Ryder Cup 2012: Ian Poulter shows bulldog spirit: But Europe face huge task to defeat USA

Pumped-up Poulter shows bulldog spirit… but Europe face huge task to defeat USA

By
Malcolm Folley

PUBLISHED:

00:20 GMT, 30 September 2012

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UPDATED:

00:39 GMT, 30 September 2012

Ian Poulter, a fist-pumping, snarling, bulldog of a golfer, offered the European team outside hope of defending the Ryder Cup here.

Poulter holed a 12-foot putt on the 18th green to defeat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson with his fifth consecutive birdie. On the side of the green, the European team celebrated as one while Rory McIlroy embraced his playing partner.

It was a one-man show of defiance from Poulter. ‘It’s going to be bloody hard tomorrow, but we’ve got to take it to them,’ he said.

Fist of fury: Ian Poulter celebrates after keeping his nerve to win a point for Europe in the final match

Fist of fury: Ian Poulter celebrates
after keeping his nerve to win a point for Europe in the final match

Poulter and McIlroy’s victory came
minutes after Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia had defeated Tiger Woods and
Steve Stricker by one hole as Europe at least reminded the Americans
they remain in a fight. As a result of the late European heroics, the
Americans will begin the final day 10-6 ahead.

‘Poulter was awesome,’ said McIlroy. ‘When he gets that look in his eye he can do anything.’

At last the American crowd was made
to feel nervous; at last this Ryder Cup had become a contest rather than
a ceremonial procession for those representing Uncle Sam. Finally, the
tension was palpable.

Grim viewing: Jose Maria Olazabal cannot bear to watch

Grim viewing: Jose Maria Olazabal cannot bear to watch

Jose Maria Olazabal has been a
low-profile captain, at times appearing invisible. Yet, behind closed
doors after a ragged, unprofitable first day for the stars of the
European game, he voiced his displeasure in a speech of controlled
anger.

‘We got the hair dryer treatment,’
said Graeme McDowell. And McIlroy, a fervent Manchester United fan,
added: ‘It was a roasting, real Sir Alex Ferguson stuff.’

Olazabal failed to generate the
response he had hoped for until the end of a momentous day. Yet Davis
Love III’s men need just 4 more points to reclaim the trophy.

Olazabal’s captaincy of the European
team is unlikely to be regaled in tales of wonder. For when the story of
the 39th Ryder Cup is retold, we will think of Americans Keegan
Bradley, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson and the ageless Phil
Mickelson burying the reputations of the finest golfers from the other
side of the Atlantic beneath the first fall of leaves at the Medinah
Country Club.

We will struggle to understand how
Olazabal had been unable to galvanise such renowned players as McIlroy,
Donald, Lee Westwood, McDowell, Garcia and Justin Rose into offering
greater resistance.

‘It’s a crisis now,’ said Colin
Montgomerie, who proved a shrewd captain of Europe at Celtic Manor two
years ago. ‘Our players haven’t performed to their ability and that’s
why the gap has widened all the time.’

Defining moment: Dustin Johnson (centre) celebrates sinking a birdie putt to win the 17th hole

Defining moment: Dustin Johnson (centre) celebrates sinking a birdie putt to win the 17th hole

In Wales, Monty had been a general
buzzing around the course from match to match, like Seve Ballesteros had
done so memorably at Valderrama in 1997.

Once Olazabal had worked in magical
tandem with his late friend in the Ryder Cup, yet his desire to emulate
Ballesteros’s triumph as captain was fading faster than the sun setting
over Chicago.

‘The difference has been mainly
around the greens,’ said Olazabal. ‘Our boys are not making the putts.
And, it’s true, some of them haven’t performed to their expectations.’

Fighting against the tide: Sergio Garcia (right) congratulates Luke Donald after winning the eighth hole

Fighting against the tide: Sergio Garcia (right) congratulates Luke Donald after winning the eighth hole

Only an exceptional performance from
every man in the European team in the 12 single matches can deny the
Americans from reclaiming Sam Ryder’s old trophy. That seems unlikely.
On what we know, all that is to be determined is the scale of the
American victory.

Inside the European team there is an
air of despondency that is too late to be dispersed. Each putt that
failed to go in — and Nicolas Colsaearts was a victim of some cruel
near-misses — brought closer the reality of defeat.

Donald tried to make sense of the
manner in which Bradley has placed the Ryder Cup under his spell.
Bradley, 26, from Woodstock, has made sweet music in harmony with Phil
Mickelson to the unbridled joy of the home crowd.

‘Keegan’s been like a rock star this week,’ said Donald.

US yay: Keegan Bradley shows his delight as the Americans stamp their authority on the morning foursomes, to the delight of the home crowd

US yay: Keegan Bradley shows his delight as the Americans stamp their
authority on the morning foursomes, to the delight of the home crowd

Bradley and Mickelson won their third
point by defeating Donald and Westwood 7&6 in the morning
foursomes. It was perhaps as much humiliation as a man can experience
with his clothes on and equalled the worst-ever Ryder Cup beating, when
Nick Faldo and David Gilford were flattened by Paul Azinger and Mark
O’Meara at Kiawah Island 21 years ago. If that 1991 Ryder Cup became
known as the War on the Shore, there is a distinct possibility this
might become the Mismatch at Medinah.

By lunchtime, the United States had
stretched their lead to 8-4, having won the foursomes 3-1. Everywhere
you looked American golfers were pumping fists as a pall of glumness
descended over the Europeans.

It was unimaginable to suppose
Westwood, a man with a record of distinction in seven previous Ryder
Cups, could play so disappointingly. Yet too many European players have
been far from their best.

It would be inexcusable if credit was
not paid to the Americans, so expertly managed by Love. When the
moment arises, Olazabal will accept defeat with dignity and a warm
handshake but his swansong in the Ryder Cup was not supposed to end like
this.