By Ann Liguori
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Day four, Monday, October 4:
The sun was shining. The skies were blue. The air was crisp. The only sign that over 55 percent of the month’s average rainfall fell over Celtic Manor Resort in just three days was the mud. But the mud did not stop over 40,000 people from calling in sick or making some other excuse to miss work, so that they could watch the 12 singles matches of the first Monday Ryder Cup finish in history. And what a finish it was!
Europe won back the Ryder Cup from the United States, winning 14 ½ to 13 ½. And it all came down to the 12th and final match between Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan with a dramatic 3 & 1 victory for the northern Irishman. McDowell drained a clutch birdie putt on the 16th to go ‘2 up’ and then Mahan faltered on the 17th and conceded the hole…
Even though the Americans won 7 of the 12 singles matches, including excellent performances by Tiger, Phil, Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker and an important ‘come from behind’ ‘halve’ point that Rickie Fowler earned, the Europeans started the day three ahead, won by one point, and are uncorking the champagne in celebration.
The US earned the first two points of the day when Steve Stricker beat Lee Westwood 2&1 and Dustin Johnson won his first Ryder Cup match, crushing Martin Kaymer 6&4. That brought the US to 8 ½ points, one behind Europe. Dustin Johnson was winless in his first three matches but redeemed himself with his dominant win against Kaymer, birding holes 11, 12, 13 and 14 to end the match there. Ian Poulter dominated Matt Kucher 5&4 so Europe went up by two points (10 ½ – 81/2). Rory McIlroy earned a key putt to halve his match against Stewart Cink (11-9 Europe at that point). Cink missed a long birdie putt that could have won him the match. Luke Donald beat Jim Furyk 1 up. Jeff Overton played lights out most of the weekend and beat Ross Fisher 3 &2. Miguel Angel Jimenez was steady as ever in his 4 &3 win over Bubba Watson.
And America’s biggest stars, Tiger and Phil Mickelson, dominated their matches. Tiger looked sharper than he has in a long time, crushing Francesco Molinari 4&3. Phil Mickelson beat Peter Hanson 4&2, avoiding a shut out this weekend, with one win and three losses. Ricky Fowler was terrific in his exciting come-from-behind performance, earning a half point against Edoardo Molinari. Zach Johnson beat Padraig Harrington 3 &2. But then Hunter Mahan faltered under pressure on the 17th and conceded the hole to Graeme McDowell and the Ryder Cup was delivered back to the Europeans.
There may be second-guessing regarding Corey Pavin’s line-up in the singles matches. You may question why Pavin did not put the strongest American player in the last slot? Graeme McDowell won both the Wales Open on this Celtic Manor 2010 course and this year’s US Open at Pebble Beach. But the Americans, who led 6-4 on Saturday afternoon and evening, got behind in all six of the matches that were suspended on Saturday evening due to darkness and the momentum shifted on a soggy Sunday when the Europeans took the lead by three, heading into Sunday’s singles matches.
I think both coaches did a great job. If there were one criticism of the Americans, it would be that they did not come out sharp enough or fast enough on Saturday afternoon after being ahead 6-4. They allowed the Europeans to dominate the third session. But it came down to an amazing finish on Monday and the Americans did not lose this, the Europeans won it!
Thanks to all of Wales for being such gracious hosts. And although the entire European Team earned the win, the hero could not be a nicer guy. Graeme McDowell deserves the accolades and is an excellent Ambassador for Northern Ireland and all of Europe.