Mahan, 2010 Ryder Cup
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Hunter Mahan struggled to speak at the press conference following his loss to Graeme McDowell.

NEWPORT, Wales — Hunter Mahan had made it through the closing ceremony in one piece, but now, as he sat on the dais while the media asked questions about the U.S. team's agonizing, 14.5-13.5 loss at the 2010 Ryder Cup, the emotion overwhelmed him.

Mahan reached up and wiped away a tear as a teammate came to his defense.

"If you go up and down the line of the tour players in Europe and the U.S.," said Stewart Cink, who went undefeated and scored 2.5 points at Celtic Manor, "and asked them if you would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, probably less than half would say they would like to be that guy and probably less than 10 percent of them would mean it. Hunter Mahan put himself in that position today. He was a man on our team to put himself in that position."

Several people in the room broke into applause.

"It's the toughest spot in the game of golf," Cink added.

Mahan lost his match 3 and 1 to U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. It was, after a furious American comeback, the point that won the Ryder Cup for Europe. Even a halved final match would have given the Americans the half point they needed to get to 14, which would have been enough since they were the defending champions. (A tie score keeps the Cup in the hands of the reigning champs.)

It was the first time a Ryder Cup had come down to the final match since 1991.

Cink had just finished his impassioned speech when a reporter tried to ask the hard-luck Mahan a follow-up question.

The query hung in the air for a few moments, as Mahan, looking shell-shocked, sat silent. Zach Johnson put an arm over his shoulders.

Phil Mickelson, sitting on the other side of the stunned Texan, jumped in.

"Let's go to another question," Mickelson said. "You in the blue."

In a Ryder Cup that was quite unexpectedly decided by just a half point, you can go back and highlight a defining roll of the ball or breath of wind. A half point is a spike mark or a piece of mud or a raindrop in an American's contact lens.

Mahan's match was only the most conspicuous of a slew of missed opportunities for the American side. Cink missed a four-footer for birdie on 17 that would have given him a full point instead of a half against Rory McIlroy. Mickelson blamed himself for going 0-3 in his first three matches before finally righting himself with a singles victory.

"There's a lot of us that are looking at each other going, 'Gosh, one half point and we get to take the Cup back home,'" said Jim Furyk, who went 0-2-1, including a well-played 1-up loss to England's gritty little Ryder dynamo, Luke Donald.

"We can all look back and think about a shot here or there," said Steve Stricker, who blitzed Lee Westwood 2 and 1 in the lead match and went 3-1-0.

Still, Mahan looked the most devastated, which was why his teammates came to his defense, in some cases totally unprompted. Playing arguably the toughest European in McDowell, Mahan fell 3 down as McDowell birdied three of the first six holes.

Mahan wasn't making bogeys, but he wasn't making birdies, either.

"It was a tough match," Mahan told a PGA of America official. "I hit it unbelievable today, I hit it so good. I just couldn't make a putt."

It seemed as if the match wouldn't make much difference in the final outcome until Jeff Overton flipped his fortune against Ross Fisher, coming from 2 down to win 3 and 2, and Rickie Fowler managed an unlikely halve against Italian Edoardo Molinari.

The latter match had been almost entirely written off when Molinari went 4 up through 12, but Fowler made four straight birdies to avoid certain defeat and put the U.S. on the verge of the most unlikely comeback since it overcame a 4-point deficit in 1999.

All of a sudden, everything came down to Mahan-McDowell.

The American made a crucial up-and-down to birdie the short, par-4 15th hole, his first birdie of the match, which cut McDowell's lead to 1 up.

Then came the decisive stroke, McDowell's 15-foot birdie putt on 16 to ignite the crowd and get back to 2 up with just two holes remaining. Europe was on the verge; the U.S. was on the ropes. Every player, captain, caddie, assistant captain, vice-captain, fan, journalist and off-duty fish-and-chips vendor rushed to the 17th hole.

Needing a Fowler-like finish, Mahan seemed to catch his tee shot heavy on the 211-yard par-3, leaving it 10 yards short of the green. Now he needed to chip in, but instead he chili-dipped his second shot, all but ending it and adding insult to agony.

