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Decisive Ryder Cup loss leaves USA wondering when 25-year losing streak in Europe will end

PARIS — Maybe next quadrennial.

No historic comeback for the United States Sunday at the Ryder Cup. Oh, the Americans made a stirring early run, enough to shrink the gap a moment and build the drama. But before things really got tense, Sunday settled into what the odds and reason said it would — a steady, relentless European march to 14.5 points and way beyond. Or as captain Thomas Bjorn would put it later, “Everybody stood up and did their bit.” Until finally in the late afternoon light, the final score was a no-doubt 17.5-10.5, and there was this familiar sight:

The Europeans dousing themselves in champagne, while the jubilant masses danced and sang around them. The Americans wondering when this losing streak will end. The talk all week had been about those 25 years without a U.S. Ryder Cup victory in Europe. Come 2022 in Italy, they’ll be talking about 29. It’s not over, over here.

MORE: How Europe took home the Cup | Final scoring | Top highlights

As Europe parties, the question hangs in the air, like smoke from the fireworks the two teams watched at the Palace of Versailles the other night.

How does this keep happening?

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Everything seemed in place for the U.S. Six of the top 10 ranked golfers in the world were on the roster. The Tiger Woods revival had reached full throttle. There was experience and youth, star power and depth. And the Americans had the Cup from 2016. They would keep it, win or tie.

Plus, they even had the early lead. At one gloriously misleading point Friday morning, the United States was up 3-0. No team had ever started with a 3-0 lead and not left the golf course with the Ryder Cup.

But now one has.

From that 3-0 illusion, Europe won 17 of the next 25 matches. A blue rout. Who could have seen it coming? But then, the Ryder Cup often leaves behind all logic from real world golf. Take this weekend.

Seven days after Woods sent a nuclear buzz through the golfing world by winning the Tour Championship, he finished the Ryder Cup 0-4. “I’m one of the contributing factors to why we lost,” he said afterward, “and it’s not a lot of fun.”

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Thorbjorn Olesen, ranked 45th in the world, scored as many points for Europe as Dustin Johnson — ranked No. 1 — scored for the U.S. Olesen didn’t even play on Saturday, but Sunday took on one of the hottest American golfers — Jordan Spieth — and absolutely torched him with six birdies the first in nine holes.

Sergio Garcia, who missed the cut in all four 2018 majors while shooting 34 over par, produced three points. More than Masters champion Patrick Reed, U.S. Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka, 14-time major champion Woods and five-time major champion Phil Mickelson combined. The exact number of points he said he promised if picked by Bjorn. He also became the top career Ryder Cup scorer in history. Majors? What majors?

And so it went.

Look at the star wattage of American teams, and this is not supposed to happen. Not over a quarter-century. But it has. American sports fans do not like simple they-played-better answers in the face of defeat. They search for scapegoats, bad calls, lousy coaching, injuries, conspiracy theories. Something.

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“We’re going to get second guessed, and we’re going to get questioned,” captain Jim Furyk said afterward. “I realize as a leader of this team and as a captain, the brunt of it is going to be on my plate and I accepted that when I took this role.”

And indeed, that started with questions he heard in the post-match press conference. Did the Americans spend enough time getting acquainted with Le Golf National? Should more of them have played in the French Open, for example? The team of Patrick Reed and Spieth had been so fruitful in the past, why break that up? Etc.

“I know everyone at this table wishes they had played better, and I wish I probably would have done some things differently,” Furyk said, without really explaining what.

Some decisions did pay off. Tabbing Tony Finau as one of the captain’s picks hit the jackpot. His strategy to frontload Sunday worked as well as he could have imagined, as the Americans hacked into the European lead. Justin Thomas over Rory McIlroy in the opener, Webb Simpson over Justin Rose in the third. Just the charge Furyk was expecting. “I saw a look of belief in their eyes.”

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But belief wasn’t nearly enough. Mickelson argued everything was done correctly in leadership. “We were put as players in a position to succeed,” he said, “and these guys up here are such great players, that if you put these players in a position to succeed, they most often will.” 

They lost by seven points, the most lopsided Ryder Cup in 12 years. It even stunned the winners. “When you take on the captaincy,” Bjorn said, “you can never dream of a score line like this.”

Theories as to why? This could be one.

Behold, the power of passion. The Americans talk about the Ryder Cup meaning something, and it surely does. Means a lot to them. But you wonder if they really, truly feel it to their bones the way the Europeans seem to, especially when it’s played on this continent?

Consider Garcia. Some questioned if he should have even been here. Fat chance. He talked this week of falling “head over heels in love” with the Ryder Cup when he was a teenager. And when it was over Sunday, he wept. “I don’t usually cry,” he said. “But I couldn’t help it.”

Consider Francesco Molinari. He has spent half the summer carrying around the Claret Jug, still in the afterglow of winning the British Open. He came here and made the scoreboard smoke, becoming only the fourth man and first European to go 5-0 in a Ryder Cup. The last was Larry Nelson, 39 years ago. Five points he contributed — nearly half of what the entire U.S. roster could put up. “His name is not Molinari anymore. It’s Machinari, because he’s a machine,” Garcia said.

“You could see on Monday when we got together, it wasn’t ending up any other way,” Molinari  said. What did it all mean to him? “Much more than majors, more than anything.”

Watch Europe clinch the 2018 Ryder Cup

So it could not have been more appropriate, that when Mickelson conceded his match with Molinari at No. 16, it put Europe over the top. (Nor could it have been more poignant, that if this is Mickelson’s final Ryder Cup as a player, his last act was to shake hands to officially seal another U.S. loss.)

Consider Ian Poulter, talking about the lure of this weekend pushing him through some injury-darkened days. “It’s been something that has kept me going, from a motivational standpoint,” he said this week. No European Ryder Cup is complete without a full ration of Poulter chest pumps.

Consider Paul Casey, so emotionally overcome after winning his fourball match on Saturday, he couldn’t answer media questions as he fought tears. “Ask him a question,” he said, meaning partner Tyrrell Hatton.

Consider Olesen. Bjorn, a fellow Denmark countryman, felt awful about playing him only one match before Sunday.  “He might go out and show his old Danish friend that he was wrong,” Bjorn said Saturday night. Olesen came with fire in his eyes and his game. Ask Spieth.

The Ryder Cup fever seemed to infect all them, right down to the five rookies. “Nothing comes close to it. Not a major. Nothing,” Hatton said, just before Garcia came by and kissed him on the cheek. “So when I sat on the sofa as a kid, I didn’t think Sergio would kiss me one day.”

“They understand the history, they understand what we’re about,” Bjorn said of his team.

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The Europeans played better, putted better, kept the ball in the narrow fairways more. That’s golf. And the familiar course and friendly crowd helped. Nobody wonders much why Villanova almost always wins at home. A good team is supposed to win at home. But something has to drive all that.

“At the end of the day, reputations don’t mean a great deal here,” Justin Rose said. “It’s the players who find the inspiration on the day.”

Maybe with the Oles as wind in their sails, they care too much to lose. To lose here, anyway.

Twenty-five years is a pretty good sample size. No, make that 29.