Monday, October 1, 2012

Killer Instinct, and the Lack Thereof

This is a basketball site, but I can't resist whining about one of the greatest collapses in sporting history--by the U.S. Ryder Cup team yesterday (well, and Saturday, when the collapse began).

The U.S., after all, led Europe 10-4 late Saturday afternoon. By the end of the festivities on Saturday, Europe had wrestled a vapor of hope out of the U.S., winning the last 2 matches to get within 10-6. Then on Sunday, as you know, the U.S. booted 8 of 11 matches while another was halved. Europe demolished the self-satisfied Americans 10.5-3.5 down the stretch to hang on to the Ryder Cup for another 2 years.

It's not just that the Americans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, it's how they did it.

First, Saturday afternoon. Up 8-4 after the Saturday morning foursomes, the afternoon started well enough as Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson routed Francesco Molinari and Justin Rose 5-and-4, and Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar edged Nicolas Colsaerts and Paul Lawrie 1-up. Meanwhile Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson took an early 2-up lead over Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.

The only fly in the ointment was an early 3-up lead by Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia over a struggling Steve Stricker-Tiger Woods team for the Americans. Early on the TV announcers, including Johnny Miller, said, hey, how about a team of Keegan Bradley and Tiger Woods. Stricker, let's be honest, had been terrible as he and his partner, Tiger, were the only Americans who hadn't yet won a point. He hadn't won a single hole in Friday's four ball and today Tiger would get 7 birdies and Strick a pair.

Bradley, meanwhile, had teamed with Phil Mikkelson to go 3-0 in the 1st 3 rounds. But captain Davis Love had said all along that he would rest everybody, and he even rested Tiger (and Stricker) on Saturday morning. But, as Miller said, if they win in the morning, they should play in the afternoon. OK, maybe you rest the 42-year-old Mikkelson but the 23-year-old Bradley, He can be tired next week, Miller said.

So Stricker and Woods predictably fall 3-down. But, wait, they come back within 1 (on a Woods birdie) on 16. Colsaerts matches another Woods birdie in 17. But on 18 the U.S. can still win the hole and halve the match. But no, Stricker lips out a short putt and the U.S. loses the point.

To make matters worse, Dufner and Johnson don't win a single hole after number 7 and Europe birdies everything from 13 on (McIlroy 13, Poulter 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18) and Europe wins that point, too.
10-6 and all the momentum has shifted to Europe.


So on Sunday Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who has been the village idiot previously, throws his best golfers out there early, hoping to capture some momentum. And wouldn't you know it, they win the 1st 5 matches by a cumulative 12-up and (in stroke terms) 24 below par. The U.S. is 7 under par for 5 guys.

Actually Dustin Johnson has closed out Colsaerts by the time the 5th match ends, so now it's tied at 11-11. The biggest matches are the Poulter-Simpson and Rose-Mikkelson match-ups. Simpson is 1-up after 16 and both golfers are even par. Poulter birdies 17 and 18. Match over. Similarly, Mikkelson leads Rose 1-up after 16, though in this case Rose is -5 and Mikkelson -3. Well, sure enough, Rose birdies 17 and 18, 17 with a 40-footer. Match over. U.S. pretty much dead.

From there it was just a question of the inevitable working its way out.

To wit, Jim Furyk leads Sergio Garcia 1-up after 16. Garcia wins both as Furyk finishes bogey-bogey. Match over. U.S. more dead.

Then with the U.S. needing 1.5 of the final 2 points, guess who's on the hook. Stricker (0-3) and Woods (0-3). Stricker is even after 16, but loses 17. Woods trails Molinari pretty much the whole way but becomes the only American to win 17 all day to go 1-up. But by the time they approach 18, it's all over, it doesn't matter.

But the fact is that both Stricker and Woods shot 1-over. They were only in their matches because Kamer and Molinary were also +1. Overall Europe is -27, America -9 on a course that was set up to optimize America's strengths and which also gave them the home ice advantage. 12 guys, -9. The best American, Mikkelson at -3, was bested by 4 Europeans--Rose at -7, Lawrie -6, McIlroy -5, Donald -4--and matched up another, Lee Westwood.

And the 17th hole was won by Europe 5 times, America 1, and halved 3.

18: Europe 4, America 1, halved 1.

17 and 18: Europe 9, America 2. Can you spell C-H-O-K-E?

Not only that but McIlroy beat Bradley by winning 14 and 15. Lawrie beat Snedecker by winning 11, 12, 13 and 15. Westwood beat Kuchar by winning 12, 13 and 15.

On the back nine Europe won 33 holes, the U.S. 26. But the ones that Europe won, won matches. The ones the U.S. won only prolonged the agony.

All in all, a total collapse, and indicative of a total lack of killer instinct from captain Davis Love on down.

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