Marcus Hayes: What we learned from Ryder Cup

Rory McIlroy , celebrating after Europe's Ryder Cup win, unfortunately acted his age at Medinah.
Rory McIlroy , celebrating after Europe's Ryder Cup win, unfortunately acted his age at Medinah. (ANDREW REDINGTON / GETTY IMAGES)
Posted: October 03, 2012

THE BEST RYDER CUP in history is over.

It was thrilling; it was unexpected; it was a bookie's nightmare, an all-time comeback, an upset for the ages.

The undermanned European squad's Sunday comeback from four points down was better than the uncomfortable Belfry tie in 1989; better than the War by the Shore in 1991, a jingoistic embarrassment at Kiawah Island; better than the United States' four-point comeback in 1999, forever tarnished by a premature celebration.

What did we learn this year?

For one, that Steve Stricker's international career is over; that U.S. captain Davis Love III should have chosen newer blood over his old buddies Stricker and Jim Furyk; and that Rory McIlroy might not be quite the blushing, bonnie lad he seemed to be.

Furyk's selection is defendable only in light of his performance in the 2011 President's Cup against a relatively toothless bunch of internationals. Furyk had not won a tournament in more than 2 years. He was 8-15-4 in seven Ryder Cup appearances. Furyk never made it past the third round of the World Golf Championships match play event; in fact, he lost in the first round in six of his 12 appearances.

Furyk, 42, was 1-2 at Medinah this year. At least he posted something.

Unless Stricker wins a couple of times next year, not even his compatibility with Tiger Woods will make him a viable choice for international.

Stricker, 45, now is 1-5 in his last six international foursome and four-ball matches, dating to last year's President's Cup. He was 0-4 at the Ryder Cup this year. His intimidating putter has turned ordinary, and nothing else in his game lends it to match play - especially his age.

In fact, selecting Stricker over Hunter Mahan seemed downright punitive.

Yes, Mahan chili-dipped a chip on No. 17 2 years ago.

But for Mahan to complete a comeback in that match and win a half against preening gamesman Graeme McDowell would have meant Mahan had to win the last two holes. Mahan had won No. 12 and No. 15 with birdies just to keep McDowell within shouting distance.

At the time, McDowell was at the top of his game, the reigning U.S. Open champion, having won that year twice worldwide.

Mahan wept at the postmatch news conference . . . then spent 2 years preparing for Medinah.

With a remade psyche and a steeled resolve, Mahan last year went 4-1 at the President's Cup.

He then won the Accenture Match Play title this year.

That's right. He is the reigning match-play champion; a fine credential to hold when being considered for, say, a match-play event.

Mahan, now 30, beat current world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the Accenture final. On his way to that final, Mahan destroyed Stricker.

Mahan also nearly won the Tour Championship last fall. It took a miraculous splash-out from the water by Bill Haas on the second playoff hole to keep Mahan from a $10 million bonus.

The Accenture this season was the second World Golf Championship title for Mahan, then 29. Who else held two of the four WGC titles before age 30?

Only Tiger Woods.

No, Mahan did not play well down the stretch this season as Love made his captain's picks, but Mahan was hungry; in his prime; battle-tested; and he had developed a fine relationship with the prickly Woods.

Stricker was just old.

There was an argument for taking Nick Watney, 31, who won three times in the past 2 years, including an August win to kick off the FedEx Cup playoffs and a WGC win in 2011; or Bo Van Pelt, 37, who enjoyed a solid surge down the stretch.

But the best argument was for Mahan.

In hindsight, the argument was foolproof.

Looking ahead, it remains to be seen whether McIlroy's image remains fireproof.

Much of McIlroy's game is built on Tiger's template as a young pro: breathtaking length, fearless pin-seeking, putting and chipping with coldblooded confidence.

Much of McIlroy's image has been built on how he differs from Woods: no media-speak rhetoric in his worst moments; no worries over corporate reprimands; and, generally, no churlish behavior.

Until this past weekend.

It began on the second hole of his first match, when McIlroy and McDowell insisted that McIlroy should get a drop because a sprinkler head interfered with McIlroy's shot onto the hole.

Furyk, McIlroy's crusty opponent (along with bland Brandt Snedeker), refused. A rules official declined to make the call. McIlroy insisted that a second rules official come. That official sided with Furyk.

That made McIlroy furious.

He glared at Furyk en route to losing the hole. Later in the match, after a splendid shot, he stared down Furyk again. Because Furyk made McIlroy play by the rules. According to the rules official.

Understand: This is the ultimate stage for golf's gentlemanly tradition.

Time and again, McIlroy was anything but gentlemanly.

Or, for that matter, adult.

Grown-ups show up.

McIlroy nearly missed his tee time in singles play Sunday. He lolled around his hotel until 25 minutes before he was due to tee off. He said he was confused by the time zone; that he thought he had another hour.

This was his third day of competition; his watch wasn't set?

Had McIlroy missed his tee time by 2 minutes, he would have forfeited the first hole to opponent Keegan Bradley. Had McIlroy missed his tee time by 5 minutes, he would have forfeited the match - and, likely, the Cup.

Europe won by one point.

The point that McIlroy eventually won from Bradley.

Everyone enjoyed a chuckle when Rory safely teed off.

Well, nearly everyone.

Curmudgeonly Colin Montgomerie called the situation "unbelievable . . . ridiculous."

And it was.

McIlroy is 23.

He is a millionaire. He is famous. Talented.

He is not perfect.

All over the world, 23-year-olds are late. They are petulant. They pout, and they glare.

Tiger did it at 23.

He's 36, and he still does it.

We had not seen this from McIlroy.

Here's hoping we don't see it much more.


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.

 

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