Fingers crossed for Cup defence !
What more can I say? I’m here at Oakland Hills, representing Europe in my third Ryder Cup – and I’m looking forward to the week. It will be interesting to see what lies in store for us…
On the eve, so to speak, of the Ryder Cup it was a great confidence booster to win the German Masters. I went there looking for some form, undoubtedly. My game hadn’t been at its best, but I didn’t expect to turn it around so quickly and win. I would have been quite happy just showing some form and maybe finishing in the top-10. But it was nice to play well. And then really nice, when I got myself in that position, to focus in and to win a tournament that perhaps wasn't mine for the taking.
Ireland’s Cup tradition
I was asked in a press conference earlier this week about Ryder Cup recollections and a lot of main stem around what the Irish have contributed to the European team. A big memory of mine would have to be Eamonn Darcy holing that putt at Muirfield Village in 1987 to help Europe to victory. Today, I still think it is one of the best putts I've ever seen holed because it would have gone off the green if it missed. That was one of the earliest and biggest memories I have. I can remember the rest of the Irish golfers, Christy O'Connor Jnr with his 2 iron to the last in 1989, Phillip Walton holing the winning putt at Oak Hill in 1995 and, of course, Paul McGinley, sinking the clincher at The Belfry two years ago.
The Irish guys have done exceptionally well. Christy O'Connor Snr held the record for the most Ryder Cup appearances until Nick Faldo broke it. I used to play a lot of golf at Royal Dublin and in the spike bar there has to be 10 photographs of Christy O'Connor Snr up on the walls. That was some heritage that was always there and I was very conscious of it when I was growing up playing golf.
While I’m the highest-ranked European on the World standings, I don’t feel as if I’m a senior figure. It's my third Ryder Cup. I just about feel as if I'm not a rookie now. I feel like I'm right in the middle. I don't feel in any sense that I'm the leader within this team. I think Monty is very much going to be that sort of person. I don't feel I've sort of reached that stage yet. Give me another ten years.
The course is set up very fairly. I've got to say that they set it up as fair as could be. There's no trickery out there. The golf course is exactly like you would expect to find a US Open style golf course. So I think as Europeans, there is some advantage for the US because they play this style week-in and week-out. But we are very happy with how it's set up. We don't feel in any sense they have tried to take advantage. They have put a fair test up to us, though it will be difficult.
Ryder Cup matches are often remembered for the twists and turns that occur down the stretch and the closing holes here are bound to see more than their fair share of excitement. Starting with the 473-yard 14th, you’ve got a great downhill par-4 with trees both sides and a green protected by three bunkers. There’s also a large swale running from the front right to the back left. It will play a 3-wood or 5-wood off the tee and a wedge for the second shot, although that depends on the wind obviously.
The 16th is the signature hole – it’s a par-4, measuring 400 yards. You drive down just short of a pond with a wide-ish but shallow green the other side of it. Depending on conditions, it’s a 2-iron, 3-iron, 5-iron off the tee to lay up and then you're looking at wedge or 9-iron.
The 17th is an interesting hole. It's only 200 yards, but it looks ever so long standing in the tee box. On first appearance on Tuesday, it looked like we were going to hit 3-wood up there., but it's actually a 4-iron. There’s a large mound in the middle of the green, which makes the hole tougher.
The 494-yard 18th is a demanding par-4. There are bunkers to avoid in the fairway while the green is well protected by sand traps, as well. I think it will play 3-wood, 5-iron for me. Club selection will be very important on this hole and it’s imperative to find the fairway off the tee.
I think we are the underdogs. The US players, in general, have more players in the higher levels of the World Rankings than we do. They have Major winners. I think Europe is lacking in Major winners, which is a significant factor.
That said, we do have a more balanced European team than previously. I think Europe, in past years, has tried to play six or eight players or five players against 12 US players, whereas this time around, I think we are going to try and play 12 against 12, which is a new experience for Europe. Obviously we were quite successful previously, but this time around, we are going to have to go head-to-head, 12 guys against 12 and that's got to be a different situation. Hopefully we'll be up to it. But it's not like we're carrying the major firepower that we would have had in the early 90s, late 80s. At that stage, we did have the best players in the world – the Langer’s, the Seve’s, the Faldo’s, the Woosie’s, the Sandy Lyle’s, they were winning the Majors at that time.
Fingers crossed, though, we can defend the Cup and bring it back with us when we fly home on Monday. I’ll give you my thoughts on it all after the weekend.
Fingers crossed for Cup defence !
A stunning Euro success!
