Europe added another layer to its Ryder Cup dominance on Sunday by leaving no doubt who had the best team, if not the best players. Behind two early comebacks that showed its resolve, Europe clinched the cup with four matches still on the course.
With a 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory, Europe kept that gold trophy for the eighth time in the last 10 tries.
McIlroy played some of his best golf this year — even for a guy who won the last two majors — by trouncing Rickie Fowler to put the first point on the board. Donaldson finished off the Americans with a 9-iron that settled 18 inches from the cup on the 15th hole at Gleneagles and set off the celebration.
"It came down to me to close it out," Donaldson said. "But it's all about the team."
That concept appeared lost on the Americans.
Not long after the closing ceremony, Phil Mickelson said the Americans have strayed from the winning formula at Valhalla in 2008 under Paul Azinger — their only victory in these matches dating to 1999. Even with U.S. captain Tom Watson sitting six seats away, Mickelson said that American team was invested in each other, which was different from Watson's style of doing it his way.
It was an awkward way to end another bad week for the Americans in the Ryder Cup.
Watson defended his philosophy, though he conceded he might have erred in using some players who were too tired, leading to a 10-6 deficit going into Sunday singles.
"The bottom line is they kicked our butts," Watson said. "They were better players this week."
Watson said he had a pit in his stomach watching the Americans blow a 10-6 lead two years ago at Medinah. The PGA of America brought him back as captain — at age 65, the oldest in Ryder Cup history — hopeful he could repeat some history. Watson was the last captain in 1993 to win on European soil.
It might not have mattered where this was played.
Graeme McDowell rallied from 3 down after five holes to close out his match against Jordan Spieth on the 17th hole. Justin Rose was 4 down after six holes when he won four straight holes with birdies against Hunter Mahan, and got up-and-down for birdie on the 18th to give Europe a half-point.
Rose went unbeaten for the week at 3-0-2.
That set the stage for Donaldson, a 38-year-old from Wales playing in his first Ryder Cup. He seized control over Keegan Bradley at the turn, and then it was a matter of when Europe could pop the champagne. Donaldson was so locked in on his task that he was unaware that he had retained the cup for Europe when he was 4 up with four holes to play. From 146 yards in fairway, he fired a 9-iron at the flag and let the club twirl through his hands.
It was close to perfect.
Watson walked over and shook his hand, and then put his arm around McGinley as they headed to the green. Bradley got onto the putting surface, and as soon as he saw Donaldson's ball next to the cup, he removed his cap and shook hands.
McGinley talked all week about a template of European success. The message was to embrace their role as the favourites, and to be proud that they had earned it. And the final instruction was to avoid complacency. Europe won the Sunday singles session for the second straight Ryder Cup.
"I didn't execute the plan. All these guys sitting at this table did," McGinley said with the 17-inch trophy on display. "I know how difficult it is to play in a Ryder Cup. I know when your heart is jumping out of your chest how incredibly excited and nervous you are. But we relish this challenge. We did it with a smile on our face, which is so important. And we did everybody proud."
The Americans had a few bright spots.
Patrick Reed went unbeaten as a rookie. Reed and Spieth had to settle for a half-point Saturday afternoon, in part because Reed missed a 2-foot putt. The gallery heckled him before he teed off against Henrik Stenson, and it inspired him. Reed rallied from an early deficit, putting his finger against his lips to hush the crowd, and he won the point on the 18th hole when Stenson missed a 4-foot putt. Reed went 3-0-1 and earned the most points for the Americans.
The three American rookies — Spieth, Reed and Jimmy Walker — contributed nearly half of the points for the U.S. team.
Going into the Ryder Cup, Watson had singled out Ian Poulter as the European with the best record and the man to beat. Poulter wound up playing only three matches and he didn't win any of them, settling for two halves.
It wasn't about Poulter, though. It was about Europe, a formidable team.