GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — Tom Watson walked over to congratulate Jamie Donaldson for the shot of his life, a shot that ended the Ryder Cup. He walked up the 15th fairway at Gleneagles with his arm around European captain Paul McGinley even before the final match was conceded to secure another win for Europe.
Europe left no doubt who had the best team, if not the best players.
This Ryder Cup provided a real surprise — but only after it was over. The strongest opponent Watson faced Sunday might have been one of his own players.
Just as the European party was getting started, Phil Mickelson took a not-so-subtle dig at Watson — with the U.S. captain just six seats away on the dais — by questioning why the Americans have strayed from a winning formula in which the players were more involved.
Mickelson praised Paul Azinger’s captaincy in 2008 — the only U.S. victory in the last 15 years — for creating a “pod” system in which players felt invested in every aspect of the team.
“Nobody here was in any decision,” Mickelson said, which no doubt included Watson’s decision to bench Lefty for both sessions on Saturday when Europe built a lead that was too much for this American team to overcome.
Watson stared blankly as Mickelson spoke. When asked to respond, he was just as even in speech as Mickelson was in the back-handed criticism.
“I had a different philosophy as far as being a captain of this team,” Watson said. “It takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods. It’s 12 players.”
Watson said there would be room for second-guessing — every losing captain goes through that.
“The bottom line is they kicked our butts,” Watson said.
Even amid the American bickering, there was no doubting that.
The score — Europe 16 1/2, United States 11 1/2 — was reflective of that. And so was the way Europe completed its eighth Ryder Cup victory over the last 10 times.
It began with Rory McIlroy, the best player in the world producing a brand of golf that showed clearly why he won the last two majors. He was 6-under par in his opening six holes to build a 5-up lead over Rickie Fowler, the first point for Europe.
Whatever hopes the Americans had building momentum was put to rest by Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose, both of whom overcame big deficits with rallies that made the outcome inevitable.
And then there was Donaldson, the 38-year-old Ryder Cup rookie for Wales. Donaldson secured a tie when he was 4 up with four holes to play against Keegan Bradley. And then he gave this European performance the finish it deserved. Donaldson hit 9-iron from 146 yards onto the green at No. 15, and the ball kept rolling toward the flag until it settled about 18 inches away.
Watson knew it was over and shook hands with Donaldson.
Bradley walked onto the front of the green, saw the ball next to the hole and removed his cap. It was over.
“It came down to me to close it out,” Donaldson said. “But it’s all about the team.”
The PGA of America brought Watson back as captain — at 65, the oldest in Ryder Cup history — hopeful that he could repeat some history of his own. Watson was the last U.S. captain to win a Ryder Cup on European soil.
That one ended with Davis Love III — in his first Ryder Cup — clinching the cup for the Americans by raising his hands in the air. This one ended badly for the Americans, in a conference room instead of on the course.
Watson said he had a pit in his stomach watching the Americans blow a 10-6 lead at Medinah two years ago. The difference as captain?
“Not a damn thing,” he said. “It hurts.”
McGinley talked all week about a template of European success. The message was to embrace their role as the favorites, and to be proud that they had earned it. And the final instruction was to avoid complacency. Europe won the Sunday singles session for the second straight Ryder Cup.
“I didn’t execute the plan. All these guys sitting at this table did,” McGinley said with the 17-inch trophy on display. “I know how difficult it is to play in a Ryder Cup. I know when your heart is jumping out of your chest how incredibly excited and nervous you are. But we relish this challenge. We did it with a smile on our face, which is so important. And we did everybody proud.”
The Americans had a few bright spots. Patrick Reed led a solid debut of the three rookies, who accounted for about 45 percent of their team’s points.
As For Europe?
Watson had singled out Ian Poulter as the European with the best record and the man to beat. Poulter wound up playing only three matches and he didn’t win any of them, settling for two halves. But it wasn’t about Poulter. It was about Europe. What a team.
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