Ryder Cup showcased world class golf at Hazeltine
History was made at Hazeltine when America finally won back the Ryder Cup after eight trophyless years. Their last victory came at Valhalla in 2008.
Since then, Europe had dominated the biggest international match in golf, winning at Celtic Manor in 2010, starring in the 2012 Miracle at Medinah and completing the hat-trick with success at Gleneagles in 2014.
Before this year’s match, Davis Love’s team were heavily backed to record a home victory against a European Team packed with no less than six rookies. Darren Clarke tried to add experience, gifting Lee Westwood a spot on the team as one of his wildcard choices. But in the end, the Americans, boosted by a raucous Minnesota crowd, were just too good for the Europeans, recording a 17 -11 victory.
2006 Junior Open winner Patrick Reed was the star of the Team USA. At Gleneagles Tom Watson created a twosome to be feared in then rookies Reed and Jordan Spieth. Davis Love was not about to split them up, and they were partnered together again at Hazeltine, securing 2.5 points.
With Europe trailing by two points going into Sunday, Reed nullified any attempt of a European fight back, taking out Rory McIlroy in the first singles match of the day with a 1up win over the Irishman, who himself produced some of his finest golf over the weekend.
The 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year roared on every holed putt as he became the figurehead of the European team. McIlroy dealt with the frenzied fans by playing to the crowds as he was heckled to help win three of Team Europe’s 11 points.
McIlroy also found a new accomplice in Ryder Cup debutant Thomas Pieters. A Captain’s pick, the 24-year-old presented the kind of imperturbable calmness that made his first appearance one of the stand-out performances of the match.
Another rookie who made an impression was Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Playing with his countryman and “dream partner” Sergio Garcia, the pair invoked the aura of Seve Ballesteros. As Europe tried to scrape back points from their disastrous 4-nill drubbing in the first session on Friday morning, Cabrera-Bello and Garcia inspired their own mini miracle and fought back from 4-down with six holes to play to snatch a half point from Reed and Spieth.
The 32-year-old then went on to beat PGA Champion Jimmy Walker 3&2 in the Sunday singles helping his team to record 2.5 points in his maiden event. In a year that saw both Pieters and Cabrera-Bello also play in the historic Olympic Golf event in Rio in August, the experience gained from 2016 must stand them both in good stead for a successful 2017.
2013 Silver Medal winner Matt Fitzpatrick got his first taste of Ryder Cup action and took on the 2015 Champion Golfer of the Year Zach Johnson in the final singles match on Sunday. The young Englishman couldn’t thwart the experience of Johnson though, who added another point to the American tally with a 4&3 win over Fitzpatrick.
The current Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson continued his own fine form Hazeltine. Darren Clarke paired the Swede up with close friend Justin Rose. The Olympic Gold and Silver medal winners managed to muster a point from three exhausting bouts with Reed and Spieth. On Sunday, the Ice Man displayed the kind of coolness he showed during his epic battle with Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon in July, as he temporarily postponed American celebrations with a 3&2 victory over Spieth in the second singles match of the final day.
But Stenson’s efforts only delayed the inevitable as Ryan Moore sealed the Ryder Cup for Team USA with his final stroke on the 18th for a 1up win over Lee Westwood.
While disappointed not win the match for a record fourth time, Darren Clarke will be proud of the spirit his players showed in their efforts. And looking to the future, Hazeltine might have just provided the Europeans with a few new stars when the match returns to this side of the Atlantic in France in 2018.
But if you can’t wait two years to see the stars of the Ryder Cup, you can secure your tickets to witness Henrik Stenson defend his title against the heroes of Hazeltine when The Open returns to the historic links of Royal Birkdale in July. The world’s best players will battle it out to get their hands on golf’s most iconic trophy, the Claret Jug, and be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year.
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