I wrote in an earlier blog entry a day after the Ryder Cup ended that I wouldn't play the blame game. I should have written that I wasn't ready at that time to play the blame game.
Now I am. After much thought and research, I am ready to play. And this isn't easy or fun for me to write.
Let me get it out of the way: I put it on Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. Fifty percent each. One missed stroke in clutch situations by both of them. If they both make their stroke, their matches are halved, Team USA has one more point and wins outright 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.
And the Tiger Woods/Francesco Molinari match is meaningless for a different reason.
Please understand, this is a game I usually don't enjoy playing because I know there are so many variables and "what ifs" that go with such discussions. And I also understand that plausible arguments can be made for pointing the finger at others on Team USA who didn't live up to expectations.
Think Captain Love was at fault for not sending out Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for four-balls Saturday afternoon? You have lots of company. But we have no way of knowing if Phil and Keegan would have won an afternoon match--it's pure conjecture.
Tiger Woods only getting a half point? Sure, that's in the conversation. But remember who he was paired with in three matches.
Want to blame Patrick Rollins, the Lombard Police Department deputy chief who was able to get Rory McIlroy to Medinah on time? I do hope you're kidding.
Let's turn to Furyk first. As if his year wasn't already miserable enough after blowing the US Open with a snap hook on hole 16 on Sunday and then a double bogey on the final hole at the Bridgestone Invitational, Furyk finds himself one hole up on Sergio Garcia heading to the par 3 17th. He puts his tee shot into the bunker just behind the green.
Here is where Furyk is usually money in the bank. Coming into the Ryder Cup, Jimmy the Grinder was #1 on the PGA Tour in Scrambling from the Sand. The PGA Tour defines this statistical category as: "the percent of time that a player misses the green in regulation, but still makes par or better when the birdie stroke is taken from the greenside bunker." (Note that between the BMW Championship and the Ryder Cup, Furyk had moved to #1 from #2 in that statistical category.
Let's state the obvious then: there was no other player in the Ryder Cup you'd expect to take that bunker shot and save par than Furyk.
His sand shot, while not great, comes to rest about eight feet from the hole.
Garcia takes two putts from the middle of the green to make his par.
The moment of truth arrives. The number one sand scrambler in the game this year is called on to save par. This is what was expected of him. Make the putt and a crucial half point is guaranteed. Furyk would show the world why he was chosen, why he was meant for this very moment.
Here was Furyk's par putt attempt. Go ahead, watch it. Yes, I know it's painful.
Just know that, as usual, it took Furyk several agonizing minutes before he actually hit the putt. For all his pre-shot grinding, you'd think his putt might come a little closer.
And then, of course, Furyk went on to bogey the 18th because--well, because that's what Furyk has done all year--- and lose that point to Garcia. ___________________________________________________________________ Now, on to Stricken. Oops, was that my out loud voice? I meant now on to Stricker.
When he was announced as a captain's pick back on September 4th, Stricker was mentioned as being one of the best putters in the game and one of the best players in the world over the last five years by Davis Love III.
And Stricker was the number 10 ranked player in the world at the time of his selection. Tough to argue with that.
But it should have been fairly obvious to Captain Love and his trusty assistants that something was off with Stricker's putting game in the week prior to the Ryder Cup. In the Tour Championship event, a thirty man field, Stricker's putting stats were off the charts terrible. How bad? Well, even though he was 2nd in Greens in Regulation in the Tour Championship, Stricker was 29th in Strokes Gained-Putting, 28th in Putts Per Round and 28th in Putts per GIR. One of the world's best putters had apparently gone off his game.
Fast forward to the Sunday singles matches. Once again, the 17th hole is the crucial hole in the match. Stricker and his opponent, the former number one player in the world, Martin Kaymer, are all square as they come to the 17th tee.
Stricker plays first and puts his tee shot just off the back fringe of the green.
Kaymer plays it safe and hits the left side of the green.
Kaymer's first putt leaves him four feet for his par.
Stricker from just off the fringe of the green. The nearest statistical category I could find for this shot is Scrambling Fringe (RTP Score) which is defined as the "average relative to par score when the player misses the green in regulation, but still makes par or better when the birdie stroke is taken from the fringe."
Okay, okay, we may arguing about two or three blades of grass. The notes say Stricker was just off the fringe of the green. My point is, he's supposed to get it up and down.
In this category, heading in to the Ryder Cup, Stricker was tied for 3rd with Ben Curtis. No other player in the Ryder Cup was ranked higher than Stricker for this given situation. Just as you would have wanted Furyk to play that bunker shot, you would have wanted Stricker to play this shot from just off the green. Stricker left himself about five feet for par.
Here was his par putt attempt. Oh,go ahead. We've seen this movie too many times in Strick's career anyways. Sure, he might be able to make a big putt at the John Deere Classic. But in a major? In the Ryder Cup? No dice.
Kaymer made his par putt and took a one hole lead to the 18th.
Both Kaymer and Stricker parred the 18th giving Kaymer a 1-up victory. To Stricker's credit, he did make a par putt of about eight feet to put the pressure on Kaymer for his five footer.
So that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Furyk/Stricker. Stricker/Furyk. 50/50. Each one with a script written just for him. Made to order. Put them in a high percentage play and have them execute. If both putts are made it means a half point for each match and the one point the team needed.
Both missed. Both are the goats of this Ryder Cup.