MEDINAH, Ill. — Steve Stricker stared blankly across the fairway, his hand on his face, as the celebration went on around him.
Jim Furyk had his moment of despair a few minutes earlier, leaning over with his hands on his knees as if he were trying to keep from getting sick after his final putt on the 18th green slid by the hole.
They were supposed to be the backbone of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the veteran players captain Davis Love III could count on when things got tough.
Love picked them both to do just that after they didn’t qualify for the team on their own.
But the stifling pressure of the Ryder Cup was simply too much.
Both had great chances to give the U.S. the point – or even half-point – the home team desperately needed to win the cup when everything started to go bad. Both failed, leading to a home-team collapse unlike any in Ryder Cup history.
All Furyk needed to do was par one of the last two holes to get a half-point, and couldn’t. Stricker needed pars on the final two holes, and didn’t make them.
And in the end all they could do was watch as Martin Kaymer made a 6-foot par putt that sealed their fate.
“We put a lot of expectations on ourselves to perform,” Stricker said. “And sometimes it’s good and bad.”
For Stricker, it was a terrible ending to what had already been a lousy week. He was sent out three times with Tiger Woods to win points on the first two days, only to come back empty each time.
Had he and Woods been able to contribute even something, a big U.S. lead going into the last day might have been insurmountable. But they were beaten each time, twice in better ball and once in alternate shot.
That didn’t keep Love from following his plan to send Stricker and Woods off in the final two pairings Sunday. It hardly looked as if they would be needed with the U.S. leading 10-6 going into singles play, but Love felt better having them there just in case.
“We put who we thought was our hot players up front and we put who we thought was our steady players in the back that would get us points,” Love said. “We just got a couple matches flipped there in the middle that cost us.”
Love will likely be second-guessed for the next two years on his lineup, but for most of the afternoon it looked as though it was playing out to plan. The Europeans were winning points early - and lots of them - but Furyk was holding steady in the eighth match and Stricker and Woods were holding their own in the final two matches.
Furyk, who admitted the moment got the better of him this year when he fell apart after leading the U.S. Open on the back nine, had made four birdies against a single bogey and was 1 up on Sergio Garcia when the two got to the tee of the tricky par-3 17th hole. But he put his tee shot in an awkward position in the back bunker and couldn’t get up-and-down, and then compounded his error by hitting his tee shot on the 18th hole into a fairway bunker.
Furyk put his second shot on the back fringe of the green but ran his first putt 6 feet by. After Garcia two-putted for his par, Furyk had his putt for a half-point that would prove crucial to the U.S. chances of winning the cup.
After looking the putt over for a long time from several angles, Furyk missed it to the right.
By the time Stricker got to the 17th green, the outcome of the matches depended on what he and Woods did. If they could get a point and a half out of their two matches, the U.S. would win the cup.
But Stricker couldn’t get up and down from just in back of the green, going 1-down to Martin Kaymer. Stricker salvaged par on the 18th with an 8-footer, but Kaymer’s par putt clinched the cup for Europe.
“We’ll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we’re resilient,” Stricker said. “As golfers you have got to be. It’s the nature of the game. We’ll be disappointed for sure, but we’ll all be all right.”