Rory’s knockout blows, Donald’s masterclass and American blunders

Luke Donald and his European team celebrated long and hard after clinching an emphatic Ryder Cup triumph in Rome. But just what was the key to their dominant victory over the United States?

The visitors were humbled at the Marco Simone course, where tensions boiled over into clashes on the course and in the car park.

Talk of splits in the American camp linked to protests over not being paid, a dismal lack of preparation and a hostile atmosphere are all being blamed for a lacklustre display from the United States.

This certainly seemed to play a part but it should not be forgotten they also came up against a brilliant performance from the Europeans team and their leader.

Home advantage

Playing at home in the Ryder Cup has become a hugely significant factor in the contest. Eight of the last nine editions have now been won by the home side, the exception being the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012 where Europe recovered from 10-4 down to pull off a remarkable victory.

Nine of the US team did make a scouting trip to Marco Simone but the whole of the European team came over for their own research mission last month. And many of the European side had contested the Italian Open at the venue over the last three years, with Robert MacIntyre (2022) and Nicolai Hojgaard (2021) lifting the title.

Add in a partisan crowd and it is no wonder Rory McIlroy feels winning an away Ryder Cup is one of the biggest achievements in golf.

Big guns come out firing

The home side boasted three of the world’s top four and 2022 US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick was also in the top ten, but that was no guarantee of success.

Fitzpatrick had lost all five of his previous matches, while Viktor Hovland halved two and lost three at Whistling Straits in 2021, where only Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia and Tyrrell Hatton won more than a single point.

McIlroy’s last two Ryder Cups had yielded three points from eight matches but it was a different story in Rome.

A fired-up McIlroy, nicknamed ‘Rocky’ by his team-mates after his furious bust-up with the Americans following Patrick Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava’s ludicrous cap-waving antics on the 18th green on Saturday, was top scorer on either side with four points.

Hovland and Hatton won three-and-a-half points each while both Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood contributed three.

Europe’s wild cards

Luke Donald’s picks mainly paid off, although with six at his disposal a 100 per cent success rate was unlikely.

It was no surprise to see Fleetwood play well and Justin Rose did superbly to partner Bob MacIntyre to one-and-a-half points before running into a motivated Patrick Cantlay on Sunday.

Ludvig Aberg, labelled a ‘generational talent’ when selected, won a highly creditable two points alongside Hovland while Shane Lowry and Sepp Straka contributed a point to Friday’s decisive foursomes whitewash. The only disappointment was Hojgaard only taking half a point from three.

Donald’s captaincy

The European leader’s reign was an unqualified triumph. He took over in difficult circumstances when Henrik Stenson was axed after joining LIV Golf, but formed an instant rapport with his players and left no stone unturned in his preparation, even taking lessons to ensure he could deliver the first part of his speech at the opening ceremony in fluent Italian, while counterpart Zach Johnson grappled with the few words and phrases he used.

As a former world No.1 who was never on a losing Ryder Cup side, Donald also had the respect of his players and made good use of the detailed statistics provided by vice-captain Edoardo Molinari.

No wonder his team are urging European Ryder Cup bosses to ask Donald to stay in the role for the trip to New York’s Bethpage Black in 2025.

American mistakes

Johnson was accused of pandering to a powerful clique of players when selecting Justin Thomas and Sam Burns over the likes of Cameron Young, Keegan Bradley and Lucas Glover, with Burns thought to benefit from his friendship with Scottie Scheffler.

They duly played together in the first session but lost convincingly and did not team up again. There was talk of splits in the camp, with hatless pantomime villain Patrick Cantlay at the centre of it all with his alleged protesting at players not getting paid for the Ryder Cup.

Whatever the truth of that, and Cantlay and his team-mates deny the claims, there is no doubt the Americans arrived in Rome under-prepared.

Only three of the US team had played competitively since the Tour Championship at the end of August, while the Europeans had competed regularly over the last five weeks. Former US captain Paul Azinger claimed: ‘Davis Love, who’s one of the assistants, said to me, “I think we came in flat, we came in rusty, we weren’t ready to go”.’

Absence of LIV players

The European side did not have the chance to call on the experience of the likes of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who all play on the Saudi-backed circuit, and did not miss the veteran trio in the slightest.

It is impossible to know whether Dustin Johnson, who won five points in 2021, or Bryson DeChambeau, who won his second LIV title in three starts last month, would have made any difference to a US team for whom Brooks Koepka scored one and a half points. But it seems unlikely they would have made it any worse.

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