GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy (AP) — Rory McIlroy referred to that “Miracle in Medinah” as a happy accident, a Ryder Cup that Europe was never meant to win because the matches favor the home team. In the month leading to Rome, he considered a road Ryder Cup win among the biggest feats in golf.
No need telling that to the Americans.
They found neither the points they needed at Marco Simone nor answers why they now have gone 30 years since bringing that 17-inch gold trophy back home with them.
They could only watch another ebullient European celebration on Sunday, the sing-song tune of “Ohhhh-lay, ole, ole, ole!” ringing in their heads until the next one.
Two years ago, the Americans felt the Ryder Cup was finally swinging their way when they handed Europe its worst beating, 19-9, at Whistling Straits. That now seems forgotten.
“I was so disappointed after Whistling Straits — we all were,” McIlroy said. “And we wanted to come here to Rome and redeem ourselves.”
This wasn’t quite the “coma in Roma,” but it was close.
Europe began the Ryder Cup by sweeping the opening session for the first time, led by five points at the end of each day and only gave the Americans a sliver of hope on two occasions, both short-lived.
“We knew it was in our hands,” European captain Luke Donald said. “We stuck with the same plan the whole week. Get off to fast starts. Play as a team. Use the crowd, use their energy. Yeah, the Ryder Cup, there’s always lots of swings and emotions and changes. At one point, I was looking at the board trying to figure out how we get to 14 1/2 points.
“But in the end, we got there easily.”
Tommy Fleetwood delivered the clinching point in what turned out to be a 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory.
The margin should look familiar. Throw out Medinah in 2012, when Europe rallied from a 10-6 deficit with a Sunday singles in which everything went its way, and consider the trend.
“We weren’t supposed to win in ’12,” McIlroy had said before the matches. “Ever since then, the home team has won, each time pretty convincingly.”
What followed was Europe winning by seven in Scotland; the Americans winning by six points at Hazeltine; Europe winning by five points in France; the Americans winning by 10 points at Whistling Straits. And now this.
“There’s no perfect formula to it,” U.S. captain Zach Johnson said. “The formula this week is they got off to a great start, and that momentum led them into a pretty nice lead going into today. And our boys fought like madmen and made it interesting, made them earn it.”
American hopes didn’t last long.
One was Saturday night, when Patrick Cantlay with his stone-cold demeanor birdied his last three holes, making a 45-foot putt at the end. Even without the bickering over behavior between McIlroy and Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava, this felt like momentum for Team USA.
And then Europe leaned on its top players — McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton — to deliver points early leave Europe only a half-point away from reclaiming the cup.
Max Homa polished off his remarkable Ryder Cup debut with clutch play that ultimately only delayed the celebration. He was 1 up over Matt Fitzpatrick playing the 18th, knowing that to lose the hole would put Europe over the top.
Fitzpatrick had an 18-foot birdie putt, all but guaranteed a par. Homa could barely see his ball in the shin-high grass next to a bunker. His head spinning, caddie Joe Greiner suggested he take a penalty drop, a bold move. Homa made it pay off, hitting a tough pitch to a back pin and holing the 7-foot putt.
At that point, the Americans have to win the remaining five matches on the course for a tie to retain the cup. There was American red on the board, and even the last two matches that had been in European favor started to flip.
Fleetwood and joked with the lads at the bottom that he hoped Europe would have it won before the matches relief on them. No such luck.
And then Fleetwood — with help from Rickie Fowler — ended it. He was 1 up with three to play, needing to win the reachable par-4 16th, when Fowler hit it into the water on the right. Fleetwood drove onto the green about 25 feet away. He lagged it close, Fowler conceded the birdie putt and Europe had the Ryder Cup back.
“I really didn’t want it to come down to one of us at the back,” said Fleetwood, in the 11th spot in the lineup. “Just so happened to play a part — it was a bit bigger than I thought I was going to have when we saw the draw. But just so proud of being part of this team.”
Johnson is sure to face scrutiny for his six picks, leading to perceptions they were as much about friendships as good form. The six picks combined to go 4-12-4 for the week. And only three players — including Brooks Koepka, the only LIV Golf player in at the Ryder Cup — played in the five weeks leading up to the matches.
Then again, it might not have mattered. Europe has the magic touch in these matches, especially on home soil before its raucous fans.
“A good pairing on the European team doesn’t mean playing with your best mate,” Justin Rose said. “It means representing something bigger than yourself. And I feel like that’s for me what being a European Ryder Cup player is all about.”
And now it falls to Europe, who takes possession of the Ryder Cup for two years until the next matches at rough and rowdy Bethpage Black in New York. Bethpage is tough stage even without flags and continents and pride involved. It will be the ultimate road test.
“I’ve said this for the last probably six or seven years to anyone that will listen,” McIlroy said. “I think one of the biggest accomplishments in golf right now is winning an away Ryder Cup. And that’s what we’re going to do at Bethpage.”
Europe was never more confident heading into the night to start their party, and for good reason. It took down a strong American team that three of the four major champions this year and every player from the top 25 in the world.
But then, the Americans felt the same way after Whistling Straits.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf