The U.S. had plan for this Ryder Cup -- then abandoned it

PARIS -- Captain America turned into Captain Crunch, going soggy this week in France, his bad boy image gone soft. One of the most inspiring and bold U.S. Ryder Cup players of recent vintage, Patrick Reed spent as much time in the rough as the thousands of boisterous spectators who loved taunting his every move at Le Golf National.

The guy who won the Masters in April and was such a rock for the U.S. at recent Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups couldn't find the clubface nor any kind of comfort playing alongside his idol, Tiger Woods.

But to blame this U.S. Ryder Cup debacle on Reed or any one player is unfair. Same with captain Jim Furyk, who is keenly aware of the Americans' struggles in the event and has been around for all the recent changes that were supposed to put the Americans on a better path to greatness.

Nope, this 10-6 deficit heading into Sunday's 12 singles matches is on the collective group, and not just for their largely uninspired play.

Look to the U.S. brain trust that is all-in on the new mandate which trumpeted consistency by nurturing assistant captains and a young core of excellent American players.

That means Woods and Mickelson have to shoulder some of the blame, too, from their positions of authority in addition to their poor play in France.

So we begin with this question: What happened to the super pairing of Reed and Jordan Spieth?

The duo came into the Ryder Cup as one of America's best teams. They were 4-1-2 in the Ryder Cup, 8-1-3 if you include Presidents Cup. They went 2-0-1 four years ago at Gleneagles and were 2-1-1 two years ago at Hazeltine.

They were the U.S. pair to build around, and as the summer wore on and the automatic qualifiers were coming into focus, you could easily envision three strong pairings for the Americans:

They formed the nucleus, and from there you build out with Woods, Mickelson, Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson. From the latter six, you either have a fourth solid pairing or two, along with ability to mix and match and give others rest.

But for some reason, Furyk and all of those in on the decision chose to break up the Spieth/Reed tandem. And everything appeared to splinter from there.

"I felt like we came out of, in the past, having our most successful pairing in the Ryder Cup,'' Furyk said. "We had one very good pairing. I think we came out of it with two very good pairings. The idea was to double up and try to get two.''

And that did not work out so well, simply because finding a place for Reed proved to be problematic. The natural place to put him was with Woods, an idol, and they had the unfortunate task of going up against the powerhouse tandem of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari -- losing twice. It didn't help that Reed's form has fallen off terribly this week.

But more than that, it forced the Americans into some awkward foursome groupings Friday. It meant Mickelson with DeChambeau in a format that was not conducive to Lefty's inconsistent play of late; it meant putting Koepka, a two-time major winner, on the bench. That led to the 0-for-4 whitewashing that pretty much doomed this attempt by the Americans at a first overseas victory in 25 years.

There have been more than a few murmurings that Spieth had grown tired of Reed, that they didn't get along. There was this, too: that he wanted out of that pairing, opting to play instead with his buddy Thomas. That makes for a dilemma: Do you put those differences aside for the good of the team, or are they too great to overcome?

And to be fair, Spieth and Thomas have turned out to be an excellent team, going 3-1, accounting for half of the U.S. points. But Thomas certainly would have made a good partner for Fowler; they went 2-0-1 at last year's Presidents Cup. And he could have easily played with Woods or Mickelson, both of whom long ago figured to play no more than once per day but are sitting here at a combined 0-4.

While the Spieth/Reed breakup seemed curious, it could not have caught those on the team by surprise. That has been the point in the new U.S. Ryder Cup era, since a task force was formed in 2014 to create a smooth transition from Cup to Cup while also allowing the players a voice.

"We know exactly what the issue has been,'' Mickelson said before the Ryder Cup. "Now that we as a group -- Tiger, myself, Furyk and [assistant Steve] Stricker -- we've been part of the winning side on the Presidents Cup, we've been on the losing side on the Ryder Cup ... we know exactly what the difference is, and now that we have involvement, we're going to fix it.

"It doesn't mean we're going to win. It means we're going to put ourselves in a position to succeed more often than not. More often than not, when we're put in a position to succeed, we have. And when we're put in a position to fail, we do. I think we're going to be put in a position to succeed, and there's a good chance that we will.''

As it turned out, Saturday turned into another 5-3 drubbing, which added to the first-day issues makes for the largest singles deficit to overcome in Ryder Cup history. The U.S. came back from 10-6 down at Brookline in 1999; the Europeans did it at Medinah in 2012.

Without another miracle, the questions about why the U.S. would mess with a formula that worked so well two years ago will be unavoidable.