The finish to this Ryder Cup was so riveting, it is sure to overshadow most of what came before. The greatest European comeback in the event’s history climaxed on Sunday evening, but the victory—or put another way, the U.S.’s collapse—was three long days in the making. Every hole at the Ryder Cup is a tournament within a tournament, every half point is monumental, but sometimes the importance is obvious only in hindsight. Here is SI’s definitive guide to the 39th Ryder Cup.
In a Nutshell: The U.S. was energized by its four rookies, who went a combined 4–1 and lit up Medinah with an infectious enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Europe’s core veterans struggled, leading to a 5–3 American lead.
Most Inspired Pairing: Keegan Bradley–Phil Mickelson. Mickelson, the 42-year-old Hall of Famer, arrived with a record number of Ryder Cup losses (17) and was still trying to shake off the malaise that had subverted a promising season. He was rejuvenated by the twitchy energy and spectacular all-around play of Bradley, a 26-year-old Ryder rookie. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Phil this excited on a golf course,” his mother, Mary, said at one point. In the morning foursomes Bradley and Mickelson took down Europe’s best team, Luke Donald and Sergio García, who had been a combined 14-0-1 in the format. The Americans’ cohesiveness spilled over into lunch. “They couldn’t stop talking about each other,” said Bradley’s girlfriend, Jillian Stacey. “It was like, ‘Oh, that shot you hit was so great.’ ‘No, that putt of yours was even better.’ ‘But I couldn’t have done it without your amazing read.’ They’re infatuated with each other. Every now and then they would stare into each other’s eyes like they were a long-lost love. At some point Amy [Mickelson] was like, ‘It’s a good thing we’re here or they might start talking about getting married!’ ”
Bradley and Mickelson began their afternoon four-ball match by winning the first three holes against Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy and were never challenged. For Mickelson, Friday marked the first time in nine Cups that he had won two points on the same day.
Fashion Don’t: The Euros’ puke-green shirts. They had two years to fuss over the uniforms and settled on this?
Tragic Figure: Martin Kaymer. The slumping former No. 1 held on to the last qualifying spot even though all of Europe was openly rooting for him not to make the team. After sitting out the morning, he made zero birdies in four-balls despite a generous course setup, dragging down Justin Rose in a 3-and-2 defeat to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
Best Shot: Mickelson’s walk-off birdie on the watery par-3 17th. He stuffed a seven-iron to two feet, ending the match. Bradley called it “the best shot I’ve seen in my life.”
Worst Shot: Brandt Snedeker’s drive on 18 in foursomes. The FedEx Cup champ was sent off in the leadoff match with Jim Furyk and played well enough to help battle back from 3 down to McDowell and McIlroy. The match was all square arriving at 18, but Snedeker hit a wild slice into the trees, leading to a bogey that cost the U.S. the hole and a half point.
Breakout Performance: Nicolas Colsaerts. The Belgian Bomber made an outrageous Ryder Cup debut, piling up eight birdies and an eagle while virtually single-handedly defeating Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods in four-balls. The growing respect for Colsaerts could be heard while his tee shot was airborne on the par-3 13th. Zach Johnson narrated, “That’s good. Very good. He’s good. Really good.”
Act of Gamesmanship: Steve (Pepsi) Hale, Bradley’s caddie, celebrated the foursomes victory on the 15th green by waving the flagstick around and around over his head like a deranged samurai.
Tiger Watch: Woods was simply awful in losing a foursomes match with Stricker versus Ian Poulter and Rose. Watching on TV on the Medinah grounds, Woods’s former coach Hank Haney observed, “At least his attitude is good.” He was being sarcastic. Woods pouted and sulked his way through the match, a buzzkill to the crowd and his woebegone partner. Playing his own ball in the afternoon, this rugged individualist finally found his game, making five back-nine birdies trying to keep up with Colsaerts. On the 18th hole Woods was left with a 15-footer to salvage a halve. It was the last match of the day, and both teams had gathered in the gloaming, along with tens of thousands of fans who encircled the green. If ever there was a Tiger Moment, this was it, but Woods can no longer summon such magic on demand. His putt skimmed the lip on the low side, completing an 0–2 skunking on the day.
Best Putt: Poulter’s 15-footer to save par on the 16th hole in foursomes. That blunted a minicharge by the Americans and earned Europe a split for the session.
Most Questionable Captain’s Decision: José María Olazábal benching three of his four best players—Donald, García and Poulter—in four-balls. Sure, Luke and Sergio lost in the morning, but Europe was lacking leadership and firepower while losing three of the four afternoon matches.
Worth Repeating: “Oh, baby, I wish I could go 36 more.” —the tireless Bradley
“He gave us the hair-dryer treatment. It was a real roasting.” —McDowell, on Olazábal’s Friday night, er, pep talk.
In a Nutshell: Europe was overwhelmed by the U.S.’s depth and passionate play for most of the day, but a furious rally in the twilight trimmed the Americans’ lead to 10–6 and restored some hope for the Europeans.
Most Inspired Pairing: Jason Dufner–Zach Johnson. The Duf was overshadowed by Keegan Bradley, another, more emotive Ryder rookie, but Dufner played with just as much precision, while the perpetually underrated Johnson was a rock-solid partner. The U.S.’s overall lead was built on superiority in morning foursomes, and for the second straight day Dufner-Johnson brought home a full point, this time cooling off Nicolas Colsaerts and his frisky partner, Sergio García.
Worst Pairing: Graeme McDowell–Rory McIlroy. In the cleanup foursomes match they didn’t make a birdie until the 14th hole while losing a rematch versus Jim Furyk–Brandt Snedeker. The Ulstermen displayed little energy and, given their close friendship, a surprising lack of chemistry.
