Clear skies may have been in short supply in Wales this week, but at least by Saturday night the Ryder Cup scoreboard was showing its first hint of blue.
As I left home on Sunday morning to find a TV showing the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, news came through on the radio. The start of play had been delayed until noon, and then 1.30 pm. I’ve watched the last day of the Ryder Cup many times, but this year the weather and the schedule were both out of kilter.
Instead of a full Sunday programme, play would be restricted to the last nine holes of six fourballs and foursomes which had begun the day before. The singles matches to conclude the event would be delayed until Monday.
For just a very few moments, I pondered turning around. But, meagre as it was, this was all the live golf I would see in this Ryder Cup.
For me, and for many others, the Ryder Cup is the highlight of my sporting calendar. The reasons that the event is so special?
In truth, there are many. It’s all about pride, about fear, and about the vagaries and unique demands of match play in golf.
The Ryder Cup is about individual performance in the heat of the battle, and about bringing a team together to outdo even its own expectations.
On this side of the pond, it’s about proving the worth of the European Tour against the PGA Tour in the US. It’s about showing who are the best golfers in the world — for many years it really was the Americans, which is why we tried so hard to foster the illusion that maybe they weren’t.
That’s the Ryder Cup. It encapsulates so many glories in this game of golf, and it celebrates all that divides us and unites us across the Atlantic Ocean as well.
I did see the Ryder Cup won on Sunday. Not strictly from the final points total — I had to wait until Monday evening’s TV highlights for that.
But in the way the match was remarkably turned around in one afternoon’s golf.
6-4 ahead at the start of the series on Saturday afternoon, the Americans stood well in control. Stricker and Woods had won two matches already, and looked bound to win more. And although the European team was stronger on paper this time, superior American putting was telling, as it had so often in the past.
A rousing team talk over a brief and uncomfortable Saturday lunch had yielded Colin Montgomerie’s Europeans a slender advantage in each game before evening fell, but it was hard to imagine that this brief fightback could live through the night.
British sports fans will remember the rain delay which halted a Wimbledon semi-final in 2001 with Tim Henman on top. Goran Ivanisevich blew him away when they came back on court. Henman’s best ever chance for a Grand Slam title, sunk in the puddles of SW19. Even now, it’s still hard to bear.
In golf, it’s no easier. On a suspension of play, matches are so often abandoned with a hole only half-played.
In the 1970 British Open at St Andrews, Tony Jacklin, the reigning champion, had surged to the turn in 29 shots before a storm intervened with his ball under a bush on the 14th. Picking up his round the next day, Jacklin dropped three shots to return ‘only’ a 67. The momentum was all gone, and Jack Nicklaus duly defeated Doug Sanders in a play-off that year.
When play halted in the top match at Celtic Manor on Saturday, Lee Westwood was left facing a long putt. All night.
What would that be like? How could you think about your game, warm up the next day or sleep even a wink overnight, when every subtle slope and blade of grass would run through your mind across the long hours of darkness?
Line and length would be endlessly pondered. The putter would surely have to be at work on the hotel carpet all through the night. We needn’t have worried. When play resumed, Westwood stood up and rolled in the putt.
‘I knew that was important,’ he said, ‘To inspire the team.’
And even after so many glorious and nail-biting Ryder Cups, I doubt if I’ve ever seen European golfers so inspired.
Luke Donald played brilliantly as a foil to the charging Westwood. They were five under par — a remarkable score in foursomes — by the time they beat Woods and Stricker. The best American pair had been defeated, as the Europeans scored five and a half points out of six on Sunday.
The three point advantage earned was just telling enough to bring the Cup home through an inevitable American onslaught next day.
They all played their part on that most perfect of days. For me, Ross Fisher was the hero, bringing home a lost Padraig Harrington whose game had fallen apart.
‘It was great to play with a true champion like Padraig,’ said Fisher, ‘To have him reading my putts.’
Having a three-times major winner as your caddie inspired Fisher. He carried them both almost single-handedly to a memorable win.
Graeme Macdowell and Rory Macilroy, the Northern Irish friends, added a critical point to the half and the win they would earn in the cauldron of Monday.
With confidence and ability pumping his veins, Macdowell looked every inch the film star as well as a worthy US Open champion.
It was telling when he recounted how the final holes at the Ryder Cup, when the result depended only on him, made the back nine in June seem a walk in the park.
Martin Kaymer’s US PGA victory was just two months ago and his win on Sunday with Ian Poulter was never in doubt. If ever there’s a golfer more enthusiastic than Poulter, he’ll certainly become a Ryder Cup legend as well.
But for me, the most impressive moment of all came on the last hole of the day, when Francesco and Eduardo Molinari, ahead early on but 1 down on 18, stole back a half. Francesco bravely stroked in a downhill four-footer having already missed two putts much shorter than that. I was hiding behind the sofa by then.
For the Americans, too, it was a match to remember. Not just for a narrow defeat — at 14½ to 13½, by the closest of margins — but for their fine play under fire.
We’ll remember this Ryder Cup as the week when Tiger Woods refound his game. Two down against Francesco Molinari on Monday, he was eight under by the 15th and holed his second for an eagle on 12. It was remarkable that Molinari managed to live with him that long.
Who could forget Phil Mickelson’s joy in winning his singles after an undistinguished run up to then? We wish him and Amy well as they fight her illness together.
And we’ll remember this Ryder Cup for the emergence of Rickie Fowler, too. The long-haired 20 year old birdied his last four holes under the most intense pressure to earn a half with Eduardo Molinari. We’ll see much more of Fowler.
European captain Montgomery was a statesmanlike presence, transformed from the moodier days of his younger career. Corey Pavin was also impressive — as calm and gracious as American captain as he had been overbearing as a player in the notorious ‘War on the Shore’ at Kiawah Island in 1991.
So who cared about the weather and rain delays, in the end?
As the Welsh crowd celebrated their perfect blue Ryder Cup Sunday, and a home victory duly played out under perfect clear skies on Monday, the frustration of the first three rain-soaked days seemed worth every second.
The reputations of both teams, of Celtic Manor, and of the Ryder Cup had been enhanced. For all their long wait, the golf fans of Wales and the world couldn’t have wished for much more.
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