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Team’s collapse brings about U.S. golf’s darkest day

Steve Stricker, who lost the point that won the Ryder Cup for Europe late Sunday afternoon, stood looking at the big white scoreboard just behind Medinah’s 18th green.

It detailed in numbers what the European singing celebrated, a comeback that was as colossal as the American collapse that enabled it. Stricker studied the board for a moment, like a man trying to unravel a mystery, finding no answer.

“I’m stunned,” Stricker said. “What did we get, 3 1/2 points today? I can’t tell you what happened to us.

“We were playing so well. To get just 3 1/2 points … They obviously played well and we didn’t.”

There have been plenty of dark weeks in American Ryder Cup history, including a pair of nine-point losses in 2004 and 2006, but there has not been a darker day than this sunny Sunday on the edge of Chicago.

Europe did all the things it had to do to win, but the bigger part of it was the United States’ inability to do the things it needed to win.

Like win one of the first five singles matches.

Bubba Watson was 4-down to Luke Donald after 12 holes in their opening match.

Webb Simpson lost the last two holes to Ian Poulter to lose 2-up.

Keegan Bradley was even with five to play against Rory McIlroy, but lost 2 &1.

Phil Mickelson was 1-up with two to play against Justin Rose and lost.

Brandt Snedeker won one hole in a lopsided loss to Paul Lawrie.

Suddenly, loud and rowdy Chicago was going quiet, at least for the Americans.

There were similar problems at the back end of the American lineup.

Jim Furyk bogeyed the last two holes to lose 1-up to Sergio Garcia.

Steve Stricker lost the 17th hole to lose the point-clinching match to Martin Kaymer 1-up.

Tiger Woods made one birdie against Francesco Molinari.

Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner were the only players who managed a singles victory Sunday, though Woods conceded the last hole to Molinari in their draw because what they did didn’t matter at that point.

“A lot of our guys played great but got beat by guys who played a little better,” captain Davis Love III said Sunday evening.

That’s why Europe goes home with another Ryder Cup. That’s why Europe has gone home with the Ryder Cup eight of the last 10 times they’ve played for it.

So how did something so good for two days go so wrong?

Ian Poulter. Rory McIlroy. Luke Donald. Justin Rose. That’s a start.

But the Americans couldn’t stop the European comeback once it began. Someone needed to stick a 7-iron into the Europeans’ faces and say that’s enough. No American did.

Love knows he’ll be second-guessed for decisions he did and didn’t make over the weekend. He’d already started second-guessing himself. Asked Sunday evening if, in hindsight, he’d do anything differently, Love said, “In hindsight, we’d have done a lot of things differently,” putting an edge of sarcasm into the first two words of his answer.

“I’m going to second-guess myself for a long time.”

Love was asked again about not playing Mickelson and Bradley together Saturday afternoon, considering their brilliant 3-0 start. The captain couldn’t finish his answer before Mickelson interrupted, saying “You can’t put that on him.”

Maybe not, but it’s being put there by many.

Mickelson insisted Saturday morning that he and Bradley not play the afternoon session. When Love approached them on the 10th hole during the Saturday foursomes session just to test the water, Mickelson refused to consider playing because he and Bradley were exhausting their emotional energy, he said.

Watching the American team in its post-Cup press conference Sunday evening, Stricker, Zach Johnson, Woods and Furyk looked particularly dejected. Bubba Watson played with a cap and leaned into a microphone to say, “Thanks for the questions” when the media session was over. He wasn’t waving on the noise.

Furyk, who has now lost the U.S. Open, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the Ryder Cup in bitterly disappointing finishes, was on the 1999 American Ryder Cup team that did to the Europeans what they did to the Americans on Sunday.

“That was fun,” Furyk said of 1999. “This was pretty miserable.”