Full disclosure before we get started: My allegiance is to the United States, and I am on the record as predicting a United States victory by a margin of 16-12. I’m not going back on that prediction now that Tiger’s won for the first time in five years. The Americans are a slight betting favorite, and by all accounts, they should be. This is perhaps the strongest team the United States has taken to a Ryder Cup since the expansion of the competition to include all of Europe in 1979.
Nonetheless, this is European Tour blog, so I’m going to take the Stars-and-Stripes-laden aviators off for a while and have some fun letting my imagination run wild about a Team Europe victory.
Am I nuts for writing a few thousand words about a completely insane hypothetical? YES! But, if nothing else, this should be a fun exercise in giving the Euros something to hope for and the Yanks something to chew on for the next couple of days. We’ll see how close we are to any of these if Europe ends up holding the Ryder Cup on European soil, as it has done every time hosting since 1993. Let’s go to Crazytown!
The Americans came to play. Webb Simpson gets to hit the opening tee shot and atones for his 2014 sky-ball with a perfectly striped hybrid right down the Av. des Champs-Elysées. He and DJ team up for the opening session against the formidable Rose/Stenson duo. In a back-and-forth match, the Americans get an early 2 up lead. Rose and Stenson battle down the stretch to squeak out a 1 up victory, putting the first full point on the board for the Europeans and quelling any American dreams of setting up a big lead in the opening foursomes session (a la Hazeltine).
The second and third matches are played to half-point draws each, as the teams of Hatton/Fleetwood and Molinari/Noren draw with Mickelson/Fowler and Reed/Spieth, respectively.
In the fourth match, Poulter and McIlroy lose a surprising bout 3&2 to the team of Koepka and Watson, wherein Poulter’s putter never really gets going after Rory leaves him a bunch of 25+ footers due to ongoing struggles with distance control. On the other hand, Brooks comes out of his morning lift feeling “extra swole” and “super jacked,” and Bubba avoids the baguettes and brie–having instead some tasty grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast using flown-in Wonderbread and Kraft singles (shout out Team Chef Mike Ramsey – Jacksonville Golf and Country Club’s finest).
Opening Session: EUR 2 – USA 2.
The Euros struggle in this session. Neither Rahm nor Garcia were pleased about sitting out the morning matches, but instead of channeling that frustration into a victory, they run into the high-fivin’, butt-slappin’, Mizzen & Main dancin’ duo of Mickelson and Finau. The Big Tabernacle has no nerves, and rattles off 7 birdies in the first 10 holes en route to a 5&4 victory over the “fiery” Spaniards. We are reminded that they are “fiery” on the broadcast at least twice per hour. Mickelson hits it all over the yard, but instead of looking intently for lost balls in the wispy grasses, he fires up his iPhone mid-round to (1) Periscope Finau’s fourth straight birdie on the 6th hole to take a 4 up lead, and (2) bet the Phil/Finau–Tiger/Bryson–JT/Spieth parlay.
It ends up being a solid bet, as Tiger and Bryson take Olesen and Casey to the woodshed, while #TeamGoodBuddies Spieth and Thomas eek out a close one against Stenson and Rose. Phil is always the smartest guy in the room, and he knew enough not to bet against team “Fleetwood Mac” who provide the loan bright spot in the afternoon by going their own way to win a point against the surprise team of Reed and Rickie, who don’t even want to pretend to like each other long enough to ever be competitive in the duel.
Second Session: EUR 1 – USA 3. Day 1 Overall: EUR 3 – USA 5.
Facing a 2 point deficit, the Europeans put some stallions out in the early morning fourball session. Team Fleetwood Mac continues their dominance, this time against the team of Phil and Rickie. Rory channels those visions from the 2014 PGA Championship of Mickelson and Fowler high-fiving in the group in front of him, which leads to him suddenly finding the center of the club face with a few wedges. Meanwhile, Garcia and Rahm get revenge facing off against Brock Cupcake and Justin Thomas. Team #JupLife skipped leg day, and as a result, the glutes just weren’t getting fully activated. With two blue flags on the board early, a new pairing of Tiger and Reed find a way to gut out a point against Poulter and Casey, but Stenson and Rose are too much for le Artisté and DJ, who prove that opposites do not always attract. The match ends on a sour note when Bryson yells at DJ to “read a fuckin’ book!” after the round so they might have something to talk about next time. DJ does not take that advice. The result is a big session for the Euros and the tide shifting back in their direction.
