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What next for United States after Ryder Cup defeat?

As champagne lingers on the lips of Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team, it is bitterness that pervades among Tom Watson's beaten Americans.

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The post mortem into United States' third consecutive loss begun almost immediately and it was gruesome, with Phil Mickelson's indelicate probing revealing deep wounds in the visiting team.

Jamie Donaldson's stunning approach on the 15th proved to be the cause of death, but America's fate was sealed long before then.

As Paul McGinley's men celebrated a dominant victory, the knives were already being sharpened for Watson.

Mickelson - a veteran of 10 Ryder Cups - had been rested, perhaps even dropped, for Saturday's play and that appeared to leave him with a little too much time to come to his own conclusions about USA's failings as they ended the second day four points adrift.

It was a role-reversal from 2012, when it was the Europeans who trailed 10-6. The so-called 'Miracle at Medinah' followed on the Sunday, but there was to be no resurrection of America's dying dream.

While McGinley joined a host of European luminaries such as Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer in cementing his place as a winning captain, Watson's own reputation - having led USA to glory in 1993 - was tarnished.

The 65-year-old - an eight-time major winner - did not carry the gravitas of a man who could lead the underdogs to victory. In contrast to the ebullient McGinley, Watson was unconvincing in his words and his deeds.

He left Scotland with serious question marks over his leadership and tactical nous.

Certainly the decision to leave rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who together with fellow Ryder Cup debutant Jimmy Walker helped account for 8 1/2 points of USA's haul, out of the Friday foursomes was particularly puzzling.

The duo had shown maturity beyond their combined age of 45 to defeat Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher 5 and 4 in Friday's morning fourball match, and in the afternoon session Europe wrested the initiative to take a 5-3 lead - one they would never relinquish.

Questions were raised in the media, and possibly even within the team, but Mickelson's decision to speak out hinted at a far greater issue than selection problems.

It suggested a lack of respect for Watson, at least as a captain. Mickelson openly pined for a return to the regime of Paul Azinger, architect of USA's last triumph in 2008.

Azinger employed a 'pod system', splitting his team into three groups of four, with those players afforded the opportunity to bond together off the course before reaping the rewards when playing together on it.

It worked. Having been hammered by nine points in the previous two tournaments, USA romped to victory by the same margin which they lost by on Sunday.

"We had a great formula in 2008," Mickelson told NBC on course shortly after Europe had clinched victory. "I don't know why we strayed."

Mickelson sought to clarify his comments at the post-tournament press conference insisting he was not attacking Watson's style, but succeeded only in further piling the criticism on his shoulders.

"He [Azinger] got everybody invested in the process," Mickelson added, either intentionally underlining his current captain's weaknesses or otherwise demonstrating remarkable naivety for a 44-year-old.

"He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod [and] when they would play."

The overriding question for USA now is what next? Mickelson was quick to allude to the existing problems but distanced himself from stepping into Watson's shoes.

And whoever takes the job faces a monumental task in unseating Europe, who boast the world's best player in Rory McIlroy and can call on reliable Ryder Cup stalwarts like Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose.

The form of Speith and, more particularly, Reed offered some cause for optimism and they will almost certainly be back for the next showdown at Hazeltine National Golf Club in two years' time.

But the identity of the man who will lead them remains unknown.

And so, as Europe can look ahead with optimism and McGinley - who confirmed he would not return as captain next time out - can reflect with immense pride on his achievement, the future is less certain and altogether less bright for the Americans.

Watson will forever be remembered as a great of the game, and a fine gentleman to boot, but the legacy of his Gleneagles failure will be the first thing for his successor to address if USA are to having anything to celebrate in 2016.

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