The pivotal rubber in deciding the destiny of the 2008 Ryder Cup was the second of the singles involving Paul Casey, one of Europe's two wild cards, and Hunter Mahan, one of six rookies in the American team.
Europe lost the war as Casey lost his battle
The pivotal rubber in deciding the destiny of the 2008 Ryder Cup was the second of the singles involving Paul Casey, one of Europe's two wild cards, and Hunter Mahan, one of six rookies in the American team. Europe had won two of the first three matches to finish on an exciting final afternoon at Valhalla to reduce the United States' lead to 10-9 with Mahan nervously holding on to a one-up lead with four holes to play against Casey.
Casey, last year's winner of the Abu Dhabi tournament, is a former world matchplay champion but you would not have thought so, judging by his reaction to Mahan driving deep into the trees from the 15th tee to make a par out of the question. The Europeans were crying out for a routine four from the Englishman to draw level but instead of reaching for an iron or a rescue club, Casey opted for driver and brought a penal fairway bunker into play. From there he found sand again with his approach and in the end struggled to match Mahan's battling bogey five for a half.
A win on that green would have given greater weight to Casey's superb birdie on the next and took him down the 17th one up instead of level, giving him insurance against the extraordinary putt Mahan holed on that penultimate green to take the lead again. Fortunately for Casey, Mahan faltered badly under pressure at the last, driving into water and the Englishman sensibly "lagged" his eagle putt to secure a valuable but insufficient half point.
Had Casey won that match, it would have kept the confrontation alive long enough for Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter, playing at nine and 10 in the 12-man line-up to have a tangible rather than academic effect on the outcome. By the time the impressive Irishman and inspirational Englishman, triumphant together in the fourballs the previous afternoon, posted their respective 2 & 1 and 3 & 2 victories, the Cup was already lost when the overall score reached 14½-9½ thanks to wins by the American middle order of Kenny Perry, Boo Weekley, JB Holmes and Jim Furyk.
A Casey victory would have enabled McDowell and Poulter, the latter splendidly winning his fourth point out of five, to make it 14-12 and pass the baton to the more experienced anchormen of Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington. Anything could have happened then to the American nerves as the Cup, not held by them since 1999, would have been tantalisingly so near yet so far away. Instead, Westwood and Harrington found themselves playing irrelevant dead rubbers and succumbed to Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell to make the final score a misleading 16½-11½.
Faldo defended his decision to send out Harrington, his best player on paper but not as far as results went over the three days, as the last man. "We have come up one guy short," he said. "Padraig wanted it that way and we were within fractions of being able to take it to the wire [with him and Westwood]. "It was on a knife edge at times. It was mighty close and things could have gone either way at any moment to take it all the way down to Padraig's match. That was the risk you take [with such a selection] but I'm comfortable with it because everybody has given 100 per cent and that is all you can ask."