How did Europe really fare?

By in Ian Stafford

Bad luck Europe, you gave it your best shot with a team full of Eng­lish­men from a coun­try who voted out of Europe. It was never going to be easy facing an Amer­ican team on home turf hell bent on stop­ping European momentum, let alone the fact that Dar­ren Clarke’s men spor­ted an unpre­ced­en­ted six rook­ies. And maybe, just maybe, when everything and every­one has calmed down, it was a good thing for the event as a whole. The European team was only cre­ated because Amer­ica kept on beat­ing Bri­tain and Ire­land, and the Bri­tain and Ire­land team was only cre­ated because Amer­ica kept on beat­ing Bri­tain. In more recent times the golf shoe has been on the other foot. Europe has bossed the Ryder Cup to the point of it almost — almost — becom­ing pre­dict­able. So, in the week of the passing of the great Arnold Palmer, it was indeed the right thing for Amer­ica — or “U.S.A,” “U.S.A,” as the home fans shouted for three incess­ant days — to win back the fam­ous old trophy. Already nar­rowed European eyes are look­ing for­ward to Paris in 2018 and revenge, although the loc­als in the French cap­ital are more likely to give the Amer­ic­ans non­chal­ant, Gal­lic shrugs than full bore, USA-style abuse.

So how did the European team fare after all that? Here is my player by player assess­ment, in the order of their singles matches yes­ter­day.

Rory McIl­roy: With 3 points out of 5 this was a pretty good Ryder Cup effort by a man seen to be one of Europe’s lead­ers now, although not in an Angela Merkel sense. A win over Patrick Reed yes­ter­day might — might — have made a big dif­fer­ence but it wasn’t too be. Sur­pris­ingly let the heck­lers get to him. As always the best way to shut them up is to win, but never has he been seen quite so pumped up and emo­tional.

Hen­rik Sten­son: Did well to beat Amer­ican super­star Jordan Spi­eth in the singles yes­ter­day but the cur­rent Open cham­pion will be dis­ap­poin­ted with his over­all effort for Europe. He and his team would have expec­ted more.

Thomas Pieters: It was a case of Thomas Who? when he gained the captain’s pick. Dar­ren Clarke won’t be remembered for get­ting too much right but he cer­tainly got this one spot on. Pieters, with his 4 points out of 5 mak­ing him the best ever European rookie, now joins the small list of fam­ous Bel­gians, his sur­name appear­ing just before Poirot. Is it too early to sug­gest this could be golf’s next big star? Europe will look to him in two years’ time, that’s for sure.

Justin Rose: Will remem­ber 2016 forever by becom­ing Olympic cham­pion, a title he can enjoy brag­ging rights for the next four years. Just as well as he won’t have too many brag­ging rights about Hazelt­ine. Like Sten­son we expec­ted more from this Ryder Cup stal­wart.

Rafa Cab­rera-Bello: If it wasn’t for Pieters he’d be the star of this European effort. His form made him a deserved — and auto­matic — choice for the European team but few expec­ted him to per­form quite as well as he did. Both in the singles and when paired up with Gar­cia this man looked at home. Spain have played a massive role in European Ryder Cup suc­cess, start­ing with Seve, then Olly, then the cigar-smoking Miguel Angel Jiminez and, of course, Ser­gio. We can now add Rafa to this list. He’s so good he has three names!

Ser­gio Gar­cia: An above aver­age Ryder Cup. Like his other big name team­mates he may have expec­ted a tad more but, in fair­ness to the Span­iard, he per­formed well when teamed up with Cab­rera Bello and was involved in that epic singles yes­ter­day with Mick­el­son. Lefty hit ten bird­ies and still could only halve the match with Gar­cia who, in turn, scored 9 bird­ies. Phe­nom­enal golf and one of the best singles matches ever wit­nessed.

Lee West­wood: As he will be the first to admit he had a shocker. A return of 0 from 3 was not what his long-time friend Dar­ren Clarke envis­aged when he selec­ted him as one of his captain’s picks. The added shame of it was he needed two points to draw level with Nick Faldo on 25 to make him the all-time greatest European in Ryder Cup his­tory. Yesterday’s singles said it all. Two up with three to play against Ryan Moore, an Amer­ican selec­ted lit­er­ally last week­end, West­wood man­aged to lose the match and give Moore the chance to claim the point that secured the Ryder Cup.

Andy Sul­li­van: He would prob­ably like to rewind a week and have another go. 0 from 2 points is obvi­ously not a good weekend’s work, although it also showed the lack of faith cap­tain Clarke had in him. The only pos­it­ive is that he will bet­ter for the exper­i­ence. The chal­lenge now is to see the Eng­lish­man make the next European team and deliver.

Chris Wood: Only given two games and nabbed a point, Wood also gave Dustin John­son a good fight in the singles before suc­cumb­ing by a single hole. Won’t neces­sar­ily look back on Hazelt­ine with fond memor­ies but did him­self no harm and should be the stronger for it.

Danny Wil­lett: Will be bit­terly dis­ap­poin­ted not just with the last three days, but with the past week. How much influ­ence his brother Pete’s ill-timed art­icle lay­ing into Amer­ican golf fans and the sub­sequent apo­lo­gies had on his woe­ful per­form­ance we may never know, but Wil­lett had a mare of a Ryder Cup. In the end Brooks Kopeka put him out of his misery yes­ter­day with a 5&4 win in the singles. Wil­lett was a rookie, but he is also the cur­rent Mas­ters cham­pion. He will be determ­ined to put this right in 2018.

Mar­tin Kay­mer: Another heavy­weight who expec­ted more. Kaymer’s not quite been his self in recent months and it showed in Hazelt­ine, but I liked the fact at least that he was determ­ined to have a last say by com­ing back from two down with six to play to beat Matt Kuchar by one in the singles, espe­cially as the Ryder Cup had been lost by then.

Mat­thew Fitzpatrick: Every­one in golf knows that this kid has the mak­ings to become a big star. Indeed, to qual­ify out­right for the European team hav­ing just turned 22 last month was, in itself, some achieve­ment. With 0 points from 2 he will be obvi­ously dis­ap­poin­ted but, if he is half the star people pre­dict he will become, he will no doubt put this right in Paris in 2018.

Dar­ren Clarke: Easy to ana­lyse in hind­sight. I knew for a fact he was con­cerned by the num­ber of rook­ies he had in his team because I had a drink with him a few weeks back. Ordin­ar­ily a debut Ryder Cup, espe­cially in the bear pit of Amer­ica, is no easy task for a rookie. As a res­ult Clarke placed way too much faith in his under-per­form­ing exper­i­enced hands with a dis­ap­point­ing return. Iron­ic­ally two of his stand out per­formers were rook­ies Pieters and Cab­rera Bello. Of the other rook­ies, Sul­li­van, Wood and Fitzpatrick were given little chance to shine.