By Neil Leverett
- Thomas Bjorn’s European Team regain Samuel Ryder trophy, winning 17 ½ to 10 ½ at Le Golf National
- Hosts ease to comfortable victory after tense singles finale on Sunday
- Francesco Molinari makes history winning five points out of five, as partner Tommy Fleetwood dominates with Italian
LE GOLF NATIONAL, PARIS – After Europe regain the Ryder Cup in France, what did we learn as Thomas Bjorn captains his side to their sixth win on home soil in succession.
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Europe Bjorn again as Great Dane brings trophy home
After Europe’s Ryder Cup dominance was finally brought to an end at Hazeltine two years ago in Minnesota, Thomas Bjorn was number one choice in being assigned to regain the trophy two years later on European soil, and this past weekend the Danish skipper and his team delivered.
Having been on no less than three winning Ryder Cup teams as a player in 1997, 2002 and 2014, Bjorn was the perfect choice as not only leader but a man who has the overwhelming support of his players, who were simply bent on performing for their captain.
That was no less evident in Paris, as the cream of European golf bled blue for the cause, and left their opponents – who were on paper the stronger side – trailing in their dust for the majority of the weekend in Versailles.
Bjorn has never been a one for the limelight – rather like his opposite number Jim Furyk – but unlike the American, never won a major tournament despite coming runner-up in the Open Championship twice in the space of three years between 2000 and 2003, at St. Andrews and Royal St. Georges’ respectively.
The most modest of players however finally grabbed his much-deserved moment to shine this weekend, as his foursomes and four-ball decisions, coupled with four brave wildcard picks all paid off in the most handsome of fashion.
Wildcard picks pay off handsomely in Paris
When Bjorn named his wildcard picks less than a fortnight before the tournament began, more than a few eyebrows were raised and debate raged across the golfing fraternity.
With Ian Poulter an almost unanimous choice across the board and with Henrik Stenson as close to a shoo-in for selection as picks come, the decision to go with the out-of-form Sergio Garcia and a fading force in Paul Casey, as seen Bjorn’s brave decision bore fruit, with his picks collectively garnering an impressive nine-and-half points from the three days of play.
As the likes of Thomas Pieters, Eddie Pepperell and Russell Knox were left on the sidelines, Bjorn’s greatest of foresight deserves huge commendation.
Whilst Casey did lose his opening morning’s fourballs, the Englishman bounced back back to win his Saturday match with rookie Alex Noren but perhaps more crucially prevented Brooks Koepka taking the win in his singles match, to nip US momentum in the bud just as belief grew that the Furyk’s men could pull off their own Miracle at Medinah.
Garcia meanwhile who had endured his worst season in perhaps a decade – including a nightmare showing at the US Masters back in April – the same tournament he had won two years previously – was part of the blue whitewash in Fridays foursomes, and then Saturday’s fourballs.
Both were driving forces for Europe’s comeback at 1-3 down, and surely the turning point of the weekend. Garcia’s mentality had again shown his appetite for the fight but more than that had taken his Ryder Cup points total to 25 and a half, leapfrogging Sir Nick Faldo as the top scoring European player of all time.
‘Postman’ Poulter delivers on time
Coming up against arguably the strongest US team in history, it was down to Poulter to bring the fire to a home side that had looked rookie heavy, in a shoot-off – on paper at least.
Despite bringing home only two points this time around, the man who claimed the Houston Open earlier this year was also part of Friday afternoon’s US demolition job, but more pertinently took and beat the world number one in Dustin Johnson as the two went head-to-head in Sunday’s finale.
The St. Albans player was often up against it, but vitally, when red was starting pop up on the board at an alarming rate, Poulter who was driven on by a vociferously partisan crowd in Paris, and who roared in the final holes when needed.
Sinking his put on the 18th green, Poulter pulled out his now customary Ryder Cup bug-eye celebration to the delight of the viewing galleries and had once more delivered when most needed.
Despite resurgence, Woods and Mickelson are fading forces
If Bjorn’s captain’s picks were inspired, the selections of Furyk – barring a bold showing from a nailed-on future major winner in Tony Finau – flopped spectacularly.
Whilst Finau compiled almost a fifth of the US team point haul, all three of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau lost all of their respective matches across the three days. For veterans Woods and Mickelson in particular it could signal the end of their Ryder Cup journey.
With 42-year-old Woods having won his first PGA Tour event at the Tour Championship only days earlier, Furyk had earmarked the the Californian 14-time major winner as the heart of the US team. Sadly for the Americans, the rigours of a grueling comeback year finally took their toll.
If Woods floundered on the wind-swept narrow fairways of Le Golf National, Mickelson metaphorically drowned in Paris. Like many player on the US team, the cut of rough around the course punished those of ventured into it and it was Mickelson who wandered into it most frequently.
Truth be told, Mickelson looked like out of place for a player of such rare talent who himself has won multiple major titles and it was a little sad to see on his remarkable 12th appearance. With Whistling Straights two years away, the lush verdant open plains of the PGA tour would unquestionably suit Mickelson to a greater degree, but perhaps a Vice captaincy role may be a more likely seat in Wisconsin come 2020.
‘Moliwood’ reigns in Paris
The big story of the weekend was undoubtedly the pairing of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari. With Fleetwood one of the three top 20 ranked players in the game but nevertheless rookie status, Molinari was the perfect foil for the Englishman as the reigning Open champion and seasoned head from his own 2012 memories in Chicago.
But both men by far exceeded expectations. Fleetwood took like a duck to water around the acres of this particular corner of the Parisian capital, a-wash with water, winning all his pairing matches. His loss to Finau on the final day was the sole blot on his card for a player who now looks the real deal in world golfing pedigrees.
The Italian however was majestic, becoming the first European to win all his matches at a single Ryder Cup and for Molinari after victory at Carnoustie, it caps the perfect year.
The duo are good friends on an off the course and their chemistry was the perfect tonic not only Bjorn, but surely their future captains, as that two players that could forge legacies in the competition. ‘Moliwood’ as they have been dubbed provided a little of the glitz and glam for Europe that could become a strong alliance in the years to come.
The 43rd Ryder Cup takes place at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin between September 25th and 27th, 2020.
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