When Mahan failed to hole out his par try from 30 feet, McDowell merely needed to two-putt from four feet for bogey. Mahan conceded the par putt, and bedlam ensued.

The Euros popped Champagne on the balcony over the crowd, and the U.S. retreated to the team room to think of what might have been. U.S. captain Corey Pavin, so robotic in front of the press all week, was overcome with emotion and barely made it through his speech at the closing ceremony. Bubba Watson came to the U.S. team press conference with red around his eyes. And Furyk admitted, "I've never cried after losing other than at the Ryder Cup."

And then there was Mahan, unable to utter a sound as teammates came to his aid.

Europe had won, and it had all come down to the final match for the first time since Bernhard Langer's torturous, 18th-hole bogey at Kiawah in '91, when his six-foot comebacker slipped past the hole to give a crucial half point to Hale Irwin.

"You can't lay it all at one man's feet," said U.S. assistant captain Tom Lehman. "I saw Hunter hit a 4-iron on 17 in a tight situation earlier in the week to about 12 feet, which Zach [Johnson] rolled in for birdie. That's what I reminded him of: 'Think of all the great shots you hit under pressure.'"

Of course that's easier said than done after a sporting event that's so tight fans refuse to divert their attention even to go to the bathroom, when all anyone remembers is who soared and who sunk in the last five minutes of play.

Mahan filed out of the media pavilion, past McDowell and his delirious Euro mates bounding in. The American anchor bypassed an autograph seeker and sat next to Watson on the back of a golf cart for a ride to the Celtic clubhouse and the funereal U.S. team room. Mahan stared straight ahead at nothing.

 

Grading the week's studs and duds at the 2010 Ryder Cup

Lee Westwood, 2010 Ryder Cup
Robert Beck/SI
Lee Westwood, right, and Rory McIlroy helped carry the Europeans to victory.

EUROPE

Graeme McDowell (2-1-1)
Winning the U.S. Open was nice, but when the Ryder Cup is on your shoulders and you kick butt and execute critical shots, you're unquestionably the man. He's a superstar now.
Grade: A+

Lee Westwood (2-1-1)
The man of the match for Europe the first three rounds, and his takedown of Tiger Woods (with Luke Donald) in alternate shot set the tone for the near-sweep in the third session that keyed the European victory.
Grade: A

Luke Donald (3-1)
Clutch putting, precise iron play, brilliant from the bunkers. Apparently, Luke used The Force. This was his finest hour. P.S. How has he not won a major championship?
Grade: A

Ian Poulter (3-1)
The loud Englishman has been missing in action since winning the Match Play Championship in February, but he rose to the occasion and played his best golf of the year. And in remarkably tame pants!
Grade: A-

Martin Kaymer (2-1-1)
The PGA champion didn't play all that well. He made only two birdies in the last two matches but escaped with a stellar record because he road Westwood's coattails early.
Grade: B-

Rory McIlroy (1-1-2)
The young phenom clearly loved his first Ryder Cup, contrary to his pre-tourney comments. He had his moments, notching two points, but also had his game slightly exposed, twice botching 18.
Grade: B-

Miguel Angel Jimenez (2-1)
The Mechanic had two of the most clutch finishes of the week, saving a win on the 18th, and taking down Bubba Watson in a crucial singles match.
Grade: B+

Ross Fisher (2-2)
Showed stretches of brilliance but also some weakness with the putter. Played his best when paired with the veteran Harrington, who helped him on the greens and boosted his confidence. Lost a lead and a key singles match.
Grade: C+

Padraig Harrington (2-2)
The popular Irishman played poorly and tanked in his singles match against Zach Johnson. Still, he did eke out a couple of team wins thanks to some strong partners, and his presence and leadership may have been worth a point.
Grade: C

Peter Hanson (1-2)
The Swede showed off some solid ballstriking skills and proved he was worthy. He pasted a pair of 7s in his singles match with Mickelson, though, and lost to an opponent who previously had been winless.
Grade: C-