Third Session: EUR 3 – USA 1. Overall: EUR 6 – USA 6.
The Yanks have a problem. Captain Furyk knows he needs to get Bryson’s mind right–and Cat might be just the medicine. However, he doesn’t want to break up the newfound revelation of Tiger and Reed. What’s more, Tiger didn’t plan on playing two sessions on the same day anyway. This conundrum leads to a pretty heated argument among the vice captains, and it ends with Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar putting their balding heads together to come up with a BRILLIANT(!) solution: sit them both.
With Tiger and Bryson on the pine, the captains feuding, and the Euros with all the momentum, the Americans are reeling. The team of DJ and Webb gets another go of it, but they aren’t able to find the magic they had on Friday morning, and lose a close one 2&1 to Molinari and Noren. Poulter and Casey are back for another round, and this time, it clicks against Thomas and Fowler. Poults gets it going early, draining a long birdie putt on the first and another one on the third. After Casey stripes a drive on the fourth, Poulter steps up and calls in the precision air strike for an eagle from 190 yards out.
Close your eyes for a moment and picture what an eagle by Poulter from 190 in a Ryder Cup would look like. In reality, it is far, far worse than what you’re imagining. His eyes bulging, his chest pounding, his teeth gritting…Poulter lets out a wail that happens to be mic’d up and not caught by the five-second delay. Johnny Miller can only muster a “whoops…sorry ’bout that folks” as Poulter screams, “FUCK YOU, UNCLE SAM, YOU WANKER!” running down the fairway at full sprint speed. The match is over before it begins, and by a margin of 6&5, #TeamJupLife(PartDeux) get dealt an embarrassing defeat. Somewhere, Jose Maria Olazabal is smiling.
Thankfully for USA, the Mickelson and Finau pairing proves to have some juice. This time, it’s Phil doing the heavy lifting, as Rahm and Hatton can’t stand the fun-loving, west coast vibe coming from the Big Lefty and the Big Tabernacle. Hatton and Rahm both say a LOT of words out loud on the golf course, but all of them are directed inward or towards their respective golf balls. And while each of them tries their best to keep the other mentally on planet Earth, there’s too much lost in translation between the two, as both seem to always have both hands covering their mouths/faces after every single putt, preventing the words of encouragement from being fully understood.
The USA trots out ol’ reliable Spieth and Reed in the final pairing, going up against Fleetwood Mac. In what turns out to be the tightest, most entertaining match of the team sessions, the Americans jump out to a quick 2 up lead. Fleetwood gets the bug and turns into Fleekwood the Flusher, dropping a couple of quick dimes in the middle holes leading to a pair of conceded birdies. Rory then finds his wedge game, getting the Euros a 1 up lead on 16, but Spieth and Reed dig deep. Coming down to the last hole, Spieth is faced with a 5 footer to win the hole and halve the match. Reed, feeling inspired, takes Spieth aside and tells him about that time when he got put in the line drive section, but decided to take matters into his own hands and upgrade his seats while tagging the TOUR not once, but TWICE in the same shady tweet. Spieth looks confused. “Take this match into your own hands…UPGRADE FROM THE LINE DRIVE SECTION!” Reed growls, spittle raining from his grimacing face. It’s the most inspirational speech Reed’s ever given…just ask him.
Something about it resonates, though. Spieth lines up the putt, gives it a tentative, beta-male tap, and it trundles end-over-end toward the cup. At the last second it dives right to the low side of the hole, but catches just enough to do a full 360 and find the bottom. We, the golfing public, get a highlight that will live forever, and Spieth for the first time in his life, gets to experience what it’s like to be the Alpha. The USA grinds out a half-point.
Fourth Session: EUR 2.5 – USA 1.5. Overall: EUR 8.5 – USA 7.5.