Well, we did it – and in fantastic fashion. An 18 1/2 – 9 1/2 victory margin was bigger than we could have dreamt of and what made it great was we all played really good golf with everybody winning at least one match at some stage.
The European team just built up a head of steam throughout the week. All of the players were playing well in practice and they carried it on through the week. Along with Brookline, which was more intense, this was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had on the golf course.
As for that victory margin, we played great. We couldn't have expected anything like this. The only time the U.S. really came back at us was the Saturday morning four-balls, but Paul Casey and David Howell won a crucial tie, beating Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell 1-up after been one down with two to play. That one match – as much as anything – probably resulted in us winning by nine points in the end. I think so much came down to that game.
Out in front
The first day was always going to be important and Bernhard Langer sent Colin Montgomerie and myself out in the opening tie against Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. That we were drawn against them was what we expected – and the way we wanted it. We just went out there, hoping we’d manage our games against them and that’s the way it panned out with us winning 2&1.
I was delighted to be paired with Colin – we’d played together once at the Belfry two years ago and won. We get on very well and I certainly have a lot of respect for his game.
In the match, Colin showed the class act he is – he really is an unbelievable partner to play with. And we didn't give them a chance, really, from the moment Colin birdied the opening hole.
It was very satisfying to start off with a win. We knew it was up to us in this match as it was important for the team to get off a good start. We knew we were probably playing for more than a point in terms of team spirit.
I felt great on the first tee. That was my third Ryder Cup start and I went from not being “able to see the ball” at Brookline to “not bad” at the Belfry to “pretty good” this time on the first day.
The only worry I had was putting the ball on the actual tee. After that, everything else was pretty solid. We definitely prepared properly and I think it showed the way we started with birdies at the opening four holes – the perfect start.
We made it two wins for the day with an afternoon 4&3 foursomes success over Davis Love and Jim Furyk. Any time you win two matches in a day is enjoyable, but this was especially pleasing.
The conditions were very difficult for foursomes. There was a swirling wind that was gusting at times, while the greens were firming up and getting faster. It was an afternoon that kept you thinking.
The right things went for us at important times and when anything was put up to us, we seemed to come back at the next hole and make birdie. We had a good day - went 1-up at the 1st and never actually trailed, which was similar to the morning game.
Perhaps the big moment arrived on the 8th. We’d just had a poor hole at the 7th and looked to be in a tough situation at the back of the green from where it appeared impossible to get up-and-down.
We had just messed up the 7th, and all of a sudden this match seemed to be going away from us…and then Colin hit that chip from the rough into the fringe and it rolled down stone dead. An amazing shot!
It won the match there and then. With the belief restored, we went on to take the next three holes. The whole momentum had swung towards us with that chip shot and from there on, we could do no wrong. It was much the same for the team as we led 6 1/2 to 1 1/2 at the end of day one.
Saturday morning was a different story for Colin and I as we both tasted what was to be our only defeat of the three days – a 3&2 reverse at the hands of Stewart Cink and Davis Love.
I was a bit flat from the morning defeat in which I’d missed a few putts and as a pair, Paul McGinley and I didn’t start off too well against Tiger Woods and Davis Love in the afternoon foursomes.
Walking off the second green, where we’d gone 2-down, Paul said, "You know, let's play the golf course, let's stop playing the two guys, you know, let's concentrate on our own ball like it's a U.S. Open and try to shoot under par." It proved to be a good idea.
When we finished the job off for a 4&3 win on 15, we were back to 1-under par for the round. So, it was as Paul said, shooting under par did the trick.
Obviously we were thrilled and what made it all the sweeter was the tremendous Irish contingent following us around. They were terrific, roaring us on all the way. They made the win even more special, especially as it was clear that we were on the way to an 11-5 overall lead with just the singles ahead of us.
I was drawn in the penultimate match out, up against Jay Haas. As we teed off, it was all pretty tight out on the course with the top end of the American singles line-up all going well. So, despite our huge lead, we couldn’t be sure of the outcome at that stage.
I didn’t have the best of starts, making a double bogey to leave myself 1-down. But I levelled at the 2nd, led through the 4th and was 3-up by the turn. Not long down the stretch it became apparent we’d won the overall match and in a situation like that the heat of the battle isn’t quite as intense. By the time Jay and I stood on the final tee there was only one hole in it. But I managed to hold on for a slender 1-up win, making a 20-footer for par at the last. All my team-mates and the European fans were gathered around the green. Of course, it was lovely to make that putt and then join the celebrations. It was a wild time and before the closing ceremony I’d lost both my shoes in the crowd. Again, there were lots of Irish and European fans and it was brilliant to go up and share the moment with them.