Edoardo Molinari (0-1-2)
Made a lot of birdies and did a great job of getting the crowd involved. He's an exciting player, and he and his brother came through for a key halve. On the flip side, he had Fowler 4-down on the back nine and let him scratch out a huge halve.
Grade: C-

Francesco Molinari (0-2-1)
The brothers scored an important halve in Sunday's fourball matches and, as it turned out, every half point counted. His ballstriking was impressive, but his putting, especially his short putting, is a serious weakness. Played Tiger tough ... for nine holes.
Grade: C-

UNITED STATES

Steve Stricker (3-1)
The Americans' Most Valuable Player, he carried Woods to two team matches when Woods was struggling. Sent out first against Europe's best singles player, Westwood, Stricker scored the biggest win of the day for the U.S.
Grade: A+

Stewart Cink (1-0-3)
Came up big early when the U.S. needed him and played McIlroy to a draw in singles. Draining some early putts gave the team momentum.
Grade: A

Rickie Fowler (0-1-2)
All Fowler did was make a clutch putt to save a half point on the 18th ... twice. The second one, in singles, had the Cup riding on it. Forget how he played in the team matches, he came through when it was all on the line. The kid's got stones.
Grade: A-

Zach Johnson (2-1)
Too bad the rainout cost the Iowan a match. Pavin would've loved to send him out a fourth time. He played well in the crucial 11th slot in singles, racking up seven birdies against Harrington.
Grade: A-

Tiger Woods (3-1)
Tiger has played better in past Ryder Cups and had worse records. He didn't find his form this week until singles, when he starting slinging birdies and eagles at Francesco Molinari. Never mind how it looked, three wins is three wins.
Grade: A-

Jeff Overton (2-2)
The Indiana alum enjoyed his star turn and his "Boom, baby!" moment, showing what a great clutch putter he is. He and Watson's surprise opening win kept the U.S. close through two sessions. A real find.
Grade: B+

Jim Furyk (0-2-1)
Doesn't have much to show for his efforts but he put on a whale of a show in singles against Donald, despite dumping his final crucial approach shot into a bunker at the 18th. Birdied five of the last 10 holes-but only won one of them against the hot Donald.
Grade: C+

Matt Kuchar (1-1-2)
Didn't play his best but didn't play poorly either, and made a good teammate for Cink. Kooch got drummed in singles, though.
Grade: C+

Hunter Mahan (1-2)
Played one strong match and made a bit of a comeback against McDowell with the Ryder Cup on the line. Under intense pressure, missed the tee shot on the final hole and then duffed a chip. A tough way to finish.
Grade: C-

Bubba Watson (1-3)
Watson's power game was negated by wet, sloppy conditions and thick rough. He didn't make a lot of birdies-just one in singles, where he was schooled by Jimenez. His pairing with Overton, another emotional player, was sheer fun.
Grade: C-

Dustin Johnson (1-3)
A no-show the first three days and was ineffective in a pairing with Mickelson. His putting was way off early but he atoned a bit with a big win in singles, although his opponent, Kaymer, shot over par.
Grade: D+

Phil Mickelson (1-3)
Finally made some birdies after three straight dismal performances. The U.S. team could've used him sooner. Coincidence that he started playing better after he heard that Johnny Miller criticized him on TV? It was Phil's first singles win since 1999.
Grade: D+

Europe wins back the Ryder Cup in thrilling finish

Ian Poulter, Monday, 2010 Ryder Cup
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Ian Poulter beat Matt Kuchar 5 and 4.

NEWPORT, Wales — It was tough to say which was the bigger surprise — the fact that the sun finally shone on swampy Celtic Manor or that the foregone conclusion that was the 2010 Ryder Cup came down to the last, nerve-jangling match.

With copious rain necessitating the first Monday finish in Ryder Cup history, the Americans rallied under blue skies but couldn't quite produce a 1999-style miracle in the singles, and Europe won 14½-13½ to reclaim the Cup.

