Americans’ start & Clarke’s mistakes proved decisive

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With the benefit of hindsight, it is extremely easy to point out the faults in Captain Darren Clarke as he became the first European captain to lose the Ryder Cup in eight years.

However, three things led to the 17-11 defeat, and two of them were directly because of Clarke’s decision-making. The first, and the most important reason, was the way Americans started the tournament.

Clarke could have done nothing as his team was whitewashed 4-0 in the morning foursomes. This was supposed to be the stronger format for the Europeans, having won 7-1 two years ago at Gleneagles. But even a time-tested pairing like Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose failed to stop the hosts.

It’s always difficult to claw back from such a nightmarish start, but Clarke and his men actually did very well to come to within one point of the Americans mid-way through the second day. But it was during the Saturday fourballs that Clarke made two critical pairing mistakes.

One, he persisted with his two picks – Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer – despite the fact that both were very poor on the opening day. And secondly, he split up the successful all-Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.

From a winning position, 1-up after 16, Westwood missed a four-feet putt to halve the 17th hole and then, after hitting a stunning second shot to two feet on the 18th, he missed that putt as well which would have earned a crucial half point for his close friend Clarke.

Garcia and Cabrera-Bello had earlier stolen half a point in the Saturday morning foursomes, coming back from four-down with six holes to play. The duo worked brilliantly together and there really could not have been any valid reason to separate them.

But Clarke did, and Garcia and Kaymer lost the fourballs to Mickelson and Kuchar. Clarke’s immense faith in his wildcards Westwood and Kaymer may have backfired on him, but in his third choice, Thomas Pieters, he may have discovered a Ryder Cup legend in the making.

The Belgian, just 24 years in age, was cool as a cucumber as he went about his business in near hostile environment. He even sushed the crowd a couple of times. Of course, it helped that he was paired with McIlroy, but there were many holes in which even the multiple major champion had to depend on Pieters to bail him out.

In between all this, there was a beautiful moment that captured the essence of this tournament, and sport in general. On the eight hole on Sunday, Mcllroy was involved in a massive battle in the opening match against Patrick Reed.

The two expressive players were halving holes with one outrageous birdie after another. On the eighth, McIlroy drained a monster putt that seemed to have started from another time zone. That was when he went into the I-can’t-hear-you celebration.

Reed replied by making his birdie putt from the fringe, and then wagged his fingers at McIlroy. For a moment it felt that things might get ugly. But as Reed walked off the green, the two players hugged each other, clearly in awe of the quality of shots of the other player.

It was a beautiful moment. And it really was Ryder Cup at its best.

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Five key moments as USA win the Ryder Cup

Three days of drama: The Ryder Cup.

The United States won the Ryder Cup for the first time in four attempts after beating Europe 17-11 at Hazeltine.

Here’s a look back at some of the key moments of the week.

WILLETT WOES

Europe’s Masters champion Danny Willett awoke on Wednesday to a media storm created by comments from his brother Peter in a UK golf magazine which criticised American fans for being, among other things, “cretins”. Willett moved quickly to distance himself from the remarks and while it could not be proved to have had a direct effect, he played poorly in Thursday’s practice and lost his place for Friday’s foursomes.

EARLY SLIP-UP

Rory McIlroy and rookie Andy Sullivan were twice two up against Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in the second foursomes match on the opening day, the second time with just four holes remaining. The American pair were all over the place and Europe’s duo should have closed out a victory but somehow allowed their opponents back into it with Mickelson and Fowler winning three holes in a row as the match finished at the 17th.

POOR PICKS

With Europe having fought back to 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 down by Saturday lunchtime there was real hope they could complete a turnaround by the end of the day. However, captain Darren Clarke sent out Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, two of his most experienced but out-of-form players, in the middle two fourball matches. Westwood and Willett managed to keep themselves in the game and even gave themselves a chance of an important half at the 18th but Westwood missed a two-foot putt. Kaymer was paired with Sergio Garcia, who had enjoyed an emotionally draining morning with compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello who was inexplicably rested. Garcia won three holes, Kaymer none, as they lost 2&1 to Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.

STAR TURN

Patrick Reed showed last time out how much he enjoyed the Ryder Cup but this time he led from the front, impressively for a player who has not yet won a major. His battle with McIlroy on the final day was thrilling, brilliant golf and his victory was more than deserved as he finished as his side’s leading points scorer with 3 1/2. But Reed provided much more than final-day quality, having carried two-time major winner Jordan Spieth for the last few holes on Saturday to beat Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson and he barely missed a putt over three days.

BRILLIANT BATTLE

Match four in the singles pitted two veterans against each other in Mickelson and Garcia. The latter has a great record in Ryder Cups, the former not so much, but the quality of their golf was staggering. Mickelson carded 10 birdies in 18 holes, Garcia was bogey-free in making nine birdies. It was fitting both holed birdie putts on the last green for a half. A true Ryder Cup classic.

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Top five 2016 Ryder Cup points scorers

Top-scorers: McIlroy, Snedeker, Koepka, Reed and Pieters.

The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine is over and USA have claimed glory having led the contest from start-to-finish after a dominant start on Day One.

However, it was Europe’s Thomas Pieters who claimed the most individual points having won four of his five contests—despite having been one of the European side whitewashed on the first morning.

USA’s Brandt Snedeker was the only player to finish with a 100 percent record, winning all of his three encounters, while Spaniard Rafa Cabrero-Belo was Europe’s best percentage contributor with 2.5 points from his three outings.

One of the highlights of the final day, meanwhile, was in form duo Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed going toe-to-toe in the singles with the American eventually finishing victorious to end with 3.5 points himself. The result ensured McIlroy ended with three wins from his five outings.

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