2012 Ryder Cup – The Greatest Ever?

Ian Poulter, the spirit of Seve, Ian Poulter, Rose beats Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Tiger fails again, Ian Poulter, Ian Poulter, Ian Poulter.

Rarely has one player so dominated a team contest like Ian Poulter did at Medinah, the host course for the 2012 Ryder Cup.

The flamboyant Englishman didn’t single-handedly win the cup for the Europeans. No, he used both hands and all his bloody-minded golf will.

Poulter the hero

Ian Poulter in default fist-pump mode on the final day

Poulter delivered the most vital of points on day two. He and Rory McIlroy were two down with six to play against Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson. Overall, Europe were 10-5 down. If the Americans held their nerve, they would need just three and a half points from the final day’s 12 singles matches to win back the Ryder Cup.

In truth, the hosts probably deserved to do just that. The first two days’ Ryder Cup action is where Europe traditionally secure some kind of lead to defend on the last day. At Medinah, the Americans came out roaring from the off. They were 5-3 up after day one, and 8-4 up by Saturday lunchtime.

So, two down with six to play…

What to do? Poulter knew.

He birdied each of the final five holes, securing the win with a 10-footer on the last in all his fist-pumping, eye-popping pomp. Even then, it looked like nothing more than a moment of glorious but ultimately futile defiance.

But, as Poulter later told his teammates, at least Europe now had a pulse; a chance, however slim and unlikely, to turn things round on the final day.

It shouldn’t have been this way. Europe had four of the world’s top five golfers in their ranks, a hugely respected captain in Jose Maria Olazabal and the memory of the late Seve Ballesteros to inspire them.

Four points down with 12 to play for…

Olazabal went for broke, as he had to do, sending four of his biggest guns out in the first four matches. Donald, Poulter, McIlroy and Rose responded by taking all four points available.

Lawrie beats Snedeker

Paul Lawrie destroyed Brandt Snedeker 5&3

It wasn’t always plain sailing, mind. McIlroy got his time zones in a twist and needed a police escort to make it to the first tee on time. Rose had to produce the most stunning of finishes to catch and finally overhaul Mickelson.

But Poulter? He won by two holes. And when the always undervalued Paul Lawrie delivered the fifth win in five matches – destroying Snedeker 5&3 lest anyone forgets – Europe hadn’t just come back, they were in the lead.

Not for long. Two American victories had the hosts 12-11 ahead. The last five matches would now determine the outcome of the cup which, considering that Europe were as good as dead and buried late on Saturday evening, was a triumph in itself.

Garcia beat Furyk – 12-12. Dufner beat Hanson – 12-13. The Americans needed a win and a half from the last three games to hold off the European charge.

Lee Westwood had had a mixed Medinah, winning one point in three matches. One of the two defeats had been a soul-destroying 7&6 crushing and he hadn’t won since Friday afternoon.

No matter. His 3&2 victory over Kuchar levelled things up at 13 apiece and changed the equation dramatically – the Europeans now only needed not to lose the last two matches out on the course and they’d retain the Ryder Cup.

Two matches to go. Two holes left. Both games all square. The 2012 Ryder Cup had just found its way into ‘You couldn’t make it up’ territory, ably helped by the fact that the four golfers left on course – Kaymer, Stricker, Francesco Molinari and Woods – hadn’t won a single point between them all week.

Kaymer wins

Kaymer secures the Ryder Cup for Europe

Kaymer won the 17th for Europe. But then Woods did the same for the US.

Suddenly, it all became clear. If Kaymer could avoid losing the 18th, the Ryder Cup would remain with the holders. He did just that.

Molinari’s win on the final hole, to secure a half with Woods, was therefore shorn of some of its drama, but it meant Europe, trailing by four at the start of play, had not just drawn, they’d won outright by 14 and a half points to 13 and a half.

The final score in the singles was an American car crash of Blues Brothers proportions: played 12, lost 8, won 3, drawn 1.

Europe’s comeback was epic, ridiculous, awesome. The ‘Miracle of Medinah’ they called it and, for once, the hyperbole seemed bang on.

And at its heart was Ian James Poulter. He’d won plenty of tournaments in Europe and America and flirted with winning a Major now and again. But at the Ryder Cup, he was peerless, inspirational, talismanic. With the accent on the manic.

“You know what, these might be my majors,” he said after the event.

“If they are, that’s fine. If this is it, I’m a happy man. I’ve got more pride and passion to give in the Ryder Cup than I feel to win a major.”

Maybe that major might come, maybe it won’t. But what he did at Medinah will define his career either way.

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