The U.S. won the singles matches 6-4-2, but after suffering one of the worst routs in the history of the Ryder Cup in the third session, it wasn't quite enough.

Needing just five points to win back the Cup, Europe got exactly five when U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell birdied 16 and hung on to defeat Hunter Mahan 3 and 1 in an anchor match many initially thought would mean nothing.

"Graeme McDowell was put there for a good reason," said an elated European captain Colin Montgomerie. "He's full of confidence, and that showed. That birdie on 16 was just quite unbelievable, quite unbelievable."

It was the sixth European victory in the last eight Cups, and the first since they pasted the Americans at the K Club in Ireland in 2006.

The U.S. was trying to win the Cup on foreign soil for the first time since 1993.

Rickie Fowler, a 21-year-old rookie and U.S. captain Corey Pavin's most heavily-debated captain's pick, set the stage for Mahan and McDowell by executing a stunning comeback to halve his match with Italian Edoardo Molinari. After falling 4 down through 12 holes, Fowler birdied the last four holes, the last two with 20-footers that found the center of the cup and set Celtic Manor on edge.

McDowell, who took an early 3-up lead over Mahan with three birdies on the front nine, backed up his birdie on 16 with a conceded par on the par-3 17th hole to end it.

It was a scintillating finish for a Cup that at the beginning of the day looked like another runaway, a result that will be remembered not just for who won but also for the unlikely and inspired charge by the underdog Americans.

After looking bewildered on the greens for most of the first three sessions to go 0-3, Dustin Johnson made four straight birdies to dispatch Martin Kaymer 6 and 4, and a minute later Steve Stricker closed out Euro star Lee Westwood 2 and 1 in the lead match.

The two results gave the U.S. the first two points of the day and cut Europe's lead to 9½-8½, providing a brief glimmer of hope for the red, white and blue.

Ian Poulter's 5-and-4 dismantling of Matt Kuchar in the fifth match restored a two-point lead, and when Rory McIlroy survived a scare to halve his match with Stewart Cink, Europe had only to coax 3½ points out of the final eight matches.

That seemed like it would be easy, until it wasn't.

It's an old chestnut that nothing is more fickle than match play, where momentum rules and everything can change in an instant. This Ryder Cup only underlined the point.

Bucking predictions and shrugging off defective rain gear in horrible weather, the U.S. took a 6-4 lead after the weather-delayed first two sessions. It was at that point that Montgomerie blistered his troops with a furious tirade.

"I can't repeat it," the expressive Scotsman later said. "It was quite rude."

It also worked magnificently. With the scoreboards reconfigured at Monty's request to show maximum blue for every European success, the home team annihilated the U.S. in the third session, seizing control. When it was all over Monday, the captain would call the lopsided session "the reason why we won."

The U.S. made a match of it thanks to some inspired play from its stars and another pleasant surprise from its most inspired rookie.

Tiger Woods watched Francesco Molinari birdie the first two holes to jump out to a 2-up lead, but swiftly seized control of the match by going 5-under in four holes, punctuated by a hole-out for eagle from the 12th fairway.

Woods won the match 4 and 3, ending the week with a Ryder Cup career-best 3-1-0 record.

"Francesco got off to a quick start," Woods said, "but I just stayed patient. I just felt, stay calm, stay patient, stay within myself and keep doing what I know I can do."

Phil Mickelson, rebounding from an 0-3-0 start that gave him the dubious achievement of having lost more matches than any American in Ryder Cup history (17), made six birdies and thumped Swede Peter Hanson 4 and 2.

Jeff "Boom Baby" Overton continued his memorable week with two birdies in the middle of the round and then hung on while Ross Fisher crumbled, winning 3 and 2.

That meant Overton ended his first Cup the same way he started it, with a win. He was the most pleasant surprise for the American side and provided its most unforgettable highlight with his fierce "Boom, baby!" reaction to his 140-yard hole-out on Sunday.

"This whole event has been awesome," said Overton, who ended the week 2-2-0. "I can't describe the emotional feelings you get, especially with all of the crowd, the fans, that come out and support the event. It's a dream come true to be a part of and, win or lose, it's all about the sport."

