Rory McIlroy’s emotional celebration at the peak of a toe-to-toe battle with Patrick Reed seemed to suck the inspiration out of Europe’s key man and set in motion the USA’s procession to win the 41st Ryder Cup.
The chances of a comeback to match the Miracle of Medinah for Europe at Hazeltine hinged on Europe engulfing the scoreboards in blue and specifically the top of the singles order.
McIlroy and Henrik Stenson needed to knock off the US team’s two pacesetters Reed and Jordan Spieth at the top of the singles order to set the blue dominoes falling in the right direction. A loss for either would surely be terminal.
And for eight holes McIlroy and Reed traded blows in thrilling fashion, but on the green of the par three the direction of the game, and the Sunday play, changed utterly.
McIlroy holed a huge putt of 40 feet plus across the green and celebrated wildly, but Reed matched him from the fringe and the duo exchanged a fist-pump in mutual admiration that was unquestionably merited, since they’d shared eight birdies and an eagle in eight holes to that point.
But that pivoital moment seemed to take the wind out of McIlroy, who was subdued on the back nine and didn’t make a single birdie until the 18th, where Reed conceded his three because he holed his own birdie putt to secure the match one-up.
“Eight was the key,” said Reed. “To make that 25-footer on top of him to halve the hole, that was the big moment of the match.”
Moments before Stenson had completed his part of the task against an out of sorts Spieth in bizarre fashion, the American shaking hands in bare feet with his trousers rolled up after he had incurred a penalty for disturbing his ball in the water hazard at the 16th.
The Swede lost the first but engaged gear after taking the lead at the ninth, having five birdies before winning 3 and 2.
Europe got excellent work in the top of the order from rookies Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera Bello, but the perceived weakness of the bottom half of Darren Clarke’s singles order proved to be all too accurate.
The Belgian, the first rookie to play all five sessions for Europe since 1999, completed the best record ever by a debutant for Europe with a 3 and 2 defeat of JB Holmes.
He returned hugely impressive four-under figures on the seven holes he played on the back nine and totally justified Darren Clarke’s wildcard pick with four points on the weekend.
Cabrera Bello, left out of Saturday’s fourballs after a win and a half with Sergio Garcia, was never behind against Jimmy Walker and was another 3 and 2 winner.
The Spaniard – a semi-finalist in the WGC Matchplay earlier this year – had six birdies before his sole bogey at the 15th and finished the weekend unbeaten in three matches.
At that point the official score read 10 and a half to nine and a half, but any encouragement for Europe was muted as the bottom of the singles order was saturated in red.
Justin Rose still couldn’t find a putt on the Hazeltine greens and lost one down to Rickie Fowler. It was a point the Europeans had to have relied on given how poorly the American had played on Saturday, but Fowler responded with his best play of the week.
Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson’s battle was probably even better than Reed and McIlroy’s , with the American having nine birdies and the Spaniard eight before they hit the 18th. Naturally both rolled in birdie putts at the last as well, Garcia following the American in from 10 feet for a half point each – the only proper end to the contest, really.
“I was out there to get a point for my team, so while I’m proud of the way I played I’m still disappointed,” said Garcia.
But Clarke’s frontloaded singles order had left big gaps at the bottom, and the Americans poured through to their inevitable victory here.
Danny Willett’s miserable week ended ignominiously as he was thoroughly taken apart by Brooks Koepka. The Masters champion had looked hunted since the furore over his brother’s ill-judged “satirical” article about US fans and crumbled 5 and 4 to the US rookie.
Andy Sullivan, idle since the opening morning loss with McIlroy in foursomes, started brightly mat two-up after three but watch Brandt Snedeker roll in birdie putts to eventually prevail 3 and 1.
And the rush win the decisive point was won by Ryan Moore, the last man into the US side on the final wildcard pick just last week, who came from two down to Lee Westwood with three to play to win on one-up, taking the US over the 14 and a half point threshold.