The Rout Is On
The good, the bad and the ugly as the U.S. takes control of the Ryder Cup
By Alan Shipnuck
HAVEN, Wis. — If golf hadn’t worked out, Padraig Harrington could have made a living in silent movies, so expressive is his handsome face. In the Saturday twilight, the European captain stood behind the 16th green, watching the Ryder Cup slip even further from his grasp. In front of him, Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Holland were on the verge of losing the hole and damn near their match to Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler. Behind Harrington loomed a huge electronic scoreboard, its garish colors reflecting in the bookish spectacles of a man who in his early 20s took an accounting license as a backup plan. Harrington kept turning around to stare at the scoreboard, as if the intensity of his gaze could somehow make the numbers change. A cheer went up on the 17th green, as Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia scored a point for Europe. There was a flicker of hope across Harrington’s visage, but only for a second. Hovland missed his birdie putt, and when Scheffler hit a lovely chip to set up a birdie, the hole was lost. Harrington then turned to walk grimly to the next tee. He said nothing to nobody, lost in his thoughts as American players and vice captains bro-hugged all around him. Small decisions can be critiqued and scrutinized, but there’s no need for that. Everything in Harrington’s manner made it clear he knew the hard truth: He simply doesn’t have the horses to stay with a powerhouse U.S. team. By nightfall the Americans led 11-5, and it didn’t even feel that close.
Most Valuable Player: Dustin Johnson is the only player on either team to be 4-0, and he has made it look a little too easy. When he is feathering full-swing wedges at the flag, as he has done with relentless precision across two days, he is close to unbeatable.
Honorable mention: Rahm has been an absolute menace. In four partner matches he has taken on Brooks Koepka (twice) Jordan Spieth (twice), DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and sundry other cocky Americans and emerged unbeaten, securing 3.5 points. The debate was reasonable as to whether Rahm deserved player of the year, but his monstrous performance here has left zero doubt he is now the best player in the world by a wide margin.
Least Valuable Player: Koepka got skunked in two matches and set a standard for Ugly Americanism with his boorish behavior to two rules officials during the morning session. Someone needs to tell Koepka that if he is going to play the heel, it would be more fun if his golf was of a higher standard.
Best Match: Koepka-Daniel Berger vs. Rahm-Sergio in morning alternate shot. Four spicy personalities converged in the first match of the day, and the stakes were sky-high for Europe; this was an absolute must-win. The U.S. came out flying, taking the first three holes, but the powerhouse Spanish duo inevitably, inexorably took control, with Rahm out-alpha’ing Koepka along the way.
Best Pairing: Rahm-Garcia, again. Johnson-Collin Morikawa (above), again, as two more wins put an exclamation point on their 3-0 week together.
Worst Pairing: Ian Poulter-Rory McIlroy, again. It’s sad to see the two so diminished. After both were benched for alternate shot, you would have expected them to come out with fire in their eyes for afternoon better-ball, but they combined to make only two birdies in getting blown out by Johnson-Morikawa.
Most Inspired Captain’s Decision: Harrington benching McIlroy (below) in alternate shot, the first time McIlroy has sat a session in his Ryder Cup career. If McIlroy is going to hit loose shots and not make any putts and fail to summon the slightest bit of emotion or interest, why does Harrington have to play him? It took stones to sit down the Hall of Famer, but if Jim Furyk had shown the same kind of backbone with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in Paris, the U.S. would’ve had a chance.
Honorable mention: Steve Stricker using the same U.S. lineup for alternate shot as the day before. It’s easy for captains to outsmart themselves, but he resisted the temptation and was rewarded with another 3-1 session.
Least Inspired Captain’s Decision: Harrington playing Paul Casey and Lee Westwood in alternate shot when both were already on the ropes. They predictably went down meekly. Why not give Shane Lowry a go? He has a magical short game that can get his team out of a jam, but more importantly, he was one of the few (non-Spanish) Euros to show any fight.
Best Shot: Garcia’s cold-blooded, stone-dead 3-wood on the 16th hole in alternate shot to put that match on ice.
Worst Shot: Bernd Wiesberger hitting his approach into the hazard on 18 to essentially end his morning match alongside Hovland vs. Spieth-Thomas. With the Euros 1 down he had to roll the dice out of the rough, but Wiesberger caught it heavy and came up miles short of the green, the last indignity of losing a 3-up lead.
Best Putt: Lowry’s ballsy 15-footer on the 18th green to win his better-ball match and nab a crucial point for Europe.
Honorable mention: Rahm’s 40-foot dagger on the 16th hole (below) to help Europe prevail in a better-ball title featuring four likely Hall of Famers. (If Garcia, Koepka and Spieth had been 3-against-1, Rahm still would’ve beaten them.)
Worst Putt: Tyrrell Hatton spinning out a 4-footer on the 15th hole in alternate shot. He and Casey had rallied from 4 down to 1 down versus Johnson-Morikawa, but Hatton’s miss lost the hole and sealed the Euros’ fate.
Honorable mention: Pretty much any putt struck by Westwood or Fleetwood.
Most Inspirational Sight: Thomas and Berger shotgunning beers after fans threw a couple onto the 1st tee. Because they were both sitting in the afternoon, why not? Although this bit of fun will go down as a spectacular own-goal if the U.S. somehow loses this thing.
Least Inspirational Sight: Hatton slipping, falling and nearly sliding into Lake Michigan … and then duffing the ensuing chip. Metaphors abound for a guy who has had an exceptionally adventurous week.
Best Singles Matchup: DeChambeau vs. Garcia in the fourth match.
Worst Singles Matchup: Spieth vs. Fleetwood going out 11th. Both players are struggling and were put out late in the expectation their match won’t matter.
Final Score: 19-9 USA