Fashion Don’t: Matt Kuchar played without a belt. Has that ever happened in the post-Sansabelt era?
Tragic Figure: Lee Westwood. The supposed leader of the European squad showed zero fight, and even less game, while being annihilated 7 and 6 by Bradley–Phil Mickelson, matching the most lopsided foursomes loss in Ryder Cup history. Westwood’s shaky short game is the reason he is famously majorless, and he regressed badly at Medinah, blowing short putts and chunking chips. The foursomes loss earned him a well-deserved benching in the afternoon.
Best Shot: Furyk from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole in foursomes. For the second straight day Snedeker stood on that tee in a taut match and made a potentially fatal mistake. But despite an awkward stance, Furyk saved his partner, and secured a 1-up victory, with a superb shot to the heart of the green. Snedeker was so overcome with relief he looked as if he might cry.
Worst Shot: Colsaerts’s drowning his tee shot on the par-3 17th in foursomes to end the match. The hole before had been the first Sergio sighting of the Cup; his chip-in brought the Europeans to 1 down as they furiously fought to salvage the session. But Colsaerts caught his tee shot on the toe, and it fluttered short of the green, splashing into the hazard. He described the feeling as “agony,” and this was also felt by his mom, Daniele, who was standing next to the tee. She covered her face with her hands for a full 10 seconds. “This is too much for an old lady to take,” she said.
Breakout Performance: Webb Simpson. Yeah, he’s the reigning U.S. Open champion, but this Ryder Cup rookie looked out of sorts during a loss in the leadoff foursomes match as he and Bubba Watson were downed by Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. Simpson rallied in four-balls, tearing off seven birdies, including five in a row, to carry Watson to a victory over Rose and Francesco Molinari, putting the first, crucial U.S. point on the board.
Tiger Watch: When he was benched for foursomes, it was the first time in his Ryder Cup career that Woods had ridden the pine. The bad juju continued in four-balls, as he and Steve Stricker lost three of the first four holes to Donald and García. Four down at the turn, Woods finally found his game on the back nine, hitting a series of clutch shots in a spirited back and forth with Donald, who made five birdies over the last 10 holes. But on 18, both Woods and Stricker missed birdie putts—the latter from a mere seven feet—giving Europe a 1-up victory that kept hope alive. Afterward Woods stewed on the edge of the 18th green, watching the final match come in. Mickelson, in his newfound role as team leader, wandered over to offer a pep talk, draping his arm on Woods’s shoulder and whispering in his ear. Woods was unresponsive, and within three or four seconds Mickelson walked away. Apparently he forgot that the great man doesn’t like to be touched. Especially by him. Especially when Phil is 3–0 and Tiger is 0–3.
Best Putt(s): Dustin Johnson’s downhill 25-footer on the 17th hole in four-balls, the key moment in a 1-up victory that he and Kuchar produced over Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie. An hour later, as darkness fell, Poulter gave this Ryder Cup its signature moment. He and McIlroy were 2 down through 12 holes to Dufner-Johnson. If Europe lost the match, it would have close to zero chance of winning the Cup, and all of Chicago knew it. McIlroy began the rally with a birdie at 13, and then Poulter went bonkers, birdieing the next four to put Europe 1 up heading to 18, growing more animated with every made putt. The unflappable Dufner birdied 18, leaving Poulter with a do-or-die 15-footer to cover the birdie and win the match. If you are a golf fan, you could barely breathe. Poulter poured in the putt and turned, bug-eyed, to the assembled U.S. team, loosing a primal scream that felt like a haka. The Yanks were frozen in place, and they weren’t the only team to feel the impact of Poulter’s putt. “The level of belief within our team room has increased immensely,” McDowell tweeted. Poulter ran his record to 3–0 in this Cup and 11–3 lifetime.
Worst Putt: Lawrie’s gagging a three-footer at the 11th in four-balls. That would have won the hole and squared the match. The Scottish stalwart waited 13 years to play in his second Cup but went 0–2 over the first two days.
Act of Gamesmanship: On Friday, Watson had fired up the massive crowd on the 1st tee by allowing them to cheer while he was swinging. Paired against Watson in foursomes, with the honor off No. 1, Poulter stole Watson’s idea and encouraged the crowd to hector him midswing, which they gladly did. Bubba loved it. “I think it’s great for the game of golf,” he said. “It made it fun. . . . It was cool to see.”
Most Curious Captain’s Decision: Davis Love III’s sitting Bradley and Mickelson in four-balls, a freewheeling format more suited to their strengths. Love kept saying he didn’t want any of his guys to get worn down playing five matches, but Phil and Keegan breezed through only 12 holes on Saturday morning. (And a mere 15 holes on Friday morning.) Mickelson would later claim that he told Love on the 10th hole of foursomes that he and Bradley should sit that afternoon because they were burning up so much emotion on the course, but memo to Phil: You’re not the captain. If Love was adamant about resting his elder statesman, why not at least send out Bradley with Woods in four-balls instead of a slumping Stricker?
Worth Repeating: “F***********ck!!!” —Diane Donald’s reaction upon hearing that her hubby, Luke, would again have to go up against the Bradley-Mickelson duo
“Best I don’t say anything because it wouldn’t be pretty.” —Peter Hanson, to golf.se, on being benched for both sessions (Martin Kaymer was too)
“I believe that it’s not over. That’s what I learned from Seve, and that’s what I’m going to try to pass to the players. It’s not over until it’s over.” —Olazábal