Tears fall, putts don’t: Europe overmatched at Ryder Cup

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Team Europe’s Rory McIlroy reacts after their loss to Team USA during the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits Golf Course Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — Rory McIlroy’s face reddened and his eyes welled up with tears. It was hard not to see this coming.

His most difficult week at the Ryder Cup — one of his most difficult weeks in golf — came to a merciful close Sunday. Finally, he won a match. To call it a bittersweet finish would probably be too kind.

“I’ve been extremely disappointed that I haven’t contributed more to this team,” McIlroy said.

His 3-and-2 victory over Xander Schauffele marked his first point of a week that was all but lost before the 12 singles matches even got going. Europe fell 19-9 — the most lopsided loss under the current format that dates to 1979.

In the post-defeat dissection that’s sure to come for a European team that had won nine of the last 12 of these meetings, certainly the disappearing act by McIlroy, the cornerstone of this team’s recent success, will be one of the top talking points.

But Europe’s issues went deeper than that, and the matchup against the Americans doesn’t look great for the near future.

Europe brought four 40-somethings — Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia — into the match against an America team without a single player that old.

That 40-plus crowd went 5-9 over three days, a mark that would’ve been worse had Garcia not been paired with world No. 1 Jon Rahm for three wins in fourball and foursomes to start the week.

Some other jarring numbers: Eight of America’s 12 players are in their 20s; 11 of them were ranked in the top 20 in the world rankings.

“There’s phenomenal talent on that team,” McIlroy said. “They have a lot of young guys who are great players who’ve bought into the Ryder Cup. They’re going to be formidable competition for a long time.”

There’s young talent on Europe’s side as well, and those players have long been sold on the passion of the Ryder Cup. “The heart of the team will be here for a few years to come now” captain Padraig Harrington said.

But as this dispiriting week showed, passion, camaraderie and team chemistry only gets a team so far. The best-case scenario is that Europe’s younger set, including Viktor Hovland, Tyrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick, keeps improving — and maybe culls a few lessons out of this beatdown near Lake Michigan.

They might look to Rahm for help. The 26-year-old Spaniard made long putts galore over the first two days. He posted 3 1/2 points, and only a few months after winning his first major, the U.S. Open, it’s no stretch to say he has come into his own.

McIlroy, still young at 32, couldn’t come close to that this week. The former No. 1 had posted no fewer than two points in each of his five previous appearances at the Ryder Cup. Over his first three losses in this one, he didn’t make a single birdie over 30 holes of playing his own ball in the best-ball matches.

“No one was more disappointed in the way I played than me,” McIlroy said.

Despite that, Harrington put McIlroy out for the first match Sunday, knowing any miracle comeback would have to start with the four-time major champion, the leader in birdies on the PGA Tour this year, and the man who has been, for the most part, Europe’s steadiest player for all these years.

Schauffele gifted McIlroy a win on the first hole when he missed a 2-foot birdie putt and McIlroy never looked back.

But the shot that told the story of this Ryder Cup for Europe came at the tail end.

On the 18th hole of a tied match, Fitzpatrick had a 200-yard approach with a chance to capture a half point that would prevent his team from giving up the 19th and record-setting point to the U.S.

The 27-year-old Englishman hit the ball fat and into the stream fronting the green. A few minutes later, he was conceding to Daniel Berger and the U.S. celebration grew even louder.

As the players made their way off the green, the song “We Are the Champions” blared over the sound system. All McIlroy and Co. could do was offer congratulations and watch.

And cry a little.

“It was a tough week,” McIlroy said. “But the more and more I play in this event, the more I realize it’s the best event in golf. I love being a part of it. I can’t wait to be a part of many, many more.”

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