Match 1: Rory McIlroy v. Justin Thomas
Everyone was hoping for another heavyweight Rory v. Reed bout, but this one turns out to be almost as much fun. Big J hits the ground running, lighting up the front nine with a blistering 31. But Rory keeps pace, and only finds himself 1 down at the turn. Rors rattles off two quick birdies on 10 and 11 to take a 1 up lead. Then, JT finds a groove, sparks fly, and he rallies with a birdie-birdie-birdie stretch to build a 2 up lead of his own with four to play. On 15, however, Thomas hits it in the water off the tee and ends up conceding the hole. Rory seizes the opening, and throws and absolute dart at the short sixteenth that almost finds the bottom of the hole. Another concession, and suddenly, the match is tied with 2 holes to go. Pars halve the seventeenth, but Rory takes an ultra-aggro line on eighteen and rips one of those *rocket emoji* drives into the stratosphere. JT follows suit and also sends one into space. Two generational drivers of the golf ball show us what it means to unload.
Thomas is away, and finds the middle of the green with his approach. Rory, again smelling blood, takes dead aim and finds the surface only 10 feet below the hole. A Thomas miss; a Rory make; a European point. Rory wins 1 up.
Match 2: Alex Noren v. Rickie Fowler
A proxy war for “most in the ass of NLU,” Noren gets deep on Soly in the opening foray, hopping out to a 2 up lead through eight. Not to be outdone, the Ricktator finds himself knocking down two quick tweeters on fourteen and fifteen to take it back to all square. After the second putt drops, the camera cuts to Rickie and he winks playfully, directly into Big Randy’s soul. In the end, however, Noren cruises to a full point by parring sixteen and seventeen and getting a conceded eighteenth after Rickie’s second finds the drink. Soly relaxes because “it’s not like Noren won it, it’s more like Rickie lost it.” Randy googles “how to say schadenfreude in French.”
Match 3: Ian Poulter v. Bubba Watson
In the #VisorWar, Poulter prevails. He makes a comment on the first tee about Bubba playing a putt-putt ball for all of 2017, and Bubba, without a good comeback, is thrown off his game immediately. Bubba starts getting pissed about “not having enough trees to aim at” or something. Bubba tries to drive the short par 4 tenth, but overcooks his “baby fade” into the drink, concedes the hole, and goes 4 down. After getting a gust and coming up short in the water on the par 3 eleventh, Bubba goes OFF on his caddie and #PrayforTedScott is trending on Twitter for the first time in a while. Poulter wins 7&6 and puts the first point on the board for Europe of the afternoon, as his match finishes a solid hour before Rory’s.
Match 4: Justin Rose v. Patrick Reed
The most contentious moment of the matches in nearly twenty years happens early on the par 5 third. With the match all square early, Reed tries his helicopter-finish fade off the tee, but it drifts on a gnarly zephyr way out to the right and into the water. Reed takes a drop, but the location is…um…a little suspect. Initially, Rose didn’t see it, because his pull-draw ended up in the left rough, about 50 yards away from Reed. Reed plays his shot quickly, before Rose really knows what’s going on. After Rose plays, while walking up to the next shot, Paddy Harrington tells Fooch and Rose that he thinks the drop was unsporting. Once they get to the green, Fooch and Rose confront Patrick about the drop, Reed immediately gets in Fooch’s face, and Fooch is ready to throw hands. Just before a kerfuffle can break out on the green, Matt Kuchar comes over to act as peacekeeper and break it up. Reed ends up losing the hole, but it lights a fire under him for the rest of the match, and he goes on to torch Rose 4&3. After he barely shakes Rose’s hand, and doesn’t shake Fooch’s, the crowd boos while Reed gives them the classic “shush” finger. Word quickly spreads around to the rest of the course and Johnny Miller calls it “not his finest moment, folks.”
Match 5: Francesco Molinari v. Bryson DeChambeau
Feeling dejected from the previous day, DeChambeau gets off to a rough start. Molinari ballstrikes him into oblivion over the first six holes and jumps out to quick 4 up lead. DeChambeau hears it from the crowd, as they repeatedly jeer him for having a “french-sounding name” but not being able to speak at word of the mother tongue. Meanwhile, Molinari looks like he’s mostly just strolling in the park, and although Bryson fights and claws his way back into the match, he still loses 3&2.
