CHASKA, Minn. — It was a simple two-putt by the last man picked for the team, Ryan Moore. An anticlimax after all the gutty play of steel-spined Patrick Reed and a ton of birdies by ageless Phil Mickelson.
But those two little putts on the 18th green were huge. They ended a streak of agony for America, which clinched a Ryder Cup victory that had been painfully elusive.
Moore’s par on the final hole gave him a 1-up victory over Lee Westwood on Sunday and gave the United States its 15th point (14 1⁄2 were needed to win) in the 41st Ryder Cup. It was America’s first victory in the last four matches — the United States had last won in 2008 — and only the third in the last 11. The final tally was 17-11 in favor of the United States.
Entering the third and last day with a 9½-6½ lead — and haunted by the matches in Chicago four years ago, when the margin was a half-point greater before the United States collapsed — the American team understood the challenge.
“There was just so much pressure on them the last two years,” said U.S. captain Davis Love III, referring to internal strife, mainly complaints by Mickelson over America’s preparation before and during the 2014 U.S. loss in Scotland. “We had more and more pressure and more and more questions. I’ve never seen a team come together like this.”
Whether anyone has seen a more feisty, confident player than Reed is debatable. After a four-ball victory with Jordan Spieth over Olympic medalists Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson on Saturday, Reed, 26, roared symbolically.
“I’m made for this kind of stuff,” he announced.
In his singles match Sunday, he proved as much in what came as close to a slugging match as you can have in golf. And it came against another cocky, emotional and supremely talented player, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the third-ranked player in the world.
There were birdies by the bundle, fist pumps by the score and almost continual chants of “USA! USA!” by a crowd at Hazeltine National Golf Club almost desperate for an American victory.
McIlroy birdied the second hole, and the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes as well. But he lost the fifth to an eagle 2 and the match was even through 11 holes.
Reed got it to 2-up after 16, the biggest lead for either player, before he lost 17. But when McIlroy birdied 18, Reed knocked in a birdie on top of him and leaped halfway to Minneapolis, 20 miles away.
The fans had turned nasty Saturday, yelling insults at the Euros. The PGA of America issued warnings, which were heeded Sunday.
“I consider the Ryder Cup to be one big family,” Reed said. “We want to beat them at their best. We wanted to come out and outplay them.”
Mickelson, 46, who had considerable input in changing America’s approach — NBC announcer Johnny Miller called him the power behind the throne — was in his 11th Ryder Cup. If it was his last, he closed in style, making 10 birdies, if only finishing all square with Sergio Garcia.
“There was a lot of emotion,” Mickelson said before Moore’s winning par at the last hole. “If we finish this off, I’ll have a memory I’ll cherish forever.”
Seventh-ranked Bubba Watson, unable to qualify for the team, agreed to be one of several assistant captains. He broke down after the victory, crying when he and Love hugged.
Michael Jordan, a fixture at almost every Ryder Cup on either side of the Atlantic, was there when an American team finally was able to celebrate, spraying champagne on each other as fans screamed in delight.