Wednesday, May 23, 2018

U.S. wins first Ryder Cup since 2008

CHASKA, Minn. — This wasn't about being maybe the best golf team ever assembled. The Americans were simply a team, and they finally won back the Ryder Cup.

Phil Mickelson led them behind the scenes. Patrick Reed powered them with his passion on the course. And Ryan Moore, the final captain's pick who wasn't even on the team until a week ago Sunday, delivered the Cup-clinching point at Hazeltine.

Moore finished eagle-birdie-par for a 1-up win over Lee Westwood in Sunday singles, and the celebration was on.

"When put in the right environment, the U.S. team brought out some amazing golf," Mickelson, 46, said. "And we're bringing back the Ryder Cup because of it."

Under captain Davis Love, back as captain this year, there was no meltdown Sunday like at Medinah four years ago, when the Americans blew a 10-6 lead. Europe, which entered Sunday trailing 91/2-61/2 and needed 14 points to win the Cup for the fourth straight time, never really had a chance.

Reed outdueled and outshouted Rory McIlroy for a 1-up victory in the first singles match, and by then, the back end of the scoreboard was filled with American red.

The final score was 17-11, the biggest rout for the United States since 1981. That 1981 team is considered the best ever assembled, with 11 major champions. In an interview before the Ryder Cup, Love tried to explain that this year's team didn't have to do anything "superhuman" when he said, "This is the best team maybe ever assembled."

Ultimately, this wasn't about measuring against the past as much as it was building to the future.

The Americans lost for the third straight time in 2014, and it was a team divided over everything from how the captain was selected to how the team should be built. Mickelson put his image on the line by publicly challenging captain Tom Watson at the closing news conference, and he was the strongest voice among five players on a task force that was assembled to figure out why the Americans hit such a losing streak.

Mickelson was under pressure all week and delivered 21/2 points, including a halve with Sergio Garcia on Sunday in a match in which he had 10 birdies and Garcia nine.

"You keep losing, you feel like you have to do something different," said Love, who avoided becoming the first U.S. captain to lose the Ryder Cup twice. "This team's been questioned and beat up for a long time. … I'm just proud the way every one of them played. It was a great team effort."

The golf was equally great.

Reed faced the tallest order in Sunday's leadoff match with McIlroy, and the quality of golf was as high as it gets. Reed squared the match by driving the fifth green to 8 feet for eagle. He matched McIlroy's birdie on No. 6. McIlroy matched Reed's birdie on No. 7. And the par-3 eighth hole was as sensational as it gets in a Ryder Cup.

McIlroy holed a 60-foot birdie putt, his fourth straight birdie, let out a guttural howl and held his right hand to his ear while yelling to the raucous, sometimes hostile, crowd "I can't hear you!" Reed then holed a birdie putt from 35 feet and charged up the crowd before wagging a finger at McIlroy. As they left the green, they bumped fists and patted each other on the back, both 5 under through eight holes.

Their play dipped after that — McIlroy said he "ran out of steam" mentally on the back nine — and Reed took his first lead when McIlroy bogeyed No. 12. McIlroy's putter went cold from that point, and Reed closed him out with a 7-foot birdie on 18.

"To come out and play as well as we both did, especially on that front nine, was definitely something fun to be part of," Reed said.

But all eyes were on Mickelson, too, maybe because he had the most to lose if the Americans lost again.

This was always Mickelson's team, from the moment he demanded more say in its selection to the time he and his teammates hoisted the trophy for the first time since 2008. He helped put together the team and make the pairings. He made sure everyone felt like they were an important part of the team. And when he played, Mickelson delivered when it mattered most.

"It's truly a remarkable thing to watch and a fun thing to be part of," he said. "I believe we made each other proud, but I hope we made every American proud."