September 28, 2012
The last weekend in September means that it is time for the best golfers in the world to face off in the Ryder Cup Matches. This biannual tournament is one of the few times that the top players play for their continent and pride instead of financial reward.
The first day of the tournament consists of two rounds of four matches with pairs from each side playing foursomes and four-balls. The winner of each round takes one point, and a tied round shares the points.
Saturday continues with the four-ball and foursome matches, with the tournament concluding on Sunday with twelve single rounds. The first team to reach 14 points over the weekend wins the Ryder Cup.
The Medinah course near Chicago was the scene of two US Open victories for Tiger Woods, but has been modified specifically for the tournament under the suggestions of American caption Davis Love III to cut back the rough. This will allow the course to play into the hands of the American big hitters, but many of the European players will also benefit from this change.
The first session started with four foursomes lining up for the start of the match play. To start the first round, World number 1 Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell for Europe faced up to the American pair of Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker. After the first two holes, the American pair slipped into a one shot lead. This lead only lasted until the fourth hole when McIlroy hit a great chip that dropped into the hole.
The lead in this match then swung to Europe on the sixth and the American’s pulled it back to level on the eighth hole. Three great holes then put the Europeans three shots up in the game and seemingly heading for an easy victory. The match was not over though as the American’s won three of the next five holes to leave it all square on the 17th. This hole was tied before the teams went into the last hole. All the players made mistakes, but Furyk missed a 20 foot putt to let the European team take the hole and the match.
The second game put the previously unbeaten European pairing of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald against Phil Mickelson and rookie Keegan Bradley. Like the first game, the Americans took an early lead on the second hole before the European pair pulled back two successive holes to go into the lead after hole six. Bradley sunk an eight foot pitch on the ninth hole to level the scores before the Americans took four successive holes from the 12th to win the game 4&3 and take the first point of the tournament.
The third match featured Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari for Europe against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson for Team USA. Against the pattern set by the other matches, the Europeans took a lead on the first hole, but the score was level after the second. This was repeated twice over the first half of the course before the Americans took the lead for the first time on hole 10. Taking the 15th and 16th hole gave the American’s an unassailable lead 3&2.
The final pairing had the most famous player in the world, Tiger Woods paired with Steve Strickler for the USA, playing against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose for Europe. Unfortunately, Woods in particular was not playing to his usual high standards and the Europeans took the lead on the second hole. Even though the Americans pulled it back on the third hole, the European pair was not going to be denied and ran out 2&1 winners to level the scores after the morning at 2-2.
The afternoon matches represented a great opportunity for players to recover from a bad round in the morning or for the captains to swap things around to try different pairings out.
The opening game put Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson up against Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson. This game went to the American pair from the very first hole, and by halfway around they had a massive 6 hole lead. Even though the European pair pulled one back at the 11th this match went to the American’s 5&4.
The second four-ball match put the European pair of McIlroy and McDowell up against Mickelson and Bradley. Both pairs were successful in the morning session, but in the afternoon the match went entirely to the American pair. After three holes, they had taken a three hole lead and from that position only one side was going to win. The Europeans played a lot better on the second half of the course and even pulled back a couple of holes but still lost 2&1.
Both sides had new pairings for the third match, with Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer for Europe taking on Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. The European pair took the first hole, but were swiftly pulled back to level before the Americans took three successive hole to take a three shot lead after seven holes. Each side took the honors on one more hole for the game to finish 3&2 to the American pair.
The final match was chance for Tiger Woods and Steve Strickler to recover from their defeat in the morning fourballs. Facing them was a new European pair of Lee Westwood and Belgian rookie Nicolas Colsaerts. The American pair took an early lead on the first hole, but this was pulled back to all-square on the fourth hole. Two successive holes for Europe at nine and ten gave them a two hole lead. The last few holes alternated between the Americans pulling a hole back and the Europeans extending the lead again before eventually running out winners by 1.
After the first eight matches, America are in a comfortable 5-3 lead. The tournament is certainly not over yet and it can all change, particularly on the Sunday singles but Davis Love III will be the happier of the two captains tonight. Europe will need to work hard to pull back this and Jose Marie Olzabal will need to think hard about his options for the Saturday pairings.