When Martin Kaymer holed an 8-foot put on the 17th to secure golf's greatest prize the celebration erupted briefly. But this being golf, the Europeans composed themselves as there was still one hole to be played out. One of the day's most intriguing and enthralling tussles, turned out to be the pairing of Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, and even though, at the 18th, the match was a dead rubber, the Italian will have gained immeasurable confidence from sharing the spoils with the greatest golfer of a generation.
For a while it looked as if the Ryder Cup would come down to the last hole of the last match on the last day. Thankfully, for Molinari's nerves, German Kaymer put the result beyond doubt before it got to that, meaning the Italian was free to simply enjoy the last hole. But he didn't, even with the Ruder Cup safely in the hands of his teammates Molinari turned his focus to what for him was a deeply personal psychological struggle with Woods.
Having represented Europe in the 2010 World Cup as one of the captain's picks and with a world ranking of 15th in the world, along with his brother Edoardo, Molinari played well enough as a rookie but was outclassed by Woods in the last day pairing. The Italian seemed determined to give a better account of himself this time, against a player he once idolised.
Francesco with captain Olazábal
We are well aware that Woods has struggled to find his previous form and the aura has faded, but despite results, there's always been the suspicion that the old Tiger was lurking in the long grass ready to spring again. It was a real sign of how the golfing landscape has shifted in the last three years seeing Molinari take the fight to Woods, without fear and with conviction.
The Italian went two up after the first three holes only for Tiger to claw his way back to all-square, it was only when Molinari dropped shots at the 12th and 13th that Woods eventually took the lead but the Italian bounced back to level terms immediately. On the penultimate hole Woods went one up, but every time the American seemed to gain the upper hand, the Italian had a response. More like boxing match than a golf match up.
And there's the really interesting sub-plot to yesterday's victory. Tactically Jose Maria Olazabal got it just right in sending out his big guns early in the day to make up the four point deficit, with Poulter leading the way. That filtered down through the team and Rose, Westwood, Garcia all fed off the sight of the leader board turning blue. But we struggle to fully understand Davis Love III's decision to send Tiger out last. Either he thought the Cup was in the bag and it would be decided long before the last pairing of the day, or he assumed Molinari would be no match for Tiger, in which case if he really believed in Woods, why not play him sooner?
The celebrations just get started
I don't think anyone was expecting what was to transpire, certainly no one expected Woods to be held by Molinari, a player far below him in the rankings, but there you are. For me it's a clear illustration of the differences between these two teams. The say a team is as good as its weakest link. That is true in that a team is only as good as its strongest, Europe's perceived 'weakest link', Molinari rose splendidly to the challenge, while the USA's supposed best player, failed to do himself or his team justice.
Molinari on the other hand can only benefit from this experience, having been on two Ryder Cup winning teams, one of them already etched in history, he has played under the highest pressure imaginable and come out the other side. He made the team on merit and is in the form of his life winning the Reale Siguros Open de España and top ten finishes in Ireland, France and set a 10-below par course record at Castle Stewart in Inverness for the Scottish Open, he has proved to be an indispensible member of the European Ryder Cup team. Molinari is important for what he brings to the team off the course as well.
Posing with the Ryder Cup
Europe's gofers are glad to have the Italian's fighting spirit along-side them in the trenches and the disarming Italian charm of Molinari is a potent weapon when up against a hostile home crowd and biased local media. The younger of the two Molianri brothers, Francesco competed this year without the presence of his brother, who had to undergo hand surgery.
The two brothers grew up in Turin where they followed their father to the local golf club and quickly became a phenomenon on the amateur circuit. It was Edoardo who first put the family on the map when he became the first Italian to win a U.S. Amateur Championship, that brought the brothers to the 2006 Masters Edoardo as competitor and Francesco as his caddie. It gave them the chance to play alongside the best in the world and the motivation to join their ranks one day. It must have paid off however as the following month Francesco won the Italian Open, the first Italian to win in 26 years.
While Francesco went pro, Edoardo held back as an amateur and completed a degree in engineering but when the brothers eventually teamed up as professionals they won the Golf World Cup in 2009. From then until now they have worked their way steadily up the rankings not with any firework displays, but more through consistently good golf. With only 200,000 registered players in a population of 60 million, golf is very much a niche sport in Italy, as every sport is that isn't football. But it is definitely growing and a country that is possessed of some of the most stunning scenery in the world it is an undiscovered golfer's paradise with locations such as Sicily and Sardinia just waiting to be teed-up.
Golf is on the up in Italy and the Molinari brothers are at the very pinnacle of the game in their home country, and the world. Great ambassadors of the game and of Italy.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty