After all the talk about the immense talent on the 2018 American Ryder Cup team, the final result was the same as that of the previous five matches played in Europe.
The U.S. team lost by the second largest margin of the 6-match road losing streak, with Europe erasing a 3-1 deficit after the first session Friday morning to win the team matches 10-6. The Europeans clinched the victory with a strong showing in singles, going 7-4-1 to increase the final score to 17 ½ to 10 ½.
For a few minutes in Sunday singles, it appeared the U.S. might have a slim chance to score a comeback victory, with seven of the first eight matches in play late in the day. But Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler all lost competitive matches and that was that.
The European team clearly outplayed the Americans, led by the unexpectedly dominant duo of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who went 4-0 in the team matches to provide Europe with its 4-point lead going into the singles.
While Molinari, 0-3-2 in his first two Ryder Cup appearances, and Fleetwood, a Ryder Cup rookie, played well in all four matches, they did not receive much resistance from their U.S. opponents, especially the best ball team of Woods and Patrick Reed. Woods was coming off his victory the previous week in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, with Reed a standout in the two previous Ryder Cups, posting a record of 6-1-2.
The U.S. won the first three matches Friday morning, with Woods and Reed 2-up after 10 holes in the final match of the session. But after winning three of the four previous holes with birdies, the U.S. team did not make another birdie in the match. Molinari and Fleetwood birdied five of the next seven to win 3&1, and Europe swept the afternoon alternate shot session to take a 5-3 lead.
With a chance to get back in the matches, U.S. captain Jim Furyk sent the same four teams Saturday morning that went 3-1 the day before in best ball. This time, Europe went 3-1 to take an 8-4 lead, and even with a 2-2 split in alternate shot in the afternoon, the Americans were pretty much done.
Among the Saturday morning results was a 4&3 drubbing of Woods and Reed by MoliWood. The winning pair combined for six birdies in 14 holes, about average for a best-ball match in Ryder Cup. The six birdies were more than the European duo would need, as Woods and Reed managed just three birdies between them along with two bogeys for a rather pathetic best ball score of 1-under.
Woods and Reed had played respectably in their first match, scoring three birdies each, all on the first 10 holes. They were all square though 10 holes Saturday, but again collapsed down the stretch, playing the last six holes in 2-over, losing four of the six.
After playing unexceptional golf in each of his first two matches, Woods was sent out by Furyk again in the afternoon to play alternate shot with Bryson DeChambeau, who teamed in the format the day before with Phil Mickelson. DeChambeau and Mickelson were demolished by Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, who birdied five of the first nine holes to take a 7-up lead before winning 5&4.
Woods and DeChambeau drew MoliWood, with the European duo going 5-up after nine before winning 5&4.
Woods, DeChambeau and Mickelson, three of Furyk’s four captain’s picks, were a combined 0-9. The four picks of European captain Thomas Bjorn were 9-4-1. Bjorn selected four veterans, only one of whom was playing particularly well at the time. Furyk went with two veterans and two rookies, with one of the rookies (Tony Finau) one of just two American players to have a winning record in the Ryder Cup other than the duo of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, who went 3-1 as a team.
The most important factor in the matches was the venue, which gave the Europeans a huge advantage. Le Golf National in Paris is the site of the annual French Open on the European Tour, with Noren and Fleetwood the last two winners there. With extremely narrow fairways, thick rough and an abundance of water hazards in play, the course required accuracy off the tee, not a strength of the American squad.
Only four of the 12 members of the U.S. team rank in the top 125 on the PGA Tour in fairways hit, with Finau and Mickelson near the bottom of the list. Nevertheless, Furyk made them two of his four picks, with Finau selected because of his consistently excellent play throughout 2018 and Mickelson joining Woods as selections Furyk had to make. After he won the first two Playoffs events, DeChambeau joined Woods and Mickelson in the had-to-pick category.
Veteran Ryder Cuppers Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar would have been more appropriate picks considering the venue, and the same could be said for 2017 Presidents Cup stalwart Kevin Kisner, but Furyk was never going to pick any one of the three over the four he selected. Johnson and Kuchar both served as assistant captains in Paris, but could not coach the American team into hitting more fairways.
Because of the type of course they played, it was unlikely the U.S. was going to win the matches with the team it fielded, even with all the talent on the roster. It didn’t help that Furyk made a seriously flawed decision about how to best utilize his 12 players, Mickelson in particular.