Match 6: Paul Casey v. Webb Simpson
There’s a lot of Blue on the board, and Webb Simpson might seem like an unlikely hero for the Americans. But the most startlingly handsome lad on the squad makes it a quietly productive week. Casey just looks somewhat tired and disinterested from the start, while Webb seems to be 100% dialed in. Casey misses a few key putts in the early going, while Webb is repeatedly wet from distance. Scrambling to find some momentum, Casey makes a little run in the middle holes, but ultimately, Webb keeps his composure and is able to close out the match and put a full point on the board for the United States, winning 3&2 with a drippy birdie on the 16th green.
Match 7: Tyrrell Hatton v. Jordan Spieth
With no shortage of drama, who better to get the back half started with a quiet reprieve than two guys known for keeping completely to themselves and going about their business. Just kidding.
In what becomes a sadly hilarious spectacle of self-talk turned self-loathing turned self-immolation, the Hatton and Spieth match demonstrates why getting the players mic’d up makes all the difference. After Feherty runs out of pithy things to say about how neither golf ball seems to want to listen, the production truck actually puts a booth fatwa on any commentary during their match after the fourteenth hole, where they find themselves all square. That’s right…on the last four holes, Dan and Johnny completely let Tyrrell and Spieth do all the talking.
Spieth starts with a wild push slice right on the fifteenth tee, 20 yards into the water. As soon as he hits it, Spieth shrieks a mighty “GOODNESS, JORDAN WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? THERE’S 70 YARDS OF FAIRWAY OVER THERE!!!”
Hatton, not to be #outdun, doesn’t club down but instead hits driver, and ALSO finds the water right. Hatton, in fullblown surrender cobra, compliments himself thusly: “Awww bollocks, you bloody stewpid muppet!”
The two go on like this until the eighteenth green, where neither seems to want to win any battle other than who can tell themselves they suck more. The match plays to the most amusing halve in Ryder Cup history.
Match 8: Jon Rahm v. Tony Finau
Finau justifies his pick throughout the Matches, but perhaps nowhere moreso than in the singles. With a winning record already assured by his 2-0 start, Finau decides to put the icing on the pastry and decimates a flustered Rahm, who has had a first Ryder Cup he would probably like to forget up to this point. The matchup promised to be a bomb-n-gouge tour de force, but ended up being a rout. Rahm gets inside his own head early by missing several short putts, while Finau keeps pouring them in with reckless abandon. For a much lauded pick, Finau shows just what he is capable of with the pressure on and his team in desperate need of a point. Tony plants the Stars and Stripes firmly on the board, and notches a full point for the Yanks.
Match 9: Tommy Fleetwood v. Brooks Koepka
Another match that surely spells fireworks, Fleetwood is treated to the opportunity to exact revenge on Brooksie for the U.S. Open. One is pure power, the other so much finesse. The players trade blows early and often, with each player netting birdies left and right, but neither of them are able to gain any ground. Koepka finally breaks free with a timely eagle on the par 5 ninth. He follows that with the most spectacular, soaring tee shot on the driveable tenth, and rattles in a second consecutive eagle from 28 feet, while Fleetwood looks to his caddie, and utters, “Not sure I’ve got that one, Fino.” Fino responds, “Right, mighty [inaudible] good [unintelligible] cracking one, that.” Koepka puts the pedal down and finds another point for the United States to cap off one of the single most dominant seasons in modern golf. Brock the Jock is simply too good. The residents of Fleetwood Island weep uncontrollably.
Match 10: Thorbjorn Olesen v. Dustin Johnson
With only three matches left on the course, and the tide turning quickly back toward the Americans, Team Europe need two of their three captain’s picks to step up and claim full points in order to win the cup outright. One would expect Thorbjorn to perhaps cave under the pressure of facing the number one player in the world and the most explosive golfer on the planet. But something doesn’t quite seem right for DJ on this Sunday. Part of the problem is the course setup takes driver out of his hand. Another issue is that it just hits him 3 minutes before he tees off that he casually blew a putt for $10 million at East Lake a week ago to the day. A third problem is the text he woke up to from the Great One telling him he is banned from wearing the number 99 L.A. Kings sweater when he hits his opening tee shot. The hits keep coming.
