MEDINAH, Ill. – By 4:30 Sunday afternoon, most of the 40,000 or so fans who'd descended upon Medinah Country Club to see a surefire American rout had made their way to the 191-yard, par-3 17th hole. They lined the trees, the bridge crossing the water, the grandstand behind the green. They even waded into the weeds to get a closer look at the putting surface just across Lake Kadijah.
This is where the 2012 Ryder Cup would be decided.
It's where Luke Donald closed out Bubba Watson to get the European steamroller going; where Ian Poulter grabbed the lead for the first time in his match against Webb Simpson; where Rory McIlroy closed out Keegan Bradley; where Justin Rose poured in an impossible putt to square his match with Phil Mickelson; where Sergio Garcia started his comeback win over Jim Furyk; and it's where Steve Stricker's nerves failed him to essentially seal the Americans' fate.
Not that it should have ever come down to one hole.
The Americans entered the final day of play in this intercontinental clash with a seemingly insurmountable 10-6 lead. But as the afternoon crept on, the Europeans' strategy to frontload the 12 singles matches with their best players had taken form. Donald, Poulter, McIlroy and Rose had all won.
[Photos: American collapse]
Mickelson appeared to have his match with Rose wrapped up, that is until they arrived at the 17th. That's where's Mickelson's birdie chip stopped just inches from the hole, only to be followed by Rose nailing a looping 40-footer to square things up. A second straight birdie at 18 gave the point to Rose, one that ultimately proved to be the difference in who won and who lost.
"Had I holed that chip shot on 17, that would have won it in my mind," Mickelson said, "except he made that 40-footer."
An hour later, Stricker stepped over his 8-foot putt for par on the 17th green. By that time the tournament was tied at 13 apiece, with the Europeans needing only one more point to retain the cup. Sink it, head to 18 all square with Kaymer, and keep the Americans' hopes alive. Miss it, Kaymer takes a one-hole lead heading to 18, and the tournament is all but over.
Stricker lined up the putt, gave it a knock and … it lipped out.
Fifteen minutes later, Martin Kaymer stood over a 6-foot par putt on 18 to halve the hole and earn the 14th point for the Europeans. With Tiger Woods – who had taken a 1-up lead over Francisco Molinari moments earlier – waiting in the fairway to hit his approach, Kaymer stroked his putt and raised his arms in victory before the ball even found the cup. The Europeans were once again Ryder Cup champions.
"I am disappointed that I let 11 other players down," said Stricker, blaming himself for not keeping the tournament alive long enough to give Woods a chance to win it.
Stricker will shoulder a fair amount of blame for the defeat, having gone 0-4 in the tournament, but the entirety of the U.S. team bears responsibility for the Meltdown at Medinah. Tiger Woods managed to put only a half-point on the board in his four matches, while U.S. captain Davis Love III's decision to rest his hottest team, the duo of Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, for the Saturday afternoon matches backfired. Mickelson and Bradley went 0-for-2 on Sunday. (Sunday night, Mickelson insisted he, not Love, made the call to sit out on Saturday.)
Even still, had the Americans fared better at 17, they would be celebrating instead of hanging their heads. For on Sunday, four matches went to the tricky par 3 either tied or with the Europeans one down. The Europeans won all four, and because of it, they're taking the Ryder Cup back with them across the pond.
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