Team Europe regained the Ryder Cup after beating the USA 16.5-11.5 on a dramatic Sunday at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club.
This meant double delight for Europe after the ladies’ team produced a scintillating fightback to retain the Solheim Cup last week at the Finca Cortesin, Malaga.
Having been demolished 19-9 two years ago at Whistling Straits, in the build-up European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald emphasised the importance of his team having a fast start and securing early points on the board.
A fired-up European team raced out of the blocks on Friday morning, Viktor Hovland chipping-in on the first a sign of what was to come.
And that is exactly what happened as a fired-up European team raced out of the blocks on Friday morning, Viktor Hovland chipping-in on the first a sign of what was to come. All four pairings won their match – the first time Europe have ever completed an opening session clean-sweep. The last time a European captain opted for the alternate shot foursomes format first up was in 1993, Europe’s most recent home loss. But this was a risk that most certainly paid off, laying the perfect foundation for Europe to kick on towards victory.
The ball continued to bounce in Europe’s favour during Friday afternoon’s fourballs, the session finishing 2.5-1.5 to the home side, cementing their early lead. Notably, Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick were 6-up through 7 holes largely thanks to the latter’s four birdies and one eagle within the first 6 holes; they beat Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele 5&3. Also, alongside Danish rookie Nicolai Hojgaard, Spaniard Jon Rahm made eagles on 16 and 18 to claim an unlikely half-point against Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka. Europe finished day one 6.5-1.5 ahead, whilst the Americans, yet to register a win, picked up three half-points in the afternoon. This was the first time an American side had not won a single match in a day in the event’s 96-year history.
There was more one-way traffic on Saturday morning as Europe were determined to stretch their lead. Max Homa and Brian Harman claimed America’s first full point of the competition with a 4&2 victory over Shane Lowry and rookie Sepp Straka. Homa was certainly the star of this show, all due respect to Open Champion Harman. Homa’s second shot to a matter of inches on the par 5 12th to set up a tap-in eagle and tee-shot to 6 feet on the par 3 13th helped the Americans pull away from Lowry and Straka, before he chipped in for eagle from the rough on the short par 4 16th to win the match in style.
The rest of their team, however, had differing fates with the Europeans adding 3 points to their overnight total. ‘Fleetwood Mac’, Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy, repeated their first day success by beating Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth in the morning’s first match. This session also produced some Ryder Cup history with the record being broken for the largest individual win ever. Viktor Hovland and rookie Ludvig Åberg, playing against World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and 5-time major winner Brooks Koepka, produced a result no one could have foreseen. Some wayward tee shots and scrappy playing resulted in a slow start for the American powerhouses. Åberg then stepped up to the plate and delivered a pin-seeking tracer bullet from the 4th tee. 4 up through 4. The foot was not taken off the accelerator and water troubles on the 11th finally put the Americans out of their misery; the Nordic pair winning a record-breaking 9&7 as Scheffler left with tears in his eyes. Having only turned professional in June earlier this year and therefore having never played in a major, Donald’s decision to include Åberg as a wildcard pick was questioned, but his faith in the young Swede was certainly repaid.
Trailing 9.5-2.5, it was a case of now or never if there was to be a US comeback.
Trailing 9.5-2.5, it was a case of now or never if there was to be a US comeback. A Sam Burns birdie was the first time the Americans had won the first hole at Marco Simone and it set the tone for the afternoon. Burns and his partner Morikawa cruised to a 4&3 win over the morning’s stars Hovland and Åberg. Just like the top group, Homa and Harman were never behind as they beat Fleetwood and Hojgaard 2&1 to claim their second point of the day. However, the usually indestructible pairing of boyhood best friends Thomas and Spieth lost once again as veteran Justin Rose guided Bob MacIntyre to his first Ryder Cup point.
The final match of the afternoon produced fireworks. Fitzpatrick and McIlroy were 1 up with three to play against Patrick Cantlay and Wyndham Clark before Cantlay’s putter became red hot. Three consecutive birdie putts on 16, 17 and 18 turned the game on its head. However, the game turned unsavoury on the 18th green as McIlroy felt Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava, celebrated his player’s 20-foot birdie putt too closely to where he was trying to line up his putt to halve the match. Tensions continued to boil over as arguments broke out in the car park. USA captain Zach Johnson was quick to play down LaCava’s actions, deeming them nothing more than a celebration. A bitter end to what was an extraordinary day of golf.
This was not the first incident of controversy involving Cantlay at the Ryder Cup. He was the only player not to wear a cap during the event, rumours stating that this was a result of his discontent at not being paid to participate. Despite his claims that “it just doesn’t fit’, he became the subject of constant jeering and cap waving from the home crowd.
With the previous night’s antics adding “fuel to the fire”, the Europeans were fired up; a sea of blue dominated the early leader board.
Team Europe, leading 10.5-5.5 going into the final day, only required four points from Sunday’s twelve singles matches to regain the cup. The US would have to produce a record comeback if they were to retain. With the previous night’s antics adding “fuel to the fire”, as McIlroy stated, the Europeans were fired up; a sea of blue dominated the early leader board. Hovland, McIlroy and Hatton all won comfortably, and Rahm battled against a rejuvenated Scheffler in a breath-taking match to claim a half. With Europe only half a point away from victory, the blue score board started turning red. Cantlay, Homa, Koepka, Thomas and Schauffele were all too strong for their opponents, leaving captain Donald wondering where the final half point would come from. 14-11, three matches still playing.
Donald’s questions were answered as Southport-born Fleetwood drove the 16th green with opponent Rickie Fowler’s ball in the water. Now 2 up with two to play, it was impossible for the Englishman to lose, therefore sealing victory for Europe in the 11th match – much later than Donald would have hoped, and in fact, expected following the previous days’ proceedings. Fleetwood finished his match on 17, as did MacIntyre 2&1, before Lowry and Spieth shook hands for a half on 18 as the European crowd’s party atmosphere skyrocketed. Final score 16.5-11.5.
Albeit on home soil, this was an incredible feat for a European team that had been humiliated at Whistling Straits and perhaps lacked the experience that the Americans had. Star players McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland certainly stepped up as Donald endured a “rollercoaster of emotions”, whose fight and determination clearly rubbed off on his players. He must be given significant credit for setting up a European team that never looked like losing. We have not seen an away win since the Miracle at Medinah in 2012. As our attention turns to New York’s Bethpage Black in two years’ time, could we witness another historic European victory the other side of the Atlantic Ocean?