Thorbjorn, meanwhile, digs deep for the locker-room material. He harkens back to the No Laying Up Podcast, Episode 166, when Soly said, “Olesen isn’t the caliber of player that plays in the Ryder Cup.” Thunderbear is having none of it. He lets fly from the opening tee shot and goes on an opening tear, popping four birds on the first four holes. If Deej wasn’t shook before, he’s very shook now.
Thomas Bjorn watches eagerly as Olesen dismantles Johnson. Hole after hole, Olesen puts on an a ball striking clinic. DJ eventually finds a little footing on the back half, but by then it’s too late. Thorbjorn is able to make a snaking putt on the sixteenth hole to seal the deal of a 3&2 victory over DJ, and an all-time Ryder Cup upset.
Match 11: Henrik Stenson v. Phil Mickelson
Who wouldn’t want a chance to see Henrik and Phil run it back one more time from the 2016 Open Championship? That magical Sunday, when the Swede was able to edge Phil’s electric 65 with a final round 63 of his own to claim his first Major, felt like it could never be topped. Although the pairing elicited tons of opportunities to re-live those highlights on Saturday night, the Sunday redux in Paris, understandably and predictably, doesn’t live up the the hype. In fact, it’s worse than that. Stenson’s elbow inflammation is persistent on the morning of the singles, and although he tries to give it a go, Henrik’s tentative to engage the turf. The result is a number of thinly bladed iron shots and a complete lack of distance control. Stenson, finding himself 6 down through 10 and the pain too much to bear, concedes the match. Phil acts respectfully to his opponent, and mutters a few kind words about “wishing he could have gotten another shot at him at his best” as they shake hands.
Phil then immediately cracks open his phone on the golf cart ride over the action with Tiger and Sergio.
“Hi, I’m Phil Mickelson, pro golfer. I used to have painful elbow inflammation caused by psoriatic arthritis. Then I talked to my doctor about Enbrel.”
Match 12: Sergio Garcia v. Tiger Woods
Much has been written of the new affable, likable, fun-loving Tiger. “Tiger seems to get along with his peers.” “Tiger has humbly transformed into the elder statesman on Tour.”
What does Sergio think of all that? “Mierda,” that’s what.
Much as been written of whether Sergio deserved a Captain’s pick. “He’s looked completely out of sorts the past three months.” “He hasn’t made a cut in the U.S. since March.”
What does Tiger think of all that? “Bullshit,” that’s what.
See, the blood is bad between these two. Of all the people Tiger would want to thrash on Sunday afternoon with a Ryder Cup on the line, El Niño would be numbers 1-99. And of all the people Sergio would love to take down to show all the haters and losers how wrong they were, El Gato Grande would likewise be the guy. There is a palpable, sour, gritty taste in the air on the first tee. 10,000 strong here to see the Cat and the Kid. Tiger blisters his opening tee shot–a 2 iron stinger that never gets 20 feet off the ground, followed by a twirl so hard, you’d think he was about to go airborne. Sergio, not to be outdone, takes 3 wood and aims for the incredibly aggressive line up the far right side, carrying all the mounding and skirting the water to leave a mere flip wedge into the green. The two exchange brief looks walking off the first tee box and into the gauntlet.
By nipping a crispy little hold-off wedge into the green 8 feet below the hole, Tiger applies the early pressure. Sergio answers, stuffing his wedge into gimme range. Billy Baroo isn’t glowing hot yet, but you can’t birdie them all unless you birdie the first. Tiger rattles the back of the hole…with AUTHORITY. Birdies halve the hole.
The two trade pars on the second, and birdies on the par 5 third. Two more pars on the fourth and fifth. Then, on the sixth, Sergio draws first blood. Tiger tries to get cute with his tee shot, but squirts one low and off the toe way out to the right in the heavy stuff, where he’s only able to hack it back to the fairway, 15 yards short of the green. Sergio pitches his second into gimme range, and when Tiger fails to convert his own pitch shot, Garcia finds himself 1 up.
The pair trade pars on the seventh, but Cat is able to gobble up the difference on the eighth, when he stiffs his tee ball to 2 feet from a mere 213 yards away. Sergio has a 30 footer that never threatens, but comes up within tap in range. There is a tense moment when Tiger looks to Sergio, as if to say “This is good, right?” Sergio never drops eye contact, and never mutters a word. Tiger replaces his ball, and in a moment that seems to be a call back to all of the history between the two, Tiger one-hand putts his ball into the hole just to show Sergio that, “Yes, you asshole. This was fucking good.”
