By DOUG FERGUSON
MEDINAH, Ill. — The PGA Tour supplied the best tonic possible Tuesday to cure the Americans of a Ryder Cup hangover.
It staged a press conference to mark the official one-year countdown to the Presidents Cup, the one team event that Americans still seem capable of winning. Then again, it was held at Muirfield Village, where in 1987 they lost the Ryder Cup on home soil for the first time.
It hasn’t been the same since.
These days, the closest the Americans ever get to that 17-inch trophy is the emblem of it stitched on their team uniforms.
Europe now has won seven of the last nine times in the Ryder Cup, and the only reason the dominance isn’t even greater is because Justin Leonard knocked in a 45-foot putt on the 17th hole at The Country Club. The other win was in 2008 at Valhalla, even though the Americans didn’t have Tiger Woods. Or maybe they won because he didn’t play.
The immediate question is who the PGA of America will select as the next captain, but that’s assuming the decision will have a bearing on the outcome. In some corners, the captain’s role is overrated — until a team loses, and the fans and media need someone to blame.
The next Ryder Cup will be in 2014 in Scotland, which officials referred to as the home of golf. That’s true, although the bagpipes surely will sound a little different on a golf course at Gleneagles designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Before looking ahead, it’s worth looking back with a few observations about one of the best Ryder Cup competitions ever:
—Was this really the “Miracle at Medinah?”
The best slogans are built around alliteration, and this could be called the “Meltdown at Medinah,” depending on your colors. It was remarkable, no doubt, because six of the 12 singles matches could have gone either way. By the numbers, Europe matched a Ryder Cup record by rallying from a 10-6 deficit on the final day, same as the Americans at Brookline in 1999. The difference is that Europe did this on the road. And the American comeback was easier because Europe had three Ryder Cup rookies who did not hit a shot until Sunday singles.
This Ryder Cup had 24 of the top 35 players in the world. Throw in 18-hole matches, and there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Remember, Europe had a three-point lead going into the final day at Wales before a home crowd and it came down to the last match. The lesson going forward is that no lead is safe.
The only “miracle” reference should be to Saturday afternoon, when the Americans had a 10-4 lead and was ahead in the final match. It looked as though they would have an 11-5 lead at worst until Ian Poulter birdied his last five holes and Europe picked up an invaluable point — and the momentum.
—Rory McIlroy is a sure thing.
Boy Wonder might be the only guy who can roll out of a bed and win a singles match at the Ryder Cup. McIlroy didn’t sleep in, he just got the time zones mixed up. But there was a feeling that whoever the Americans had facing him didn’t stand a chance. Jim Furyk referred to McIlroy as the “present day Tiger Woods,” and he might be right. Even with the match all square, there was never a sense that McIlroy was going to lose.
—Man of the match.
Martin Kaymer holed the putt that clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe, but there was no mistaking its star. Ian Poulter became the first captain’s pick to go 4-0, and he might have won them all if Jose Maria Olazabal had not held him out Friday afternoon. There were only four matches all week when a team or a player was behind at any point on the back nine and rallied to win. Poulter was involved in two of them.
His career record is now 12-3, the highest winning percentage of any European player in history. Poulter effectively locked up a spot on the team for the next several years, and Lee Westwood even went so far as to jokingly suggest a change to the qualifying process for Europe.
“It’s nine spots, two picks, and Poults,” he said.
— Tiger Woods as the anchor.
Curtis Strange was criticized in 2002 for sending out Woods in the 12th and final match Sunday at The Belfry for two reasons. His point might be irrelevant at that stage (it was) and he would not be able to contribute to any momentum from an earlier spot in the lineup. Davis Love III did the same at Medinah.
Woods actually was in the right spot. He just didn’t deliver.
The Americans needed to see Woods take control of his match against Francesco Molinari, knowing they would be assured a point in that anchor match. Woods fell behind two holes early. He took the lead for the first time on the 13th hole, and the match was still square with two holes remaining. The last time Woods was in that spot, in 2002, he built a 2-up lead early against Jesper Parnevik, didn’t put him away and actually trailed after 15 holes.
His half-point was irrelevant as far as who won the cup. It could have, and perhaps should have, meant something.
The PGA of America devotes an entire page to rookie records in the Ryder Cup. Love said all week, and the PGA of America should take note, that there really are no rookies in the Ryder Cup. Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) and Martin Kaymer (PGA Championship) had won majors the year they made their Ryder Cup debut. Yes, the pressure is more intense at the Ryder Cup than any tournament, but it’s that way for the veterans, too.
The four American “rookies” went 9-6. Two of their best players were rookies — Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley, both of whom were 3-1. Dufner might have won all four of his matches except for Poulter finishing a fourballs match with five straight birdies.
—The next captain.
Paul McGinley is the leading candidate for Europe, a decision with strong influence by the players. Nothing is clear for the U.S. team, a decision by the PGA of America.
There seems to be a template for the U.S. team that captains be former major champions in their late 40s. That would point toward David Toms, who played on three losing teams. Fred Couples gets a lot of attention, but the Presidents Cup is far less stressful than the Ryder Cup, and he doesn’t have a lot of support from within the PGA of America. Larry Nelson is a popular choice because he was overlooked. He’ll be 67 in 2014. And there is some thought to let Paul Azinger be captain again.
The last American who was captain more than once was Jack Nicklaus. That was in 1987 at Muirfield Village, and that didn’t turn out very well.