Mickelson and Woods have lousy career records in Ryder Cup team matches, with Woods a particularly awful 9-16-1. Mickelson’s record is better in both formats, and is at least respectable in best ball (8-8-2).
Truth be told, the American team would have been better off without Woods as a player, but the PGA of America and NBC would never allow that, so the point is moot. But Furyk had a choice how best to utilize his personnel and failed in that regard.
The decision to play Mickelson in alternate shot rather than best ball was astonishingly boneheaded. Even though Mickelson was coming off a disappointing and disinterested showing the week before at East Lake, he is still a threat in best ball and a liability in alternate shot.
The obvious decision for Furyk was to pair Mickelson with Finau in best ball and keep the powerhouse team of Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka together, while playing Fowler with Johnson or another partner in alternate shot. Statistically, Fowler is the most accurate driver on the U.S. team, but sat out one of the two alternate shot sessions while playing both matches in best ball, going 1-2.
Furyk sent out Mickelson and DeChambeau in alternate shot, and while they were crushed in their match by a barrage of birdies, their score was comparable to that of the other three losing U.S. teams. They actually put a few birdies on the scorecard after getting trampled on the front nine.
With Mickelson again on the bench Saturday morning in the second best ball session along with Bubba Watson, the U.S. saw any realistic chances for a comeback quashed when the Europeans won three of four. Mickelson wound up sitting out both sessions that day, with Woods and DeChambeau getting beat by Molinari and Fleetwood just as badly as Mickelson-DeChambeau the day before.
Why Furyk elected to play Woods, who was spent both mentally and physically after the grind of the Playoffs and his win the week before, in both sessions Saturday is puzzling. He again struggled on the back nine in Sunday singles to lose in a vital match to Jon Rahm, nipping a possible U.S. rally in the bud. Woods finished the matches with an 0-4 record, with the U.S. losing for the seventh time in his eighth Ryder Cup appearances.
Mickelson, who could not have been happy with Furyk’s decisions, fell 3-down early in his match with Molinari and lost after briefly cutting his deficit to one hole.
The only one of Furyk’s captain’s picks to score a point was Finau, when went 1-1 with Koepka in best ball and was one of the most impressive U.S. players in singles, drubbing Fleetwood 6&4.
Spieth, whose divorce from Reed after a successful run as a duo, was a hot topic for discussion, went 3-1 with new partner and good buddy Thomas, but was trampled 5&4 by Thorbjorn Olesen, Europe’s lowest ranked player, and is now 0-3 in Ryder Cup singles.
Thomas, the man of the match for the Americans, gave the U.S. hope when he beat Rory McIlroy 1-up in the Sunday singles opener, with Webb Simpson and Finau providing the other early wins that kept faint U.S. chances alive.
Simpson and Watson teamed up for an impressive win in alternate shot Saturday afternoon over Garcia and Noren, with Simpson knocking off FedExCup champion Justin Rose in singles. The Americans beat McIlroy, Rose and Fleetwood, but the only other European to lose in singles was Tyrrell Hatton, who fell to Reed in what proved to be a match of little consequence.
The victory kept Reed unbeaten in Ryder Cup singles, with the former Augusta State star now 3-0 in that format and 7-3-2 overall despite the two losses with Woods. With Spieth and Thomas likely to be a team for some time, the U.S. will need to find another willing partner for Reed, who is not exactly the most popular player among his peers on the PGA Tour.
Watson, who was 3-3 in best ball matches coming into Ryder Cup but did not play in that format, improved his alternate shot record to 1-3 (he sat out four times in three previous appearances), but the ex-Georgia Bulldog fell to 0-4 in singles after a poor showing in a 5&4 loss to Henrik Stenson.
Stenson joined Molinari as the only unbeaten player in the matches, going 2-0 in alternate shot. Bjorn identified his four strongest pairings and sent them out both days in alternate shot, and was rewarded with a 6-2 record, sitting his lowest-ranked player (Olesen) in both sessions along his player least suited to the format (Rahm).
Europe had a much better plan than the U.S., which evidently placed more emphasis on best ball pairings – which are not that big of a deal – than on alternate shot.
Given the venue, that may not have mattered a lot, but it certainly didn’t help. With Mickelson likely playing in his final Ryder Cup and both Woods and Watson no sure things to make the team in 2020, the Americans will have a different look in the matches going forward.
But the same people who have been making the decisions about who makes the team and who plays with whom will remain. At least the American team gets to play at home the next time, although it will be on a course (Whistling Straits) where no U.S. player has won in three PGA Championships played there since 2004.
So much for home course advantage.