How did Europe upset the odds and reclaim the Ryder Cup from USA? Michael Hincks looks back on the long weekend in Paris, where MoliWood starred, and the captains’ picks brought about dramatically different results.
It was looking ominous after Friday morning’s fourballs. Tony Finau’s lucky bounce at the par-3 16th, Justin Rose’s tee shot on the 18th trickling into the drink. The fortune was favouring Team USA, and as the pre-tournament favourites took a 3-1 lead, Team Europe supporters were fearing the worst.
After an experimental morning – which saw Europe captain Thomas Bjorn field four rookies – there was a more familiar feel to the afternoon’s foursomes, with Henrik Stenson reuniting with Justin Rose to lead Europe out, while Rory McIlroy was paired up with Ian Poulter as they looked to rekindle their Miracle of Medinah magic from 2012.
But even when the foursomes got under way, there was no telling that this would be an historic afternoon for Europe, especially when Poulter’s opening shot of the tournament found the water, and particularly when he and McIlroy found themselves 2down after three.
However, the momentum shifted seismically in Europe's favour. The sight of Europe's third pairing - Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren - pulling away from Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau on the front nine told the rest that all was not lost.
It turned into Europe's first-ever foursomes clean sweep. Poulter, Garcia and Stenson – three of Bjorn’s four captain’s picks – all delivered on a stage they so often thrive, while the soon-to-be peerless duo of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood maintained their 100 per cent record.
Only nine times had a whitewash been achieved before, with said team going on to win the Ryder Cup every time. The omens were good for Europe, and hindsight tells us that Friday afternoon was the telling moment of the three-day event.
Europe’s solid Saturday
On paper, USA's team was stronger – with 11 of their 12 players in the world’s top 20 – but that dominance was not reflected when looking at Saturday’s pairings, there was a sense as you looked through the list, that Europe had the edge. So it proved, with world No 1 Dustin Johnson losing both of his matches that day, as well as No 3 Brooks Koepka - the man with two major wins this year.
Combined world ranking heading into the tournament
Europe: 229 (Highest Justin Rose No 2, lowest Thorbjorn Olesen No 45)
USA: 134 (Highest Dustin Johnson No 1, lowest Phil Mickelson No 25)
Though Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth combined to pick up two more points, their efforts were overshadowed by the performances of their compatriots.
Molinari and Fleetwood dished out two defeats on a sorry-looking Woods to become the first European pairing to win all four of their matches, and with it, the ‘MoliWood’ duo ensured they would be remembered for decades to come.
The Americans needed a miracle.
Francesco’s fantastic five
And so to singles Sunday. With a 10-6 lead in tow, Europe needed 4½ points to regain the trophy, while the US were hoping it was one of those unusual, improbable days of Ryder Cup action.
Though there was no momentous comeback, the tension lingered long into the afternoon. The projected scoreline at 1.45pm was a staggering 18½-9½, but just 15 minutes later that shrunk to 16½-11½ .
And never mind the projected score, the US even managed to claw it back to 10½-9½ with victories for Thomas, Webb Simpson and Finau – the latter beating the previously-flawless Fleetwood 6&4. But that was as close as it got.
US captain Jim Furyk admitted he had gone top-heavy with his singles order, and while that gamble had initially paid off, it was the middle order where Europe rose to the occasion. World No 34 Poulter proved his match play quality against Johnson, while rookie Thorbjorn Olesen overwhelmed three-time major champion Spieth – now 0-6 in team singles matches – before, fittingly, Europe’s shining star carried his team over the line.
Highest and lowest points scorers at 2018 Ryder Cup
5: Francesco Molinari (Europe)
4: Tommy Fleetwood (Europe), Justin Thomas (US)
0: Tiger Woods (US), Phil Mickelson (US), Bryson DeChambeau (US)
Molinari became the first-ever European to claim all five points, and though there was to be no memorable putt to clinch the trophy with Phil Mickelson’s tee shot finding the water, it was only right that the immaculate Italian took his team to the magical 14½-point marker.
History continued to be rewritten as Garcia became the tournament’s all-time leading points scorer, but the damage had already been done, and even the sight of Patrick Reed winning his singles match could not mute the celebrations.
Picks equals points for Europe
Quite simply, points win prizes. Every European contributed at least one, while Mickelson, Woods and Byrson DeChambeau – three of Furyk’s four picks – left empty-handed for the Americans.
Captains’ picks (Points won)
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn: Paul Casey (1.5), Henrik Stenson (3), Sergio Garcia (3), Ian Poulter (2)
US captain Jim Furyk: Bryson DeChambeau (0), Tony Finau (2), Phil Mickelson (0), Tiger Woods (0)
The MoliWood pairing proved pivotal as much as the Hollywood pairing of Woods and Mickelson proved fatal. The duo had 18 Ryder Cup appearances and 19 majors between them heading to France, but they could not repay Furyk's faith, and there will now be question-marks as to how many more of these events they compete in, having both lost more matches in this tournament than they have won.
Europe’s celebrations will have gone long into the night, while the inquest for US team has only just begun as their 25-year wait for an away victory goes on. The 17½-10½ scoreline makes for remarkable reading, but only if you are on the right side of the Atlantic.