NEWPORT, Wales — The Ryder Cup is scheduled to have a Monday finish here for the first time in the event’s 83-year history.
Put an asterisk on that, though, because it sure looked like the Ryder Cup ended Sunday evening at Celtic Mudhole (Celtic Manor’s new name) right on schedule.
Officially, the Ryder Cup isn’t over until the European team wins five more points.
Unofficially, Team USA waved farewell to its chances of retaining the Cup when Europe finished off its fast start to the unique six-match session Saturday, mopping up 5 1/2 of the 6 possible points and opening a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead going into the 12-match singles session.
You can drive a Mack truck through that differential. And that’s just about what ran over the Americans in the third session. It may not be so much about whether the Americans can make up 3 points on Monday, but whether they can come back from an ego-crushing defeat.
If you’re going to Celtic Manor on Monday, you’d better like the “Ole, ole, ole” song because it’s going to be on repeat most of the day.
Anything is possible, of course. American captain Corey Pavin isn’t admitting defeat. “I think it’s very plausible we can win,” Pavin said Sunday night. “Is it an uphill battle? Of course. There are 12 points tomorrow. That’s a lot of points. We’ve got 12 of the best players in the world. They do, too. We’ll give it our best shot.”
It’s true, bigger comebacks have happened. The benchmark is Brookline in ’99 when the U.S. faced a 10-6 deficit and famously stormed back to take the Cup. That was a home game, however, and that team featured the four best players in the world on the American squad — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Payne Stewart.
This U.S. team has players with gaudy reputations. Tiger is still No. 1 in the world and Phil is still No. 2, but Europe’s Lee Westwood is scheduled to move up a spot next week and slip into No. 1 before long. The fact is, it’s been months since Tiger and Phil looked like the best two players in the world. At the moment, neither looks a top-20 player. There is Ryder Cup rookie Dustin Johnson, whose power game was supposed to fit with Phil and form a dynamic duo. Johnson flamed out badly in the Tour Championship after his impressive win at Cog Hill, and he’s flamed out even worse this week. Jim Furyk, ranked fifth in the world, can be excused if he’s a little worn out from his Tour Championship win and the whole FedEx Cup ordeal. Steve Stricker, ranked fourth in the world, may have run out of gas Saturday after carrying Woods to two match wins.
If the United States is going to mount a charge of the lightweights brigade, who, exactly, is going to lead it into the hail of artillery that’s sure to come from the likes of Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher and Graeme McDowell, among others? They all seem to be more on top of their games than the Americans.
Johnny Miller summed it up best for NBC on Sunday night when he said, “The top European guys like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald have played like they’re supposed to, and the top Americans haven’t.”
It’s that simple. There was a reason the European team was rated a heavy favorite going into this Ryder Cup, and those players have backed it up.
The Americans had a chance to win, in my opinion, because they had a better lineup of putters, and they out-putted the Europeans Friday and Saturday morning. The putts stopped going in quite as often on Saturday afternoon, and even more rarely toward Sunday’s finish. Was it the scattered rain showers that caused the Americans to leave important putts short on the final nine, or was it the pressure of falling behind?
It doesn’t matter. Europe made the putts Sunday and the Americans didn’t. For six matches, European teams were 33 under par, and the Americans were 18 under par — 15 shots better. That’s not a huge spread over six matches, but match play is like the Electoral College — close in total votes doesn’t count. You either carry Florida and Ohio, or you don’t.
This is what the Ryder Cup has come down to: The Americans have to win seven out of 12 matches, and halve another. That doesn’t sound impossible, but who is going to beat Westwood, Donald, Poulter, McDowell and Fisher, for starters?
There is nothing less fun than a Ryder Cup rout and a singles draw without drama and tension. Everyone, with the exception of Monty and the European players, would like to see a close finish. The Europeans are now in position, however, to blow this thing out. An early American rally is almost inevitable, but like Sunday afternoon’s rally, likely to be short-lived.
An American comeback is possible mathematically, theoretically and physically. But to do it on an awkward, sloppy course with slow greens and likely a bit of wind — normal European conditions — in front of a vocal pro-European crowd and against a team that is clearly playing better? Possible, I suppose.
It’s also possible that the 2010 Ryder Cup ended Sunday night after an Italian golfer made a short putt, stole a crucial half-point from the U.S., drew a thunderous roar of delight and sent thousands of European fans home happy as an autumn sun set behind the Welsh hills.
It sure looked like the final scene of a show to me.