Bunker Mentality

Ryder Cup set for record comeback… or record defeat

Bunker Mentality

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Ian Poulter

It all started with Dustin Johnson - but it finished, for now, with Ian Poulter.

When  big-hitting American Johnson duffed a bunker shot on 16 to hand the hole, and an all-square scoreline, to Nicolas Colsaerst and Paul Lawrie, Bunker Mentality genuinely began to believe that one of the great comebacks in the history of the Ryder Cup is on the cards.

An hour before, with three matches going inexorably the way of the Americans and Tiger Woods beginning to roar back in the fourth, it seemed that the only thing left to be decided at Medinah was the margin of victory.

But as Colsaerts and Lawrie got back on level terms, and Rory McIlroy finally remembered how to hole putts, and Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald had Tiger Woods on the ropes, it seemed that, from nowhere, a 4-0 session whitewash for the USA might end up being a 3-1 session victory for Europe that would leave the match wide open going in to the singles at 9-7.

It didn't quite work out that way. Johnson undid his blunder on the very next hole as the incredible voodoo which has haunted this Ryder Cup struck once again: Colsaerts saw his 10th birdie putt of the day hit the lip and stay out, and Johnson - as so many Americans have this week - hit a putt which catches the lip and drops in.

Colsaerts even lipped out with his wedge approach to the 18th when only a birdie could have saved a point, but his ball dug in and span back so hard that he couldn't convert, and the match was lost.

That put the USA in double figures at 10-4 ahead, and with Tiger Woods firing on all cylinders once more it seemed impossible that Europe might stay in touching distance.

Enter Ian Poulter. Inspired by Rory McIlroy's birdie on the brutal 250-yard par-3 13th, the Hertforshire star finished his day with five birdies to single-handedly turn likely defeat into victory against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.

At 11-5 it would have been over, but with the score at 10-6 a record-equalling singles performance can bring the Ryder Cup back across the Atlantic now.

America trailed by the same margin 13 years ago at Brookline, and pulled off an 8.5-3.5 win in the singles at an infamously rowdy finale, where drunken fans booed and hooted Europe to defeat while American players trampled the line of Jose Maria Olazabal's putt to retain the trophy, wrongly thinking the match was over.

Considering the cheers of "get in the bunker" which greeted almost every European drive, chip and even putt at Medinah on Saturday, victory on Sunday would be an apt payback indeed both for the team and particularly its captain. It would be something to exorcise at last the ghost of what happened that day in Boston by allowing Europe to silence a baying home crowd.

Unfortunately for fans of omens, the only other 8.5-3.5 singles scoreline in Europe v USA history came in the 2006 match at the K Club in Ireland. That day the home side led 10-6 going into Sunday... and dominated the singles to match the all-time record victory scoreline of 18.5-9.5.

The drama and rapidly shifting momentum of the week so far suggests that it could well be one or the other on Sunday, though should Europe pull off a miracle, it will be down to Poulter. The 36-year-old seems to live for Ryder Cup more than any other player on either team, and it was almost by his sheer force of personality that he kept Europe in the match. In the morning's foursomes on Saturday his putting was peerless, and his string of birdies from 14 to 18 in the afternoon fourballs gave him an incredible 11 wins in his 14 career Ryder Cup matches. With stats like that, he is already fit to be considered one of the genuine modern legends of the competition.

Yet whether the miracle happens or not, European golf should be worried because this new generation of Americans is the real deal. Aside from the resurgent Phil Mickelson - seemingly inspired by young partner Bradley Keegan - this has been an American performance built on the heroics of its young stars. The partnership of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson looks like being for America what Seve and Olazabal were once for Europe; Bradley looks like he was born to play the event; and Matt Kuchar has holed more feet of putts in two days than most pros do in two months. These players can be the nucleus of the US team for the next decade. And that's a lot scarier than a 10-6 scoreline going into the singles.

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Shot of the day: Luke Donald, for his shot to silence Tiger Woods on 17. Woods had just birdied the 16th hole to get the deficit back to one against Donald and Sergio Garcia, who had led throughout after a fast start but suddenly seemed odds-on to blow it. And when the great man fired a great shot to five feet on the tough par-3 over water, a birdie and an all-square scoreline going down the last. Donald had other ideas, however, playing a majestic shot to just 12 inches that ensured he and Garcia could not be beaten, and seemed to break the spirit of Woods and Stricker at last.

Bad captaincy decision of the day: Jose Maria Olazabal keeping faith with Lee Westwood in the Saturday foursomes despite his appalling play on Friday. Westwood was a flop again, and his spot in the line-up means Peter Hanson goes into the singles with just one game behind him.

Stat of the day: Nicolas Colsaerts lipped out 11 times in his fourball match alongside Paul Lawrie against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar. One of those lip-outs was with his wedge shot to the last, and three of them were complete horseshoes which came straight back at him. Colsaerts and Lawrie lost by just one hole.

Prediction of the day: BM must vote with its head, and foresees a bright start to the singles by Europe that will fizzle out after the front nine. USA will win 15-11, and Keegan Bradley will hole the winning putt.

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