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Age catches up on US team

ESPN staff
October 3, 2012
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It is way too easy - and, to put it mildly, way too simplistic - to point to one factor, or one moment, and say 'that is what decided the Ryder Cup'.

The tournament might have finished a dramatic 14½-13½ to Europe after a barely-believable fight back at Medinah Country Club on Sunday afternoon, but to try and identify any single shot, or single moment, is to diminish the many others that can probably lay a similarly strong claim.

That is why it is so grating, after every iteration of the event finished, that the winning captain is deified as the losing captain is pilloried. Sometimes, as was the case this time, if the final putt lips out rather than drops in the roles are completely switched.

That is not to say it is impossible to analyse where it went wrong for the Americans - after all, considering they threw away a 10-6 lead on Sunday, it certainly went wrong somewhere - or how the European side managed to pull themselves out of their hole.

It might just be age that is the key factor for any Ryder Cup player. Whatever the reason - call it the fearlessness of youth, or the unencumbered passion of the naive - in Chicago it was the fresher-faced team members who pulled out the big shots when they were most required.

Perhaps age (along with talent) explains why Rory McIlroy, 23, was able to tee off without so much as a warm-up for his Sunday singles and still deliver the point Europe needed.

Maybe that explains why the man McIlroy beat in his match, Keegan Bradley, 26, did more than anyone else on the US team to build their lead going into the final day.

Maybe that is partly why Europe's only rookie, 29-year-old Nicolas Colsaerts, produced the best prolonged stretch of golf of the entire week - on his debut, no less - to hold off Tiger Woods during the one match where the 14-time major champion really showed his class.

And perhaps that explains why it was Martin Kaymer, 27, who holed the crucial putt that decided it all.

Kaymer is the man who gets to walk away this time having got the headline-grabbing final putt, but in truth his final flourish was the decisive moment in a singles match that embodied the final day.

Where he delivered, Steve Stricker fell apart. It was the American who gave the Cup away; showing an inability to get the contest won when even a half would probably have been enough.

To solely blame him, however, is unfair - after all, an hour or so before Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk had blown even better chances to all-but shut the door on the visitors. Phil Mickelson nearly chipped in at the 17th to secure his point before somehow losing to Justin Rose down the 18th - while Furyk fell to the exact same fate against Sergio Garcia after having a 10-foot putt at the 16th that would have left him dormie.

Davis Love III can perhaps blame himself in this regard. Where Olazabal shunned experience - Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington were never really even in the running against Colsaerts - with ultimately his only wildcard selection (Poulter was always a shoo-in), Love III overlooked the likes of in-form Nick Watney and Celtic Manor catalyst Rickie Fowler to rely on Stricker and Furyk once again.

There experience would be crucial, Love had said - but almost all of the 'experience' that pair had in the Ryder Cup was of losing. And so it transpired.

Mickelson admitted to being "inspired" playing alongside Bradley for the opening two days, but no other American veteran - in what was admittedly a surprisingly united squad - had that chance. The other passionate players on Love's squad, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, were paired together and Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were left alone together in a fruitless double-act that will surely now be condemned to the history books.

Europe, meanwhile, carried almost no-one with the past scares of battle. And, of course, they had Poulter.

The 36-year-old Englishman is a law unto himself in this competition, utterly fearless and utterly irresistible in matchplay. To win all his games, finishing top scorer for the second successive event, is a testament to a particular strength he alone seems to possess.

"We have actually revised the qualification for next time," Lee Westwood, who may have been on to some stronger liquids by this point, joked on Sunday. "It's [going to be] nine spots, two picks ... and Poults."

Westwood might be on to something. But, again, it wasn't Poulter alone who decided the event.

In the end, as predicted, it turned into a putting contest. Europe holed theirs at the right time, the United States didn't. Perhaps to analyse it too much deeper than that serves only to open yourself to inaccurate conclusions - or to find answers that were never really there in the first place.

Whatever led to the result, it produced great drama. That's what should be celebrated.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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