Witnessing one of the greatest matches in Ryder Cup history was a good bet heading into Sunday singles play. Witnessing two of them was more than we bargained for.
For the first few hours on Sunday all eyes were focused on McIlroy and Reed as they burned down Hazeltine Golf Club before finally running out of gas at the turn. Reed took a lead on the 12th hole and held on for a 1-up victory. Somehow, 46-year-old Phil Mickelson and 36-year-old Sergio Garcia had plenty left in the tank. Garcia and Mickelson combined for 19 birdies and just one bogey before halving their match and reminding fans that golf can be just as entertaining as war. For people keeping score, Reed finished four-under for the day to McIlroy’s three-under. Mickelson and Garcia both shot an unbelievable nine-under par.
The pressure on Mickelson heading into the week was incredible. He was the catalyst for change on the American Ryder Cup team. Beginning with his famous take-down of Tom Watson in the hours after the defeat at Gleneagles, right up to his desire this week to play both foursomes sessions. At times he seemed to be calling the shots as much as captain Davis Love, but after going two and one in team play, Mickelson was basically in the clear.
All that was left was a singles match against one of the greatest Ryder Cup players in history. Mickelson’s magical week at Hazeltine ran straight into Garcia, who has made a career out of this tournament. The Ryder Cup runs deep in both Garcia and Mickelson and although there was no anger and much less screaming, these two have as much passion as anyone who has ever played.
The first nine holes of the opening match between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed was golf like the world had never seen. There were eight birdies and an eagle. The passion they showed on Friday and the lunacy of Saturday somehow seemed just an undercard for the main event on Sunday. Reed was taking a bow and McIlory was shushing the gallery before the players even reached the turn. As they mocked each other’s celebrations and poured in birdies, it seemed perfectly likely that this match would end with the two players beating each other over the head with their clubs.
After both players dropped bombs for birdie at the eighth, that was it, golf had reached its zenith. There was nowhere to go but down. Maybe McIlroy subconsciously realized this as he waited behind the green for Reed and greeted him with a fist-bump. The two headed to the ninth tee arm-in-arm. During a week that showed how far the Ryder Cup has strayed from the congenial international competition it began as, maybe this was for the best. Or maybe McIlroy simply couldn’t take it anymore.
For everything great about the Reed and McIlroy match, Garcia and Mickelson proved that heart is just as impressive — and more sustainable — than fire. After a week where things nearly got out of control at Hazeltine, that’s good for golf and for the Ryder Cup.
Needing just five points on Sunday to win the Ryder Cup, the Americans did much better, winning seven of 12 matches and halving another to claim the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008 by a score of 17-11. Ryan Moore clinched with a par putt on 18 to win his match over Lee Westwood. Here are the Sunday Singles results:
1UP Patrick Reed v Rory McIlroy
Jordan Spieth v Henrik Stenson 3&2
J.B. Holmes v Thomas Pieters 3&2
1UP Rickie Fowler v Justin Rose
Jimmy Walker v Rafa Cabrera Bello 3&2
Phil Mickelson A/S Sergio Garcia
1UP Ryan Moore v Lee Westwood
3&1 Brandt Snedeker v Andy Sullivan
1UP Dustin Johnson v Chris Wood
5&4 Brooks Koepka v Danny Willett
Matt Kuchar v Martin Kaymer 1UP
4&3 Zach Johnson v Matt Fitzpatrick