Captain's pick Zach Johnson birdied six of the first 11 holes and waxed Europe's controversial captain's pick, Padraig Harrington, 3 and 2. Harrington went 2-2-0 overall.

As is so often the case, the outcome Monday came down to the little things, and Europe won in part because of a couple of missed opportunities for the U.S.

Jim Furyk made a valiant comeback against Luke Donald, but, needing to win the par-5 18th hole to salvage a half point, he dumped his wedge into the right bunker.

After having stuck a wedge to within four feet to birdie the final hole with Fowler in the second session, Furyk couldn't duplicate the feat, finally succumbing to the dogged little Englishman in a match that included 11 birdies.

Cink won a match and halved three, but he missed a four-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that would have put him 1 up on McIlroy, and settled for a half point when both players made par on 18.

Mahan cut his deficit to just one when he got up and down for birdie on the short, par-4 15th hole, his first birdie of the day. But as the realization dawned that the Cup would come down to the last game, McDowell's answer on 16 put Mahan on the ropes.

The American needed to win the last two holes, but with everyone on the course suddenly gathering around the green on the par-3 17th hole, Mahan hit both his first and second shots heavy. When he missed a 30-foot par try from the front collar, it was over, as McDowell needed only to two-putt from four feet for the win.

"The talk we just had in [the team room] was very emotional," Pavin said. "It took me a while to get back out here to talk to you. It's a culmination of two years of work and preparation, and came close, didn't quite get there, but the bottom line is, I was very proud of the team and what they did and how hard they fought."

 

He might be 'Borey' to some, but Pavin does have a plan

Corey Pavin, Sunday, 2010 Ryder Cup
Robert Beck/SI
Corey Pavin was thinking about the Ryder Cup captaincy more than a decade before it was awarded to him.

NEWPORT, Wales — If the Ryder Cup awarded a point to the captain with the most flair and charm, then the Europeans would be holding an even bigger lead. Team Europe captain Colin Montgomerie has a keen wit and a doughy charisma, which he has been displaying frequently as he rides his buggy around the course to rally his players and trades cracks with the hundreds of reporters here. In fact, Montgomerie even awarded himself an imaginary point after his counterpart Corey Pavin flubbed his team introductions during the opening ceremonies, initially forgetting to name Stewart Cink.

However, Pavin doesn't see his role as captain the same way as Montgomerie does. No one will mistake Pavin for Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday when he talks to his players Sunday night, not that he'd tell us about that talk anyway. But he does have a plan, and despite a tough Sunday when his players lost five of six matches, he's not making any changes to it.

"You know, my thoughts for the last two years are basically to do everything I can to give Team USA the best chance to win, and that's where my focus is," Pavin said. "These guys go out there and play. I feel like I've done a reasonable job, and you'll have to ask the players about that.

"But that was my focus. That's what I wanted to accomplish," Pavin said. "So it wasn't about a result, per se. And obviously I'd like to be sitting on the 18th green and in victory with the team. But, that's not the way I've been looking at it. I've been looking at it as doing the best job I can for Team USA."

Getting goosebumps yet? Me neither. But according to Pavin's former college coach Eddie Merrins, that's just the quiet and confident attitude that has made Pavin successful at every stage of his career.

Merrins, the teaching pro emeritus at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, was Pavin's coach at UCLA from 1977-1982, and he said that he knew Pavin was a special player the first time he saw him, at a junior golf tournament at Los Angeles' Griffith Park where Merrins was scouting some other players.

"The very first shot I saw him play he hit the flagsick with his approach on a par 4," Merrins said. "Even though he was smaller than the other players, he didn't see himself that way. He impressed me as a player with a lot of courage."

Merrins offered Pavin a one-third scholarship after seeing Pavin finish third in that touranment. It was the best offer he had. However, while Merrins spent the summer as a visiting teaching pro in Switzerland, his assistant called him with news that their new recruit was winning every tournament he entered, so UCLA upped the offer to a full-scholarship and Pavin joined the team.

