The contradiction of the Ryder Cup is that it is won both passionately and dispassionately. Because while comebacks stir the blood, the numbers don’t lie.
The event is largely won from ahead.
Europe Captain Luke Donald and his players embraced this. Even before they recaptured the Ryder Cup, Tommy Fleetwood delivering at least a half point in his Singles match against Rickie Fowler to put Europe at the 14.5-point threshold – Fleetwood was 2-up with two to play – and even before Europe took a 10.5-5.5 lead into Sunday, they were turning the event into a sprint. (Fleetwood would win, 3 and 1. Final score: 16.5-11.5.)
“All week, all we’ve been talking about is getting off to fast starts,” said Rory McIlroy, who beat Sam Burns, 3 and 1, and compiled a 4-1-0 Ryder Cup record. “Playing three-hole matches in practice – three holes, go again, three holes, go again – something that Luke’s drilled into us.”
Message: Pounce at the first opportunity as if time were of the essence, because it is. What’s more, early leads for the home team get the crowd at full decibel immediately.
“We knew it was in our hands,” Donald said. “We stuck with the same plan we planned the whole week: Get off to fast starts. Play as a team. Use the crowd. Use their energy.”
Jon Rahm, Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton all birdied the first hole to take 1-up leads Sunday. McIlroy went ahead with a par. With blue on the board in four of the first six matches, and white (tied) in the other two, dreamy notions of a U.S. comeback now looked preposterous.
All told, Europe posted four birdies and five wins on No. 1 on Sunday; the U.S. had two and two.
A handful of teams had won 8.5 points in Singles (including in 1999 by the U.S. Team, and 2012 by the Europeans) but it was unlikely. Donald knew the way to stave off a comeback was to build upon all those quick starts. To that end, he put Rahm out first, FedExCup champion Viktor Hovland second, Ryder Cup specialist Justin Rose third and 24-time PGA TOUR winner McIlroy fourth.
The U.S. Team had momentum, what with Patrick Cantlay’s three closing birdies to flip his and Wyndham Clark’s match against McIlroy and Fitzpatrick on Saturday night. But to keep it, they were going to have to run the gauntlet and put points on the board against three of the top four players in the Official World Golf Ranking, plus the picture of composure in Rose.
“They’re going to go out and put some blue on the board early,” Donald said.
And with a familiar urgency, they did, winning three of the first six matches and tying another.
Hovland beat Collin Morikawa, 4 and 3, in the day’s first completed match, to go 3-1-1 for the week. It was 11.5-5.5, leaving Europe a mere three points from reclaiming the Cup.
Rahm birdied 18 to tie Scottie Scheffler. The score was 12-6. Although the clinical Cantlay dispatched Rose 2 and 1, it merely prolonged the inevitable. By the time McIlroy finished off Burns on 17, the two hugging it out afterward, and Hatton beat Brian Harman, 3 and 2, Europe led, 14-7.
Europe needed just half a point from the last seven matches and seemed to potentially have it, but Max Homa drained a clutch 10-footer on 18 to beat Matt Fitzpatrick, 1-up. It was 14-8.
Brooks Koepka put away Ludvig Åberg and Xander Schauffele beat Nicolai Højgaard, both by 3-and-2 margins, and it was 14-10. The Americans, at least, weren’t going down without a fight.
Fleetwood’s conceded birdie on 16 over Fowler, who had driven it in the water, ended it.
All those fast starts by the home team had done too much damage, exposing the fact that many Americans were struggling even before a single shot was struck. Scheffler, who beat Rahm in Singles at Whistling Straits in 2021, went 0-2-1 the first two days, including a 9-and-7 pounding in Foursomes (with Koepka) at the hands of Åberg and Hovland.
On Sunday, Scheffler, 151st in Strokes Gained: Putting, again sputtered on the greens, gifting the fourth and fifth holes to Rahm. Scheffler made six birdies from there, but when he couldn’t get up and down to make a seventh on 18, Europe had another half-point.
While Europe perfected early leads, the U.S. could scarcely build any lead. Not until the second session Friday, when Justin Thomas birdied the sixth hole and he and Jordan Spieth took a 1-up lead over Hovland and Hatton, was there any read on the board. By that time, 6 1/2 hours into the competition, you could see where the Cup was headed.
There were question marks for Europe, which more than once was dubbed a team in transition, but by winning the morning and winning the day, those questions now have been answered.
Nordic naturals Åberg, 23, and Hovland, 26, boast fresh legs and metronomic ball-striking. Pencil them in for the ’25, ’27 and ’29 Ryder Cups, if not more. Højgaard, the youngest player on either team at 22, was so awed in his first Ryder Cup that he twice birdied the first hole, once in a Four-ball tie with partner Rahm and then in Singles against Schauffele.
Robert MacIntyre, another Europe rookie, also twice birdied the first hole, both times with partner Rose in Four-ball, going 1-0-1.
Fleetwood built on his early Ryder Cup success – 4-0-0 with Francesco Molinari in 2018 – with two more wins with partner McIlroy this week. And when Fleetwood delivered against Fowler, it was over. All that was left was for Spieth to birdie the last to eke out a tie against Shane Lowry.
The two sides had split the final session, 6-6. The winner, as usual, had won from ahead.