Al Jazeera Blogs


Miracle of Medinah written in the stars

Europe’s remarkable comeback in the Ryder Cup is a triumph of belief and spirit.
Last modified: 1 Oct 2012 14:02


The great trailblazer of European and Ryder Cup, Seve Ballesteros, had enough of it on his own to fill a whole team.

And that's what happened in the miracle of Medinah. The 12 European players with Seve etched on their sleeve had his spirit in their hearts on the final day. They believed.

And so a 10-6 deficit was overturned on a day of unforgettable drama in Chicago.

It's the greatest format in sport and one of the biggest events - partly made special by being held at two year intervals and partly for the unique pressures it brings on the participants. But for those who haven't grown up with it, don't watch it, don't feel it, we should try to make a comparison on what coming back from 10-6 is.

Perhaps being 3-0 down in the second half of a World Cup football match, being forced to follow on in cricket, being 14 or more points behind in the final quarter of an NFL match, or two sets and a break down in a tennis Grand Slam final. 

In Ryder Cup history the USA managed to come back from 6-10 in the infamous 1999 clash at Brookline, but they were at home and there was something about this that felt even more unlikely, more incredible.

The statistics only give clues to the drama that unfolded. Europe actually winning the first five singles matches, and taking eight of the 12 overall to win 14-and-a-half to 13-and-a-half, the tightest winning margin possible. 

But to watch it unfold was like 12 incredible connected stories approaching their denouement simultaneously - there are so many moments that would have tipped the balance decisively back towards America that didn't quite happen for them as the breath was held on both sides of the Atlantic.

German Martin Kaymer was immortalised by sinking the crucial putt in this the mother of all Ryder Cups. But there are three other men that will stick in my mind as where the cup was won and lost.

Howdid Englishman Justin Rose beat Phil Mickelson? That was Mickelson's game, the left-hander has enjoyed a brilliant Ryder Cup and shown the grace and class that make him the world's favourite American player. But Rose produced sensational putts on the 16th and 17th, turned the match around and wrapped it up on the last. One up. crucial.

America's collapse was, for me, encapsulated by Jim Furyk. He celebrated a putt on the 16th too early, it didn't drop and it immediately started to haunt him.

He looked like he'd seen a ghost as he made a ham-fisted attempt to complete victory against Sergio Garcia. On the final hole he deliberated over two putts like a man trying to negotiate a sleeping tiger in a lift. He missed them both. The ball was never going to go down. It was actually painful to watch someone lose their nerve like that. That's what the Ryder Cup is all about.

But most of all this defeat for the USA, this victory for Europe was down to Ian Poulter, a man who has reinvented the meaning of 'will to win'.

I've never been a big fan of Poulter, I'll admit that. I couldn't help but think there's a bit too much swagger in there for someone who doesn't consistently threaten to win majors.

I was wrong. The Ryder Cup is as big as it gets, in this sport at least, and that swagger is what gives him the edge,

The edge to win all four of his points at Medinah, the edge to remain unbeaten in Ryder Cup singles and the edge to scrap and fight and somehow win a crucial point for Europe at the end of the Saturday. 

Sunday might not have even been a contest had Poulter not foundfive birdies in a row on that penultimate afternoon when Europe looked well beaten. He just would not accept anything other than a win in all of his matches.

Contrast that with the place Tiger Woods has found himself in. A man whose superpowers disappeared with the meltdown of his private life, rumours of his rehabilitation proving greatly exaggerated. 

Having lost all three of his matches, showing only sporadic reminders of his greatness, his part in the closing moments was almost eerie in its irony.

He looked like a little boy lost on the final green as the European celebrations started around him. The strains of 'Always Look on the Bright Life'  died down in time for him to miss a final putt that the Woods of five years ago would have gobbled up.

The American superstar slipped quietly away, reduced to an extra while the new world number one Rory McIlroy played a big part in Europe's victory. He had mistaken his tee time and was almost, astonishingly, late. but then proved that this is his time.

And amongst the European celebrations, decorum was returning off the green.

Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal spoke movingly about his great friend Seve, who died last year. 

"It's the first time that he's not here with us at the Ryder Cup. I do have wonderful memories from my matches with him. He was a very special man and he's very close to my heart."

Did Olazabal get the key decisions right? Perhaps more appropriate to focus on how the players pulled through for him in the end.

The manner of this victory was the perfect tribute. Some things in sport as in life are not about logic and shrewd decision making.

Some things are written in the stars.