A mere five day ago we kicked off the match preview with a reminder of just what a desperate financial situation the Ryder Cup was once in, when the best corporate offer on the table was the modern equivalent of Tesco clubcard points. What we didn’t quite anticipate was that midway through Saturday the match would be all too reminiscent of the darkest days of European Ryder Cup golf.
Thank the Lord, therefore, for a pumped up Shane Lowry and the on-going brilliance of Spanish golfers. Between them they have provided the merest sliver of hope for a thrilling conclusion to Sunday’s singles. The United States lead 11-5 and pretty much every member of Steve Stricker’s squad has looked focused, determined and ready to break par.
In contrast, the Europeans have looked bereft of all three qualities. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia are exceptions, winning twice in combination on Saturday and once on Friday. The pair have been sensational, maintaining their nation’s proud heritage of fearsome combinations in the event, a thread of Ryder Cup history that runs from Severiano Ballesteros to Rahm via Manuel Pinero, Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Garcia. Together, Spaniards have won 25.5 points from 35 matches, a winning ratio that comfortably bests the 32 points from 64 matches of all other European one-nation pairings.
The continent’s historical debt to Spain is self-evidently large and, without this week’s trio of points, Sunday’s action would be a devastating prospect. In the build-up to the match captain Padraig Harrington repeatedly praised the quality of his team’s ball-striking and a voice in the back of my head did keep whispering that what he wasn’t saying was that they can’t putt. The same voice noted that Europe’s motivational videos were just a little too reminiscent of those from Paris in 2018 and it wondered if there might be a law of diminishing returns on inspiration: that it needs to be fresh to fire the synapses.
The flipside of all of this would be the argument of author Richard Gillis, whose book The Captaincy Myth, insists that no event deifies leaders with quite such gay abandon, despite the fact that the result always comes down to the players. That notion would hold that Harrington cannot be held accountable for Rory McIlroy’s appalling week – or the long-term reality that Europe’s generation of thirtysomethings have gone missing and left this Cup to the old guard. Our preview wondered if it would be a match too far for the likes of Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Garcia. With the exception of the twinkle-eyed matador it has been exactly that and only a miracle of Old Testament, rather than Medinah, proportions will alter that.
Harrington’s quest for something inexplicable has led him to thrust the two Spaniards and Lowry into the top four of the singles, all of them preceded, at number one spot, by McIlroy. The last roll of the dice is that leadership draws a revival from him, that Europe’s best-performing trio repeat their heroics, and that those who follow are galvanized by the fast start. For the sake of our entertainment, let’s hope the quartet pull it off – and I also wish that for Harrington’s sake. He has a lot more to lose than a Sunday night of drama. We can all flip over to Endeavour; he’ll be fretting about this week, replaying his decisions on an agonising looptape, for months and years to come.
Let’s see if the singles offer any value.
Let’s take Lowry to ride the wave. He’s been an absolute joy to watch all week and especially when walking-in his winning putt late on Saturday night. “I've always wanted to play in a Ryder Cup,” he said afterwards. “I'm having the week of my life here, honestly, I really am. It's an incredible experience.” All the players will want to turn this around, but crucially he’s got fire in his belly – he’s genuinely hurting for the team and the captain. “I was thinking about it in bed last night, we’ll be getting a lot of stick back home, the captains and vice captains will be getting a lot of stick for the pairings or whatever because everyone is a genius when you're not doing well. But everyone is trying their hardest and that's all you can do. I'm happy I was able to get a point for my team.” And when faced by that putt? “I said to Bo (his caddie), ‘I'm made for this.’ I didn't know I was going to hole it, but I knew I was going to try my best, and I'm so happy with it went in.” Stoke the fire, Shane, do it for Padraig, and get another point on the board.
There has to be some risk attached to matches that might be ending long after the actual result of the match has been decided, but these two are both in the top nine so hopefully that peril will be more relevant for the matches that follow them. Wiesberger has been involved in decent scraps, but both have ultimately proved futile and Koepka will smell blood. Hatton has played some good shots this week, but he’s also played some absolute shockers. Alone and against Thomas he might not get off the hook