Pavin had a standout college career, winning six tournaments as a junior and being named college player of the year as a senior. What impressed his coach the most was his competitiveness and mental approach to the game.

"He never saw himself as small," Merrins said. "In his mind, he was a big as Fred Couples or Bobby Clampett."

Merrins said that Pavin's experience on the 1981 Walker Cup team stood out as a turning point. (The Walker Cup is the amateur equivalent to the Ryder Cup, with amateurs from the United States playing amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland in a team match-play format.)

"That Walker Cup did more for him than anything else in his career," Merrins said. "It made him aware that there's something bigger than himself. He was representing his team and his country and it overwhelmed him."

Pavin kept that passion during his three Ryder Cups as a player, where he had a 8-5-0 record, and the captaincy has been on his mind for a long time. Merrins remembered sitting with Pavin and Pavin's mental game coach Richard Coop at the grill room in Augusta National in 1995, the year Pavin would win the U.S. Open.

"The two of them were in close conversation talking about when he was going to be captain of the Ryder Cup team," Merrins said. "I remember thinking, 'That's a little presumptuous,' but that's how much this Ryder Cup has meant to him. It's the crowning achievement to a sparkling career."

Merrins understands that people sometimes like to see a fiery, flamboyant coach like the performance Montgomerie has put on this week, but that doesn't always do the job, he said. The low-key, lead-by-example approach of Pavin can be just as successful.

"You don't win by trying to win and you don't win by making winning a talking point," Merrins said. "That's not the goal. The goal is to play as well as you can and relate to par. Winning is the reward."

When Pavin was asked Sunday if he would try to motivate his players the way Montgomerie roused his team the day before, he sounded a lot like his former coach.

"I don't need to change their attitude," Pavin said. "They have a great attitude. As I said, they are playing hard. They are playing as well as they can, and that's all you can do when you go out there and play. They are playing with passion and pride, and they will do that again tomorrow."

Picks for Sunday singles: Europe wins in a close battle

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, 2010 Ryder Cup Sunday
Robert Beck/SI
Lee Westwood, left, and Luke Donald have looked like the two best players in the world this week.

NEWPORT, Wales — There will be no dream matchup between Tiger Woods and young Rory McIlroy, who implied he'd like a shot at the world's No. 1 player. But it's a very interesting draw. The Europeans need just 5 points to take back the Cup. Here's how the singles look:

Lee Westwood vs. Steve Stricker
Wow. It's the best against the best. Obviously, both captains frontloaded their lineups, and Ryder Cup history says that's the only way to go. There's no point in saving your big guns for the end because the war might be over by then. This is a rematch of sorts because Westwood and Luke Donald destroyed Stricker and Tiger Woods in foursomes Sunday afternoon, 6 and 5. Westwood looks like he's firing on all cylinders while Stricker appeared worn out from propping up Woods in their first two matches. If it's going to be a putting contest, though, Stricker has the edge, and I can't go against a fellow cheesehead. Besides, if the Americans lose the very first match, the final day is going to utterly bereft of drama, and nobody wants that.
The pick: Stricker badgers him for a 2-and-1 win.

Rory McIlroy vs. Stewart Cink
The Most Valuable Player in the American lineup has to be Cink, who hit more clutch shots than anyone else. McIlroy was hit-and-miss in his first Ryder Cup. He had some great moments but messed up on 17 and 18 Saturday. He's got the shots, and he's long, but McIlroy needs to improve his putting if he's going to be a serious superstar. Cink is a savvy veteran who has taken down Sergio Garcia in singles. His putter is working, so the kid may see a clinic on the greens.
The pick: Cink, 4 and 3.

Luke Donald vs. Jim Furyk
If Westwood has looked like the No. 1 player in the world this week, Donald has looked like No. 2. He's perfect for a course with deep rough — straight drives, great around the greens, one of the best iron players on Tour and one of the best bunker players. You might wonder why he doesn't win more. Donald has looked totally on his game this week, and he loves to hear the crowds cheering for him, something he never gets the rest of the year. Furyk, however, is tough as yesterday's bagel, especially in singles. He hasn't been his best all week, no doubt a little hangover from the grueling FedEx Cup chase, but an upset here is just what this Ryder Cup needs.
The pick: Furyk finds 10 million ways to win, 1 up.

