Thomas Bjorn refused to contemplate either victory or defeat for Europe in the 42nd Ryder Cup. Or so he claimed. What can be said with certainty is that Bjorn, in his wildest dreams, didn’t foresee this demolition job on a United States team afforded such pre-event adulation that one wondered whether Europe should bother turning up. What’s the French for volte-face?
Amid incredible scenes on the outskirts of Paris – with Tommy Fleetwood carried shoulder high by jubilant fans and Francesco Molinari mobbed in a manner once the domain of Italian footballers, not golfers – the true scale of Europe’s glory was almost forgotten. A 17.5 to 10.5 win ranks among their finest of all time. Bjorn – an understated, occasionally surly character – masterminded a marvellous triumph marked by flamboyancy. Europe had even afforded the US a 3-1 lead after the first session, before a rout ensued. Jim Furyk’s team lay battered and bruised by close of play. “They outplayed us,” conceded Furyk. “Thomas was a better captain this week. We’ve got to tip our caps.”
Every Ryder Cup has its defining, closing moment. This one was strange, given Europe had already technically reached their magic total of 14.5 points because of dormie status in ongoing singles matches. Enter Phil Mickelson, the man whose verbal volley at Tom Watson before exiting Gleneagles four years ago triggered all manner of overhauls – and supposed improvements – in the US setup. In Scotland, the margin of European victory was more narrow than here.
From the 16th tee, Mickelson carved an iron shot into a lake to seal a 4&2 success for the imperious Molinari. This was likely to be Mickelson’s final Ryder Cup playing act. It afforded him an unwanted place in history; 22 match losses is a record on either side. Watson is teetotal, otherwise one presumes he may have raised a glass. Karma and sport are such devilish bedfellows.
Molinari’s five wins from as many matches render him clearly this Ryder Cup’s standout player. A typically low-key sort, the Italian emerged so brilliantly from his shell over three days in France. “This means so much to me,” said the Open champion.
“So much more than majors, more than anything. It’s hard not to get emotional when you think about the other players, the vice captains, Thomas, the wives. It’s been an incredible week.”
Nobody typified Bjorn’s immaculate leadership more than Garcia. There was discord from the masses when the 2017 Masters champion was handed a wildcard selection, to a level which visibly jolted the captain. Not only did Garcia perfectly justify what had transpired, he strode into the record books on Sunday. A 2&1 singles win over Rickie Fowler means Garcia is now the leading European points winner of all time, surpassing Nick Faldo. Bjorn isn’t the type, but he would be entitled to call out his earlier detractors.
For a brief Sunday afternoon spell, as seemed amazing in the aftermath, there were home concerns. Rory McIlroy fell to narrow defeat against Justin Thomas and Webb Simpson, surprisingly, saw off Justin Rose. A US comeback to match what Europe produced in Medinah six years ago suddenly wasn’t such a forlorn hope. Yet, when it mattered, Europe’s players rebounded from the ropes. It was as if the warning signs triggered a fresh, inspired level of performance.
Jon Rahm found himself a hole to the good against Tiger Woods on the 17th. The Spaniard duly produced two of the shots of his life to leave only 5ft for the match. Rahm made no mistake, the scale of his subsequent celebrations conjuring memories of the great Seve Ballesteros. Rahm was briefly reduced to tears when hugged by McIlroy.
No sooner had Rahm departed the penultimate hole than Ian Poulter, Mr Ryder Cup, entered. Poulter played the 17th in very similar style to Rahm but watched his birdie attempt slide agonisingly past the hole. Dustin Johnson, the world No1, breathed again. We should have known Poulter’s cunning plan; to take centre stage on the final green, in front of thousands of adoring punters. The Englishman pounded his chest in delight after Johnson was defeated. Europe were within touching distance. Poulter, another wildcard, had delivered again.
Nobody supplied more proof of Bjorn’s midas touch than Thorbjorn Olesen. Attention would naturally be directed upon Olesen’s contribution here, such is his close friendship with Europe’s captain. When Bjorn left his fellow Dane out for both Saturday sessions, eyebrows were raised.
That call proved inspired, like so many. Olesen was the clear underdog against Jordan Spieth but was 1up by the 3rd tee and refused to look back. Olesen demolished the three-time major winner, 5&4. It will be a shock if Olesen doesn’t become a Ryder Cup feature from here on.
Paul Casey, excellent on his return to the Ryder Cup fold, secured a valiant half against Brooks Koepka. Strangely, this was the only shared point of the entire event.
That Fleetwood ran out of steam was hardly surprising, albeit Tony Finau produced an outstanding putting display in winning 6&4. Patrick Reed, out of sorts for two days, rallied admirably to defeat Tyrrell Hatton 3&2. In typifying the fine attitudes with which this Ryder Cup was played, Reed took to self-deprecation in front of crowds who regard him as a pantomime villain before a warm embrace with Hatton.
By that juncture, Henrik Stenson had seen off Bubba Watson 5&4. As Europe partied, Alex Noren and Bryson DeChambeau were in the unenviable position of trying to complete an ultimately irrelevant match. Noren didn’t care; he converted from 40ft on the last green to win 1up.
McIlroy delivered the final words perfectly when assessing where it all went right. “The leadership has been great,” said the Northern Irishman. “The rookies have been phenomenal. We have won the Ryder Cup and all contributed points; that validates what Thomas did. He has been incredible.”
Whatever mood and energy Bjorn summoned, Europe wish they could bottle it. The continent’s golfing pulse has never been stronger. Ole, Ole, Ole.