Eight long years after their last victory, the United States Ryder Cup team finally regained the famous old trophy with a convincing 17-11 triumph at Hazeltine over an ultimately well-beaten European side.
Three points ahead overnight, the home side underlined their clear superiority by winning the 12 singles matches by 7 1/2 to 4 1/2.
More important than the eventual result, however, was the high quality of the golf played by both sides on a beautifully sunny autumn day in Minnesota. That it was going to be a special day was quickly apparent when the top-match between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy exploded in a burst of early birdies. Despite making five birdies in six holes from the 3rd hole on, the Irishman was only square at the turn. Things settled down a bit around the turn, but the game went all the way to the 18th hole, which fittingly was halved in birdies to give Reed a narrow one-up victory.
To his credit, McIlroy was magnanimous in defeat.
“We mocked each other a little, but it was all in good fun,” he said of a contest marked by the almost constant post-putt histrionics of both players. “But I have no problems with Patrick at all. He’s been immense this week.”
Best match of the final day though was the epic contest between long-time protagonists Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. Not exactly the best of pals, the pairs shared an amazing 19 birdies and ultimately the point. One down with four holes to play, Garcia birdied all four - yet won only one. It was sensational stuff.
“It was such a fun day,” said Mickelson. “And probably a fitting end. Our guys have played some incredible golf this this week. I’m real excited to be part of this team.”
The game’s greatest-ever left-hander has more cause than most to celebrate of course. Having openly criticised the American skipper, Tom Watson, in the wake of what was a third successive Ryder Cup defeat at Gleneagles two years ago, Mickelson was one of the most high-profile voices behind the formation of the so-called “Task Force” that sought to implement what he felt was much-needed change to America’s attitude to and preparation for the biennial contest with the Europeans.
There was vindication too for the US captain, Davis Love, the man who oversaw his side’s spectacular collapse at Medinah four years ago.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” said the former USPGA champion, fighting back tears. “They had a lot of pressure on them for the last two years. It was a great team effort. I’ve never seen a team come together like a family like this.
“There was some unbelievable golf played today. The Europeans played some stunning stuff. I told Rory he has just played the best month of golf I think I’ve ever seen. But I’m proud of my guys. They hung in there all week.”
As for the Europeans, the post-match inquest will no doubt focus on captain Darren Clarke’s failure to persuade World No. 17 Paul Casey to join the European Tour and so make himself eligible for the side.
The decision to select veterans Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer – who mustered only one point between them – ahead of Scotsman Russell Knox will come under the microscope. And leaving out Chris Wood and Rafa Cabrera-Bello on the second afternoon of the matches after both had performed with distinction that morning will inevitably be seen as the European captain’s fatal error in the wake of a match that began with a 4-0 sweep tor the Americans in the opening series of foursomes. That, in the end, was a heavy load to carry.
“At the end of the day, the American guys played better than we did,” Clarke acknowledged. “They holed the putts when they had to and we lipped out. But that's happened the other way around for quite some time. The guys gave it all. They tried everything, they tried as hard as they could.
“You can't ask for anything more as a captain. We're obviously bitterly disappointed, but credit to Davis and his team for a great performance.”
Next stop Paris in 2018. Magnifique et tres bon.
HOW THE SUNDAY SINGLES UNFOLDED