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October 04, 2012

Love's decisions contributed to U.S. failings in Ryder Cup

Incredibly clutch finishes by European players and the inability to close out matches by the U.S. squad are what ultimately allowed Europe to win the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on Sunday.

Player performances are usually the determining factor in tournaments, even in team events.

But some decisions by U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain Davis Love III contributed to the collapse of his team and Europe's record-tying comeback from a four-point deficit entering Sunday's 12 singles matches.

Love made five key mistakes in my opinion, and in chronological order, they were: 1, selecting Jim Furyk to the team; 2, sending Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker out for Friday's afternoon four-ball matches; 3, sitting Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for Saturday afternoon's four-ball matches; 4, keeping Woods and Stricker together Saturday afternoon; and 5, placing Woods in the 12th singles match.

1, I said the week Love selected Furyk that it was a bad decision, and it stems from the PGA of America selecting U.S. captains who are around the age of 50 rather than a more detached 60 or so. Love has a long-standing friendship with Furyk, and that likely factored into his selection. They played on four Ryder Cups as teammates and Love was an assistant in 2010 when Furyk was again on the team.

I would have selected Hunter Mahan for a couple reasons, even though Mahan wasn't playing his best golf leading up to the Sept. 4 selection day. Mahan has two wins this year, including the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship where he beat World No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the final, and Furyk has none. He even choked away two victories late in final rounds this summer in the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and the last thing you want on a Ryder Cup team is someone who has shown a recent propensity to blow leads.

The primary reason for choosing Mahan, or even Bo Van Pelt or Nick Watney, over Furyk is Furyk's futililty in the Ryder Cup and scar tissue from so many beat-downs from the Europeans. Furyk has played in seven previous Ryder Cups and Europe has won five of them, and Furyk's record in the Ryder Cup is now 9-17-4. The U.S. needs new blood in the matches who don't already believe the Europeans are better in this competition than the U.S.

Furyk went 1-2 last week and bogeyed the final two holes of his singles match against Sergio Garcia to lose 1 up. If Furyk makes a par on either hole and earns a half point the U.S. likely wins the Ryder Cup.

You could argue Stricker was also a questionable pick, but he was better than Furyk at the time because: he won in 2012; was considered a good partner for Woods, who is hard to match up; is regarded as one of the best putters in the world; and his .500 record as both an individual and U.S. team member entering this year's Ryder Cup was the best among the 12 players team members.

2, Woods and Stricker played the worst of the eight twosomes competiting in the Friday morning foursome matches, and with no break to practice before the afternoon matches, there was no reason to send them back out. The worst team in the morning should never go back out in the afternoon with four other players to choose from. Predictably, they lost -- they were the only U.S. team to lose -- even if it required eight birdies and an eagle by Nicolas Colsaerts.

3, Mickelson and Bradley were by far the best duo in the Ryder Cup. They beat Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who were a combined 14-0-1 in Ryder Cup foursomes, 2 and 1 in Friday foursomes. They trounced World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and 2010 U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell 4 and 3 in Friday foursomes, and matched a margin-of-victory record in Ryder Cup team competitions with a 7 and 6 annihilation of Donald and Lee Westwood -- two of the top five players in the world.

The next European duo to play them would have known they were nearly unbeatable, and they were arguably the impetus for the Chicago crowd's energy. Both Love and Mickelson say Mickelson asked not to play in the afternoon to rest and be ready for singles. His argument was that he and Bradley put everything they had into the Saturday morning match believing they wouldn't play in the afternoon, and that players who play all five Ryder Cup matches don't perform well in singles. Considering Woods played in every match in six consecutive Ryder Cups and had losing four-ball and foursomes records but was 4-1-1 in singles, the argument doesn't seem to hold water.

As captain, Love should have asked Mickelson and Bradley to go back out. It was the closest thing to a guaranteed point in the competition, and one more point would have won the Cup. You take the points when you can get them. And they only played 12 holes in the morning match with no stress. Love's response to Mickelson should have been, "Suck it up, Phil, and do it for the sake of the team."

Without Mickelson and Bradley on the course, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald were able to eke out 1 up wins in their four-ball matches Saturday afternoon to keep the Europeans within four points entering Sunday, when both Mickelson and Bradley lost their singles matches. 

4, Through their Friday afternoon four-ball loss, Woods and Stricker had lost their last four matches in international team competition. Obviously the compatibility they shared in winning their first six matches as a team had worn off.

The issue was which twosome do you break up to pair Woods and/or Stricker with other players. You didn't want to break up the Mickelson-Bradley, Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson-Jason Dufner, or Matt Kuchar-Dustin Johnson pairings. They were all successful.

But Love could have broken up Furyk and Snedeker, who lost their opening foursomes match Friday, and paired Woods with Snedeker on Saturday afternoon. Both Woods and Snedeker had already sat out one of the team sessions, and Woods was the choice over Stricker because he made seven birdies to Stricker's two in their four-ball loss Friday afternoon. Oh, and he's Tiger Woods.

5, Love rendered Woods a non-factor and spectator by placing him in the 12th and final match. As it turned out, the Ryder Cup came down to the first 11 singles matches, and the match between Woods vs. a winless-in-two-Ryder Cups Francesco Molinari was a moot point.

Why not put Woods in the middle of the lineup where you know he would be a factor and have a say in the outcome of the matches. He may have been able to stem the tide of European victories. Woods may have been 0-3 while paired with Stricker at Medinah, but he did make seven birdies in his first four-ball match and five birdies on the back nine in his second four-ball match, and he entered the 39th Ryder Cup 4-1-1 in singles.

There's plenty of blame to go around for the U.S. collapse, and Love certainly deserves his share.







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