Martin Kaymer vs. Dustin Johnson
Is this some sort of weird poetic justice? The PGA champion taking on the guy that we all thought was going to be in the PGA Championship playoff until we found out he'd grounded his club in the bunker? Kaymer didn't play so well Sunday, but he's had his moments this week, and Johnson has been missing in action. He might even be the name in the envelope, the guy who has to sit out if a player on the other team is injured or too ill to play. Johnson says the PGA gaffe didn't faze him. I believe him, but still.
The pick: Kaymer whistles it straight past Johnson, 3 and 2.

Ian Poulter vs. Matt Kuchar
Poulter plays better when everyone's watching or listening to his self-important Tweets. Kuchar paired well with Cink and had four birdies Sunday. This should be a good match, but Poulter has spent his life waiting for this.
The pick: Poulter scooches past Kooch, 2 and 1.

Ross Fisher vs. Jeff Overton
No doubt Overton was the bright new star of the American team. Even though he won only one match, he holed putts and had the highlight of the week with his eagle from the fairway and hilarious celebration. His ballstriking wasn't as good as Fisher's, whose pairing with Padraig Harrington might have been just the prescription to turn Fisher into a major championship contender.
The pick: Fisher catches his rookie, 1 up.

Miguel Angel Jimenez vs. Bubba Watson
If this were a movie festival, it would be "Easy Rider" vs. "The Wild Ones." Jimenez, known as The Mechanic, will plod around the course from Point A to Point B while Bubba will go on safari in the tall stuff. Nothing good can happen out of this thick, sloppy rough. Nothing.
The pick: The Mechanic beats his opponent, slow and steady, 3 and 2.

Francesco Molinari vs. Tiger Woods
The joke on Sunday was that this impressive young Italian reminds us all of Ben Hogan. He hits it like Hogan . . . and also putts like the 48-year-old Hogan. It's a harsh joke, but the truth is, Francesco is one of the best ballstrikers on either tour. Tiger's in-transition swing is forcing him to play Seve Ballesteros golf. There's probably too much rough at this course to get away with that, but nobody plays for pride like Tiger. Even if his new swing instructor were Fred Flintstone, he'd find a way to win.
The pick: It'll be ugly but it'll be Tiger, 1 up.

Edoardo Molinari vs Rickie Fowler
Edoardo will have his brother running interference for him in the group ahead. He'll be able to keep tabs on the Tiger show, but he'll have his hands full. Fowler is a match-play assassin, and that's the reason Pavin picked him for the team. He hasn't hit his stride yet this week . . .until now. This could be the most entertaining match of the day, with lots of birdies and maybe some eagles.
The pick: Fowler, 2 and 1.

Peter Hanson vs. Phil Mickelson
This is a step up in class for Hanson, who is probably the most underrated golfer in the world. The man has game. Mickelson does, too, just not this week. Win No. 5 for Europe, this gets them to 14 1/2.
The pick: How Swede it is, 3 and 2.

Padraig Harrington vs. Zach Johnson
The lovable Padraig made up for a poor week of play with tremendous camaraderie and leadership. He inspired his teammates in the locker room and shepherded Fisher, helping him read putts and boosting his confidence. It was very Seve-like. Can't wait for the day when Paddy is captain. That said, Johnson is a rock-solid player and competitor and, despite winning a Masters, also underrated.
The pick: It's a Zach snack, 4 and 3.

Graeme McDowell vs. Hunter Mahan
The Ryder Cup is already over, but McDowell has his people here, Irish fans, and it'll be tough for Mahan to concentrate with the Cup already lost. Mahan may now be one of America's top three golfers, and we just haven't realized it yet.
The pick:Go green, go Irish, go McDowell, 2 and 1.

Final score: Europe 15 ½, USA 12 ½.

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