Europe claims Ryder Cup, but United States makes it interesting with late rally

Europe celebrated a Ryder Cup victory. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Europe celebrated a Ryder Cup victory. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images) (Jamie Squire via Getty Images)

It took a little while longer to secure than the home team would have liked, but the Ryder Cup is going back to Europe.

Led by Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, the European squad thoroughly dominated their American counterparts through the first three sessions, then held off an American charge during Sunday's singles matches in Rome. The day ended with the gallery swarming the entire course as the Americans could only watch.

The final score was 16½ to 11½, but it almost never felt even that close. Tommy Fleetwood won the decisive half-point for Europe with multiple matches still remaining on the course. Europe needed to win 14½ points to claim the Cup, and came into Sunday needing just four points from 12 matches.

The United States salvaged some dignity Sunday, but leaves with a deep sense of what-if, and going forward, some significant trepidation given the deep strength of the European team.

Captains Luke Donald of Europe and Zach Johnson of the United States each brought 12 of the finest golfers on the planet to Marco Simone Golf Club, teams comprised of major champions and untested rookies alike. Europe held control for almost the entirety of the tournament, but the United States found its footing for a moment Sunday afternoon.

In the end, though, Europe came through from every angle, from top dogs to young rookies. Here's how the Ryder Cup shook out.

Tommy Fleetwood celebrates the Ryder Cup victory. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
Tommy Fleetwood celebrates the Ryder Cup victory. (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images) (PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images)

Before the Cup: False confidence

The United States won the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits by a decisive 19-9 margin, a beatdown so thorough that there was talk Europe might be done for a generation. With Ryder Cup legends Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter on the back nine of their careers, there seemed to be no depth on the European side beyond Rahm and McIlroy.

The United States, on the other hand, boasted a deep roster that included Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. Scottie Scheffler, at that point, hadn’t even won a tournament, and he was the United States’ 12th man.

But a series of unexpected and unpredictable factors wreaked havoc on the United States’ Ryder hopes. First, LIV Golf rose up and plucked several in-their-prime golfers off the PGA Tour; Johnson and DeChambeau lost their easy pathway into the Ryder Cup as a result. At the same time, young European players, most notably Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick, leveled up while McIlroy and Rahm showed no signs of fading.

The built-in advantage of playing a home match helped the European cause. Many of the Europeans have had success at Marco Simone during the Italian Open; Robert MacIntyre and Nicolai Hojgaard won it in recent years, and Fitzpatrick and Fleetwood have finished as runners-up.

Most of the United States players, by contrast, got their first look at Marco Simone just a few weeks ago, and some didn’t even make the trip. (Jordan Spieth had an excuse, having just welcomed his new daughter into the world.) Most U.S. players also took several weeks off prior to the Ryder; one who didn’t, Max Homa, was the Americans’ best player.

Ryder Cup captains’ picks always carry a touch of controversy, but this year brought more than most, as Johnson selected Justin Thomas for the team despite the fact that many others, including Keegan Bradley, had posted much better seasons. Johnson said he picked Thomas for his motivating effect on the team room, but the suspicion that Thomas was picked because he’s part of golf’s “cool kids” club loomed large over the team.

Once both teams arrived in Rome, the gamesmanship truly began. Koepka, the only LIV player to make either team, insisted that few players could handle the pressure of a putt to win the Ryder Cup. McIlroy, speaking of LIV, noted that this would be the week in which most LIV players realized what they had sacrificed by jumping to the upstart league. Johnson, in an ominous sign, was startled during the lavish opening ceremonies by an unexpected flyover.

And then it was time to play some golf.

Day 1: European domination

The Europeans started Friday foursomes strong and never hesitated. Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton thoroughly dominated Scheffler and Sam Burns in the opening match, setting the tone for the beatdown that followed. Hovland showed just how much he has improved in the past year, and McIlroy and Fleetwood had little trouble cracking the constant American team of Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. Europe swept the opening four matches, opening a gap the United States never closed.

