Amidst the ensuing pandemonium of the crowds, American captain Tom Watson congratulated his counterpart Paul McGinley while Keegan Bradley acknowledged the inevitable and conceded the hole, and in doing so, conceded the match to the 38-year-old Welshman Donaldson. With that point, Europe had reached the unassailable mark of 14 ½ points and the task of retaining the Ryder Cup was complete.
The 2014 edition of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles may have not carried the same late drama as the like witnessed with the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ two years ago and in truth the result was certain long before Donaldson’s 15th hole heroics. Despite this level of domination, an ultimately convincing final score of 16 ½ to 11 ½, the victory was no less sweet and ecstatic celebration erupted around the 18th green upon the conclusion of the final match.
The European side entered the first day of play as favourites, boasting a team with the world number’s one and three, in Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia respectively. Star players can only so do much however, and Paul McGinley knew it would take a united effort to take down the American side containing the likes of Mickelson, Watson and Fowler. This is indeed how the weekend played out, with the Europeans proving to be the far superior team. While the Americans took both of the Fourballs by a sole point, the basis of Europe’s ultimate triumph lay in the Foursomes (where playing partners tackled the course taking alternate shots), winning both sessions 3 ½ to 1 ½.
Much of the credit for Europe’s success in this format must go to McGinley who has devoted hours getting to know his players so as to craft the perfect pairings for competition. He partnered rookies Jamie Donaldson and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson with experience in Luke Westwood and Graeme McDowell. Meanwhile the partnership of Swede Henrik Stenson and Englishman Justin Rose proved to be the most fruitful of the weekend, with the duo securing three full points in emphatic style and there may have been a fourth had Stenson not required rest for a sore back on the second afternoon. So successful was McGinley’s captainship that it is now hard to fathom the controversy surrounding his appointment, with his detractors calling for a more prominent figure to lead Europe against Tom Watson.
Watson, the 65-year-old American, who has won eight Majors to McGinley’s zero, had a much more torrid time in charge of his team. He raised eyebrows for not selecting the inform rookie duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed for the Friday afternoon foursomes, and raised them further still for not selecting Phil Mickelson at all for Saturday’s play despite his pleas, instead continuing with the visibly tired Fowler and Walker. The Captain cannot solely be held account for America’s defeat, which was marked by the poor play of his more experienced players, including the inconspicuous Bubba Watson. Regardless, at the closing press conference Mickelson gave the brutally honest assessment that his captain had lacked ‘a real game plan’. It was a move that has divided opinion, Nick Faldo denounced it with no apparent sense of irony, but more than anything it exacerbated the contrast between the two teams one united in victory, the other returning home having disappointed yet again.
On the golf course spectators were treated to a number of moments of skill and fine play. Donaldson’s wedge was a fantastic match winner, but there were similarly great shots made throughout the competition and under greater pressure. Ian Poulter finally delivered in Saturday’s Fourballs and unleashed his manic celebration after a stunning chip at the 15th hole flew over the bunker and into the hole to ultimately take a decisive half point.
Meanwhile the finest putt of the weekend was undoubtedly Rory McIlroy’s on the 17th green on the opening afternoon. Down by two in the Foursomes and with two holes to play, McIlroy sunk a putt from 40 feet to keep the match alive and this was quickly followed by Sergio Garcia’s remarkable shot from the rough on 18 to rescue a half point for the Europeans. This kick-started a patch of form for the Northern Irishman that culminated with a dominant 5&4 victory over Rickie Fowler on Sunday.
He was not Europe’s player of the tournament however. That accolade goes to the Englishman Justin Rose who finished with three wins and two halves over the five sessions and also set a Ryder Cup record for 12 under through 16 holes of one Fourball session. Few players stood out for the American side, with even Rickie Fowler, who has not finished below fifth in a major this year, winless. There is hope for 2016 in the form of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, the latter of whom fulfilled the role of pantomime villain at Gleneagles.
As the European celebrations finally ease down and preparations begin for Hazeltine in 2016, Paul McGinley and his team will be able to reflect on a weekend of golf in which they lived up to their lofty expectations. They seized the lead on the first afternoon, and would not relinquish it to ensure continuation of Europe’s recent domination of the event and win their eight Ryder Cup out of the past ten competitions.