GLENEAGLES, Scotland — The Americans made it interesting, for a few hours, but in the end Europe’s lead was simply too big. Sunday’s only big surprise turned out to be a rare display of dissent in the U.S. ranks.
Martin Kaymer chipped in for the 13th point, a 4-and-2 win over Bubba Watson. Justin Rose halved his match with Hunter Mahan to make it 13.5, and Jamie Donaldson put Europe over the top when he defeated Keegan Bradley 4 and 3 as the home team retained the Ryder Cup.
Europe won the singles 6.5-5.5, making the final margin 16.5-11.5.
“The boys had to dig deep today,” said Ian Poulter, who went 0-1-2 for the week after a meaningless halve in his late-afternoon singles match with Webb Simpson. “The Americans were coming at us strong. The board looked very good for them for a long period of time.”
The win is Europe’s eighth in the last 10 Ryder Cups. It is a run of dominance that continues to confound the Americans, whose search for answers this week included the appointment of 65-year-old Tom Watson and ended with tension between him and U.S. team leader Phil Mickelson.
One of three Americans benched for all of Saturday, Mickelson sat as far away from the captain as possible as the U.S. team sat before the press. Mickelson spoke of U.S. captain Paul Azinger’s winning formula at the 2008 Ryder Cup — four-person “pods,” player input on decision making — and when told that sounded like an indictment of Watson, Mickelson at first demurred. But when pressed, asked if he’d been brought into the process at Gleneagles, Mickelson said, “No. Nobody here was in any decision.”
Watson sat quietly in his chair at the center of the dais. Asked to address Mickelson’s comments, he said, “He has a difference of opinion. That’s okay. My management philosophy is different than his.”
Sunday began with Europe needing to win just four points out of 12 to retain the Cup, and despite a sluggish start, it had little trouble. Pals Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell — whose recent history inspired Phil Mickelson’s “we don’t litigate against each other” jibe early in the week — won the day’s first two points to make it 12-6, and Europe rolled from there.
McIlroy went 8 under in pummeling Ricky Fowler 5 and 4. McDowell escaped from a 3-down hole to beat Jordan Spieth 2 and 1 in the lead match. For a while, it seemed, the U.S. had a fighting chance. Spieth, 21, built a 3-up lead on McDowell. Hunter Mahan, in the fourth match, went 4 up over Europe’s best player, Rose, through seven. When Mickelson rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the 5th, squaring his match with Stephen Gallacher, the U.S. was up in four matches, Europe was ahead in two, and two were square.
Gleneagles was quiet. The U.S. looked good.
And then Sunday went the way of Saturday and Friday, as the Euros once again turned the scoreboards blue. In so doing, they turned up the volume on a gray, slightly warmer day in the Scottish countryside.
Rose birdied five straight holes, bogeyed the 12th, and birdied the par-4 13th from a bush. He was conceded a birdie at 18 after Mahan, right of the green in two, sailed over it with his pitch and couldn’t save par. “I hit it in the one spot you can’t hit it over there,” said Mahan, who made seven birdies but bogeyed two par-5s. “It stinks. It was a tough battle all day.”
Spieth endured a dizzying nightmare in which he lost five out of six holes, four of them with bogeys, as Yankee-killer McDowell, running from the greens to the tees as the crowd roared and whistled its approval, won 2 and 1. Bubba Watson matched Martin Kaymer with a birdie at the 1st but bogeyed the 3rd and 4th, falling 4 down through the first six holes.
In truth, Tom Watson’s captaincy went down in flames well before Sunday as the Americans, weighed down by some combination of poor play and strategic lapses, won just one of eight available alternate-shot points.
“That’s where we lost it,” Watson conceded afterward.
Europe’s was the more coordinated effort, from the songs to the strategy, as captain Paul McGinley pulled all the right strings over the first two days. He rested players who needed rest, playing the red-hot Rose (3-0-2) all five matches, and, McGinley’s masterstroke, paired McDowell with enigmatic Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. The duo went 2-0-0 in foursomes.
“He’s been exceptional, Paul, he really has been,” said vice-captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who captained Europe’s miraculous comeback at Medinah in 2012. “He never left a stone unturned. He’s had a plan for two years and he’s built on that plan and it’s come to fruition.”
McIlroy also came up big, as expected of the World No. 1. He went 2-1-2, and his dismantling of Fowler on Sunday anchored Europe. If the Americans were going to come back they needed to paint the board red early, but here was the best player in the world essentially having won the third match after making birdie at the 5th hole. It’s a long walk from the 5th green to the 6th tee, and McIlroy never broke stride or his game face.
Patrick Reed tried to inject the U.S. side with enough energy for the steep climb, pumping both fists and screaming to the crowd after rolling in a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-4 12th hole to go 2 up on Henrik Stenson. Reed never did lose a match at this Ryder Cup, going 2-0-1 with partner Spieth before hanging on to beat Stenson. With a two-putt birdie on 18, Reed ran his record to 3-0-1, but he was one of the few bright spots for the Americans.
Keegan Bradley putted poorly, but Watson cited his and Mickelson’s errant driving as the reason they were benched all day Saturday. Bradley later said he was “bummed.” It was a curious decision. Since the 2012 Cup at Medinah, Bradley and Hall of Famer Mickelson had compiled a 4-1-0 record. “I understand resting Mickelson for a while,” Olazabal said while signing autographs as darkness fell on Gleneagles. “But not the full day.”
Whether their benching contributed to Bradley’s poor play Sunday, when he failed to make a birdie until the 8th hole in his Cup-clinching loss to Donaldson, can be debated for all time. “Saturday morning we were both on and ready to go,” Mickelson said prior to his comments in the team press conference. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have that chance.”
Masters champion Bubba Watson never found his A-game despite showing brief glimpses of it during his and Matt Kuchar’s birdie-filled fourball loss to Rose and Stenson on Saturday. Watson went 0-3-0.
Matt Kuchar, who had heated up during a sizzling four-ball loss on Saturday morning, made five birdies and an eagle in dispatching Thomas Bjorn 4 and 3. In other late matches, Ian Poulter birdied 18 for a halve against Webb Simpson, running his Ryder Cup singles record to 4-0-1; Sergio Garcia hung onto a 1-up win over Jim Furyk; Jimmy Walker made eight birdies to beat Lee Westwood 3 and 2; and Zach Johnson, in the moot anchor match, rolled in a 20-foot birdie on 18 to tie Victor Dubuisson.
“In the end,” Mahan said, “we got beat by guys who were playing better.”
The two sides will square off again at Hazeltine in 2016, which will give the U.S. side plenty of time to dissect its latest disappointment. Perhaps Azinger will be asked back, or Mickelson himself will take over, running the team as he sees fit. Reed and Spieth (2-1-1 at Gleneagles) will likely be back. Walker proved more than capable under the pressure. Perhaps Billy Horschel, whose brilliance became apparent too late for this Cup, will finally make the scene. For all the talk of strategy, fresh, new players, even rookies, may be what America needs to climb out of this hole, if there is a way out.