The Friday afternoon fourball matches featured the 2023 Ryder Cup debuts of Thomas, Spieth and Koepka, and for a brief moment it appeared the United States could retake some momentum. But in what turned out to be the decisive 90 minutes of this Ryder Cup, the Europeans flipped three separate American leads into halves on the 18th hole. Rahm and Hovland made clutch putts that the United States couldn’t match, and the Ryder Cup effectively ended right there. The Americans could have won the session 3-1 to draw to within two points of Europe; instead, they managed only 1½ points, and finished five points back on what was the United States’ worst-ever day at the Ryder Cup.

Day 2: HatGate takes center stage

Saturday began with more of the same: European excellence. Hovland established himself as an instant Ryder Cup legend when he and Ludvig Åberg dealt Scheffler and Koepka the worst beating in the history of the Ryder Cup, a 9&7 steamrolling. McIlroy continued his best-ever Ryder Cup, pairing with Fitzpatrick to break the classic American pairing of Spieth and Thomas. Brian Harman and Homa secured the Americans’ first match victory, but it was the United States’ only point of either morning session.

And then the American fireworks began. Homa and Burns turned the gallery’s attitude back on itself, not bending to pressure. While the players were on the course, a report surfaced that alleged Cantlay was dissatisfied with the lack of payment to players, and was not wearing his hat as a form of protest. The European gallery began waving its hats to mock Cantlay, but when Cantlay closed out his match on the 18th, his caddie Joe LaCava waved his own cap back at the gallery in response. But LaCava got in McIlroy’s way, setting off an ugly scene to wrap up the one session the Americans won.

Day 3: Europe slams the door

The task looked grim indeed for the United States entering the singles round: Win 8 ½ points out of 12 matches, a task that would mark the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. Europe, by contrast, needed to win just four of the 12 matches to claim the Cup. Accordingly, Donald sent out his big guns early, leading with Rahm, Hovland and McIlroy in three of the first four matches. Hovland and McIlroy leaped out to strong early leads, but Rahm struggled to get distance on Scheffler throughout the round. Rahm was able to flip the match from a U.S. victory to a halve on the final hole, one of so many 18th-hole shifts that went Europe's way.

But the United States' Max Homa holed a 10-foot do-or-die putt to keep the United States alive, at least for a little longer. In the decisive match, America's Rickie Fowler conceded a two-foot, eight-inch putt to Fleetwood that guaranteed Europe at least a half-point, and that was the clincher. The Ryder Cup ended with Jordan Spieth and Shane Lowry splitting the final match with the entire gallery celebrating on the 18th hole.

Europe needed to reach 14½ points to claim the Cup; America needed 14 points to retain it. The final singles scores, in the order they finished:

Match #2: Viktor Hovland def. Collin Morikawa, 4&3; Europe 11½, USA 5½
Match #1: Jon Rahm halved Scottie Scheffler; Europe 12, USA 6
Match #3: Patrick Cantlay def. Justin Rose, 2&1; Europe 12, USA 7
Match #4: Rory McIlroy def. Sam Burns, 3&1; Europe 13, USA 7
Match #6: Tyrrell Hatton def. Brian Harman, 3&2; Europe 14, USA 7
Match #7: Brooks Koepka def. Ludvig Åberg, 3&2; Europe 14, USA 8
Match #5: Max Homa def. Matt Fitzpatrick, 1UP; Europe 14, USA 9
Match #9: Xander Schauffele def. Nicolai Hojgaard, 3&2; Europe 14, USA 10
Match #11: Tommy Fleetwood def. Rickie Fowler, 3&1; Europe 15, USA 10 — CHAMPIONSHIP POINT
Match #8: Justin Thomas def. Sepp Straka, 2UP; Europe 15, USA 11
Match #12: Robert MacIntyre def. Wyndham Clark, 2&1; Europe 16, USA 11
Match #10: Shane Lowry tied Jordan Spieth; Europe 16½, USA 11½