Tiger’s blood is boiling as he walks to the ninth. Joey is able to calm him down somewhat, but there is some redass to be taken out on the next Bridgestone he puts on the peg. Top Tracer shows that 190 ball speed ain’t just for the kids, but also for the Cat. Notah Begay says he hasn’t seen him swing at one that hard since Stanford. Johnny Miller timely adds, “For all you folks at home, this is why when you find yourself playing your next match play against Tiger Woods, you should really not make him mad.” We will all miss Johnny Miller. Sergio answers with two good shots of his own, but finds himself right of the green in two well below the hole in a collection area. Tiger’s second, on the other hand, is a beautiful, high-flying fade that lands perfectly at the front of the green and trundles up to 10 feet below the hole. Sergio hits a remarkable shot to get up and down for birdie, but Tiger’s eagle try rolls perfectly end over end into the dead middle. Tiger is 1 up after nine.
On the back nine, the two trade birdies on the short par 4 tenth, and pars on the par 3 eleventh and par 4 twelfth. Both find trouble on the short thirteenth, and bogey halves the hole. On 14, Sergio is able to take back some control of the match when Tiger’s wayward second finds the sand left and short of the green. Sergio finds the surface in two, and two-putts his way to a birdie 4 that squares the match headed to the difficult fifteenth.
With the honor, Sergio steps up and pummels an iron into the fat of the fairway. Tiger, on the other hand, feels the wind swirling and can’t decide on the play. After a long conversation with LaCava, Tiger decides to go with fairway metal and try to carry the ball over the hazard and up close to the green. A gust hits it, knocks it down, and Tiger finds the drink. Sergio manages to hit it to the middle of the green and two putts for a 1 up lead.
Feeling it, Sergio launches a high, soft one into the middle of the green on 16–pin high and about 15 feet from the hole. Tiger doesn’t flinch, however. He summons the Tiger of…last week(!) and absolutely flushes a baby 8 iron. The sound…crisp. The traj…glorious. The cut…buttery. His shot lands three feet from the hole and stops dead. It’s now patently obvious that we are watching something special. Sergio’s putt slides just outside the hole, and Tiger taps his in to square the match.
After trading pars on 17, unremarkable in their execution but for the tension in the air, Tiger and Sergio march to the eighteenth, all square. By this time, the stage is set. Europe leads 14-13. A full point for Tiger retains the cup. Sergio is in the driver’s seat as a half or a whole point wins the cup for Europe.
Two tee shots perfectly down the middle. Garcia and Woods exchange knowing glances as they briskly walk in lockstep down the fairway. For a second, the bad blood melts away, and all that’s left is the gravity of the moment.
Woods, first to play, punishes a cracking iron shot towards the flag, but the adrenaline was just a smidgen too much, and it lands just over the hole and hops off the back of the green, barely into the first cut.
Firmly in control, Sergio channels that Sunday at Augusta, all of those feelings, and remembers all of the great things that have happened in his life since. He regrets nothing about the last 10 months of mediocre golf; they didn’t exist. Only him, the flag, and cup. And the CUP. Garcia’s signature whip-cracking action perfectly clips the ball from the turf and it sails through the air. A cry of “¡VAMOS!” cuts into the sky, as Garcia’s ball falls from the heavens straight into the middle of the green, 20 feet from the hole. Barring a miracle, two putts will all but assure the Europeans a victory.
Both bask in the moment as they make their way to the final green. But for Tiger, it’s mostly just business. He stalks his chip for what seems like an hour, but no one is in a hurry for him to hit it. After committing to a line and speed, he nips it perfectly, and the ball lands on his spot in the fringe. As it trickles toward the hole, it settles agonizingly shy of the cup. Tiger falls to his knees as just one more revolution…half a revolution, even, might have been enough.
Sergio gives him a thumbs up–no consolation really, but a sporting gesture of respect. El Niño has two putts from twenty feet to clinch the Cup. He would need only one.
The European Team wins the Ryder Cup by a score of 15-13, in one of the greatest renditions of the event that will ever be played.