We won the cup !!
(as Golf Monthly once put it)
..and now the recriminations will inevitably begin in the USA. How could the team that once so dominated this event (holding the cup from 1959 to 1985 with only 1 draw in 1969) now seem so unlikely to hold it again?
Looking round the US media commentators they seem rather lost for an answer. Tom Lehman seemed to do a good job as captain, certainly the team on the course seemed more bonded than I can ever remember, even Tiger seems to have forgiven his caddy for dropping his nine iron in the water.
The truth is in the scorelines; results ground out on the 18th green, half points fought for and won by Europe when they could just have easily gone as a full point to the USA. In 2002 Europe were passionate, determined (all credit to Sam) and incredibly lucky, in 2004 the US imploded, in 2006 two teams met and to a large extent matched each other stroke for stroke, putt for putt, with Europe just edging it through dint of still wanting it more. The scars of Brookline have healed but are still irritating at the sight of the cup with the little man on it, like the dull ache of arthritis on a cloudy day.
Why can't the Tiger perform in the Ryder Cup? It's the same reason his dominance is so disheartening to the club golfer. He doesn't play any one hole, he doesn't even play one round, he plays 72 holes. His game is geared towards that. Look at the way he wins tournaments, 4 under on Thursday, 8 on Friday, 12 on Saturday, 16 on Sunday. He doesn't have good rounds and bad rounds, the round he plays on Thursday will more than likely be the round he plays on Sunday. In between his nearest rivals will have started well, or had a cracker on Saturday, and probably a stinker on Sunday. Consistency is the key to Tiger's dominance, and in Matchplay the last round has no bearing on this round, the last hole has no bearing on the next, and in Foursomes the last stroke wasn't even yours. How can the embodiment of "total golf" play as well under these conditions? (the fact that there's no money involved seems spurious given his poor showing at the World Matchplay)
Unfortunately he is so good a player that successive captains have been unable to drop him from the first two days play, and you can understand why, he kept the pressure on, even when he didn't make the points, and what if he had caught fire, especially in Fourballs?
That the scoreline was the same as at Oakland Hills is the amazing part, given the quality of golf the Americans played. It was a victory but it wasn't the drubbing/whitewash/thumping of 2004. It was a hard fought contest between two teams of equals, the Americans may have had the top 3 based on world rankings, but between them and the next US players were Garcia, Donald, Stenson and even dear old Monty. The scoreline flattered to deceive, this was a tough match and the Europeans were as likely to lose as to win in almost every match.
Turning to the future there have been calls for a tougher US captain, to fire up the 2008 team, and having Paul Azinger in the frame would seem to support this. I wouldn't have thought he would have too much of a job to do, in reality, with the reputation of upcoming Euro captain Nick Faldo being of someone who even Tiger might call "a bit stand-offish". In order to reignite the spark of the Ryder Cup in America there needs to be a US victory in Valhalla, and, truth be told, I don't really want Nick to stand in the way of that. Too many memories of the most boring, robotic golfer the UK has ever produced; the heartbreaking demolition of Greg Norman at the Masters in 1996, the typed message of encouragement to the boys at Brookline and, most unforgiveably of all to someone who was there, claiming not to be able to see the pin on the 18th green at St Andrews, one of the most famous holes in golf? even I know where to aim off the tee on the 18th! and the fact every other person could see it. Let's hope Monty doesn't make the team, that Nick's boys are slaughtered as the Americans have been in the past two cups and that the American zeal for this competition returns for another classic in 2010.
But as a final thought on this weekend, I think Tiger did get it right when he said "... they just outplayed us." And the truth is the Americans played as well as they should have. Our boys should be immensely proud.
Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole, ole