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Rediff.com  » Sports » Fleetwood secures Ryder Cup for Europe after brave US fightback

Fleetwood secures Ryder Cup for Europe after brave US fightback

October 02, 2023 00:12 IST
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Ryder Cup

IMAGE: Team Europe captain Luke Donald poses with the trophy as his team celebrates after winning the Ryder Cup. Photograph: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Europe resisted a fierce American fightback to secure the four points required to reclaim the Ryder Cup with England's Tommy Fleetwood sealing the deal in a nerve-jangling climax on Sunday.

The Americans, attempting the biggest final-day comeback ever in the biennial event, found their mojo after being outplayed and outfought for two days at the Marco Simone course.

Hauling back a daunting five-point deficit proved beyond them, however, and Fleetwood made sure the trophy returned to Europe when his opponent Rickie Fowler conceded the 16th hole to leave the Briton two up with two to play and a guaranteed half.

 

Fleetwood duly completed a 3&1 victory but the celebrations had already started as Europe extended their 30-year unbeaten home record against the Americans and avenged the record 19-9 thrashing they endured at Whistling Straits in 2021.

Although the final score was a comfortable-looking 16-1/2- 11-1/2 with the gap the same as at the start of the day, there were moments when a U.S. win looked possible.

"It was stressful as the Americans put up a fight today so hats off to them. But I am so proud of my 12 guys," said Europe skipper Luke Donald, whose team seized control of the 44th Ryder Cup on Friday with a 4-0 sweep of the morning foursomes.

"We started off great, which was what we needed. Then a few matches changed to red. We kept looking at the board and thinking, where will we find 14 and a half points?

"But we always had some guys at the back that looked good."

Ryder Cup

IMAGE: Team Europe's Shane Lowry and teammates celebrate. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters

The 32-year-old Fleetwood, who picked up three points from his four matches, had not expected to be centre of attention.

"I'd have rather not been in that situation," he said. "I didn't want it to come down to one of us at the back.

"I was feeling pretty sick taking the tee shot on 16. It is never nice to watch somebody's ball sail into the water but I still had to set up and hit a shot.

"It is an amazing feeling after an amazing pressure."

Ultimately, the Americans paid for a woeful start in which they failed to win a match on the opening day.

But they left with pride restored.

"My competitive juices are flowing too much to function right now," said American captain Zach Johnson. "We'll analyse it. I'm not making excuses. Europe outplayed us."

Donald top-loaded his singles order to try to get the job done early with world number three Jon Rahm, number four Viktor Hovland and number two Rory McIlroy, who was involved in unsavoury scenes the night before, in the opening four matches.

UNSTOPPABLE HOVLAND

Ryder Cup

Norway's Hovland, outstanding all week, was unstoppable as he finished off Collin Morikawa on the 15th green for a 4&3 victory which included seven birdies.

In the top match, Spain's Masters champion Rahm and world number one Scottie Scheffler slugged out a gladiatorial contest which ended tied when Rahm left a long-distance putt stone dead to win the 18th hole after Scheffler fluffed a green-side chip.

Scheffler had been in tears after a record 9&7 defeat in the foursomes alongside Brooks Koepka but rebounded with brilliant golf.

"We needed to rally around something, we were getting our butts kicked to start the day," Scheffler told reporters.

Northern Ireland's McIlroy, playing his seventh Ryder Cup, beat dogged rookie Sam Burns 3&1.

McIlroy, Europe's talisman, ended up with four points to take his career Ryder Cup tally to 18, and said it made up for the pain of Whistling Straits.

"We wanted to come here to Rome this year and redeem ourselves a bit," said the mild-mannered McIlroy, who had a bust-up with Patrick Cantlay's caddie on the 18th green after Saturday's loss.

"I used that little incident last night to my advantage. I let it fuel me."

Elsewhere, however, the battling Americans were painting the scoreboard red with Cantlay, whose heroics in a stormy fourballs gave his team hope, beat Justin Rose 2&1.

Englishman Tyrrell Hatton settled the nerves by completing a 3&2 victory over British Open champion Brian Harman to leave Europe half a point from glory.

But Johnson's Americans were not finished.

Koepka beat young Swede Ludvig Aberg before Max Homa survived a tension-riddled 18th hole to seal a 1-up win over Matt Fitzpatrick who missed the chance to seal Europe's victory when his birdie putt failed to drop.

When Xander Schauffele beat Nicolai Hojgaard to make it 14-10, Europe's hearts were suddenly in their mouths.

But Fowler drove his tee shot into water at the par-four 16th and when Fleetwood found the green, Europe could breathe easy. Fleetwood had a three-footer to win the hole but when Fowler conceded it the 32-year-old Englishman threw his arms skywards in relief.

Once the finishing touches had been completed, the party could begin in earnest, although American thoughts were already tuning to Bethpage in 2025.

"It will be significantly different," Fowler said.

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