Wednesday 23 January 2019

Paul McGinley's hard work pays off

Europe captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup after his team secured victory over the United States at Gleneagles. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Europe captain Paul McGinley poses with the Ryder Cup after his team secured victory over the United States at Gleneagles. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The momentum was all with the European side heading into the final day and they duly delivered.

World number one Rory McIlroy led with the way with a typically barnstorming performance before Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer all but put the hosts' hands on the Ryder Cup.

Of course it was not quite the procession many had predicted, and as the final scoreline might suggest, as this competition rarely fails to produce drama and tension.

But American hopes of a repeat of the Miracle of Medinah in reverse were always fanciful. There was simply too much quality, and experience of performing under pressure, in the European side to allow a four-point lead to slip.

As US captain Tom Watson pointed out often enough throughout the week, there was an ebb and flow. At one stage the scoreboard looked far too red for home supporters' liking but, as on the first two days, it ebbed away from the Americans and Watson once again.

There was a brief American rally, as Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar registered points but the underdogs could not get close enough.

Millions of television viewers might briefly have been more on edge than necessary, as producers opted to show Mickelson and Kuchar scoring before Kaymer did, unlike the real-time sequence of events.

But once Kaymer's exquisite chip-in at the 16th and exuberant celebrations were shown, the graphics reflected the on-course score of 13-9, and the picture was clear. The Ryder Cup was again heading Europe's way. The almost irrepressible Justin Rose claimed a vital half-point as Hunter Mahan capitulated and Jamie Donaldson's win ensured the final matches could be played out amid a mood of celebration.

There was no nearby lake this time for Paul McGinley to be thrown into, as he was amid the joyous scenes at The Belfry 12 years ago, but he was sure to be soaked in champagne later.

It was a victory the European captain thoroughly deserved for his meticulous approach to his task over the last two years. It was a triumph of man-management from the 47-year-old Dubliner, almost in complete contrast to his opposite number Watson.

McGinley apparently left no stone unturned in his quest for glory and his press conferences all week increasingly offered snapshots of just how thorough he has been.

His decision to bring Alex Ferguson into the camp, for example, was a masterstroke. At first it was thought the former Manchester United manager was coming in just to deliver a motivational speech, just as the Americans invited two military heroes to speak to their players.

But it was actually much more than that, as it transpired McGinley had been picking Ferguson's brain on the art of management for 19 months. To call on a man who repeatedly got the best out of players year after year was no bad idea. Ferguson was on hand at the first tee as the singles began, revelling in a joyous atmosphere.

He did not take up the crowd's invitation to dance, but a number of the European players did and the American extroverts such as Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed also fed on the fervour, which was not overly partisan.

Throughout the week the crowds have been good and the contest played in a wonderful spirit.

This was evident as McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, friends as well as rivals, chatted as they walked down the fairways. It was maintained to the end, with captain Watson gracious in defeat. Ultimately the match was decided on the golf course, and Europe simply outplayed the visitors, but questions will still be asked of Watson's leadership.

The 65-year-old made numerous mistakes and had conspicuously less success with his pairings and rotation than McGinley did. His distance from players who see little of him on tour could also have been a factor.

His handling of Phil Mickelson, one of the game's modern greats, was particularly strange. Mickelson was overplayed on Friday and not used at all on Saturday, misjudgements that were compounded by Watson revealing how much the player had pleaded with him to play on day two.

Watson tried to retrieve the situation by putting out his form players first in the singles but, despite a strong start by Jordan Spieth and Reed, the plan fizzled out.

The damage was already done and McIlroy, up early this time, went out on a charge to blitz Fowler and again beat his contemporary, as he did at the Open and US PGA Championship.

McIlroy played all five sessions, as did the unbeaten Rose, who finished with four points to his name. The pair were simply outstanding, and their celebrations richly deserved.

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