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Love could have countered him with Phil Mickelson, or even Tiger Woods. Instead, he chose the jittery and emotional Bubba Watson to lead off against Donald, one of the coolest characters you’ll find in golf.

The results were predictable. The best part of Watson’s day came on the first tee when he got the crowd to cheer wildly during his swing. After that he went through the motions until he finally realized on the 15th hole that the next hole he didn’t win would be his last.

Keegan Bradley followed two groups behind him, ready to tilt things the U.S. way after two days of winning _ and celebrating _ with partner Phil Mickelson. But without his on-course BFF he didn’t seem to have the same spark as McIlroy _ who had to commandeer a ride from a state trooper just to get to the first tee on time _ and the best player in the world took him down without even warming up.

“I thought it was a great plan,” Love said. “The first two teams that were supposed to win didn’t win. It didn’t work.”

Not all great plans do work. As Mike Tyson always liked to say, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, and the punch the Americans took came when the Europeans won the first five matches of the day.

The rout was over. Now the Americans were nervously looking at scoreboards, never a good thing in the Ryder Cup.

“When I went past the board at No. 10 tee, saw a lot of blue up on the board, started doing the math,” Steve Stricker said, when asked when he first noticed things were amiss. “Kind of figured that it was going to come down to Tiger or I in the last two groups.”

Love had a contingency plan for that, too. He had hand-picked Stricker and Jim Furyk to be on the team, certain they would be the backbone of the team, the veteran players he could count on when things got tough.

When that didn’t work _ Stricker and Furyk both coughed it up on the final two holes _ he had Woods to finish things up. The only thing was, things were all finished by then. Woods stood helplessly in the 18th fairway, iron in hand, watching as Martin Kaymer sank the winning putt and the celebration began. Woods and Francesco Molinari had to play over the celebrants to finish out their match, with Woods whiffing a 3-footer to give Europe its final 14 1/2-13 1/2 margin.

“You come here as a team and you win or lose as a team, and it’s pointless to even finish,” Woods said.

The record books will show it as a collapse of epic proportions, though the U.S. players insisted they all played well. Furyk went as far as saying that even his opponent, Sergio Garcia, would agree he was outplayed, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it.

If they were in denial, it’s hard to blame them. A day that had started with such promise had gone bad so fast it was difficult to digest it all properly.

The comparisons will all be to 1999 because the scores were all so similar. The only thing missing were the thousands of wildly cheering fans, though the European fans who were there sang and cheered and drank well into the night.

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

Proof, perhaps, that turnaround isn’t always such fair play.

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