Comeback Complete, Europe Wins Ryder Cup

"It will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup," said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

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    TK
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    MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 30: Martin Kaymer is mobbed by the European team after he holed the decisive putt on the 18th green during the Singles Matches for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 30, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

    Europe buried the memory of that American comeback at Brookline in 1999 with one that was even better.

    Medinah was filled with sheer madness Sunday, the matches so close for so much of the day that even when Martin Kaymer stood over a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole to clinch it, the Ryder Cup was up in air.

    The putt was pure and the celebration was on.

    "It will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup," said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

    The size of the comeback was equal to what the Americans pulled off at The Country Club, but at least they had help from endless cheers of the home crowd. Not many gave Europe much of a chance until Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia turned what looked to be certain losses into improbable wins, filling the scoreboard with European blue.

    "What you did out there today was outstanding," Olazabal told his team at the closing ceremony. "You believed and you delivered. And I'm very proud that you have kept Europe's hands on this Ryder Cup. All men die, but not all men live. And you made me feel alive again this week."

    Then, Olazabal bowed his head and closed his eyes as they filled with tears, and the European fans sensed what was coming next.

    He didn't have to say a word. They said it for him.

    "Seve, Seve, Seve," they began to chant.

    Seve Ballesteros.

    Olazabal walked down the row and hugged every player until he saved the longest embrace for Lee Westwood, the only player who was on that 1997 team when Ballesteros was the captain, the last visible role he played at the Ryder Cup. He died in May 2011 at age 54 of a brain tumor.

    Westwood, Garcia and Paul Lawrie were the only players on the '99 team that blew a 10-6 lead, and all of them won matches.

    "We wanted to see how they would react, and see if they could hold it," Garcia said of the Americans. "And it was a combination of playing great, and maybe then that little bit of pressure getting to them."

    The Americans were simply stunned.

    Three times they came to the 17th hole with a chance to win a match, only for Europe to deliver the key shots that win the Ryder Cup. Ian Poulter won the last two holes, and so did Rose, a birdie-birdie finish to beat Phil Mickelson. Garcia won the last two holes with pars to beat Jim Furyk.

    Furyk had beaten Garcia at Brookline in a pivotal match.

    "That was fun," Furyk said. "This was pretty miserable."

    If Kaymer had missed the putt and halved his match with Steve Stricker, the Americans would have been one point away from winning — with Tiger Woods in the fairway and 1 up over Francesco Molinari.

    Woods wound up missing a 3½-foot par putt and conceded a par to the Italian from the same distance to halve their match. That extra half-point made it a clear-cut win for Europe, 14½-13½. Woods and Stricker, the anchors in the lineup, didn't win a single match at Medinah.

    "This one is for all of Europe," Olazabal said. "Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor for this event for the European side, and last night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing. And I think they did."

    Poulter was the first to embrace Olazabal, which was only fitting.

    It was Poulter who gave Europe hope Saturday evening when he made five straight birdies to turn a loss into a win and swing momentum in Europe's favor. Poulter was up to his fist-pumping, eye-bulging tricks again on the final day, winning the last two holes in his match against U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.

    And he had plenty of help. Europe's top five players in the lineup all won, including Rory McIlroy, who was lucky to be playing.

    McIlroy thought his match was at 12:25 p.m. — it was listed in Eastern time, not Central — and needed a police escort to get to the course with 10 minutes to spare. Then, he came up with key birdies to hand Keegan Bradley his first loss of the week.

    The biggest match might have belonged to Rose. He was on the verge of losing to Mickelson when Rose holed a 12-foot par putt to halve the 16th, made a 35-foot birdie putt from the back of the 17th green to win the hole, and then closed out Mickelson with a 12-foot birdie on the last hole.

    Six of the 12 matches went to the 18th hole on Sunday. The Americans won only one of them.

    "Today was certainly not what we expect," U.S. captain Davis Love III said.

    Love became the first U.S. captain to sit every player at least once before Sunday, wanting them to be fresh for the decisive day. Instead, the Americans faltered at the end — especially Furyk and Stricker, two of his captain's picks.

    The only U.S. points came from Dustin Johnson, who went 3-0 in this Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson and unheralded Jason Dufner.

    "We're all kind of stunned," Love said. "We know what it feels like now from the '99 Ryder Cup. It's a little bit shocking. We were playing so well, we figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there. We got a couple of matches flipped there in the middle that cost us."

    Love thought all along the Ryder Cup would be decided in the ninth match by Dufner. It was most appropriate that Europe won the cup thanks to Kaymer.

    Kaymer gave German golf some redemption from Kiawah Island in 1991, when countryman Bernhard Langer missed a par putt from about the same length that allowed the Americans to win.

    "I did think about him, especially when I walked around the hole and read the putt from the other side," Kaymer said. "So I thought, 'OK, it's not going to happen again, it's not going to happen again.' And to be honest with you, I didn't really think about missing. There was only one choice you have. You have to make it."

    It was a collapse the Americans won't soon forget. Just 24 hours earlier, they had a 10-4 lead with two team matches still on the course — they were ahead in one of them, while Woods and Stricker were closing in on the other. It's hard to believe they would only win 3½ points the rest of the way.

    Europe came out fast, and for McIlroy, that started at his hotel.

    He was leisurely heading out of the hotel — thinking that his tee time was an hour later than it was — when he got a frantic call to tell him his match was in 25 minutes. McIlroy was lucky to run into the police, who helped him get to Medinah with enough time to change his shoes, take a few putts and head to the tee box.

    He never trailed in his match, making two straight birdies late to knock off Bradley.

    "It's my own fault," McIlroy said. "If I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captains this week, I would never forgive myself. I'm just obviously happy to get the point and help the cause out a little bit today."

    Everyone pitched in.

    Luke Donald, who makes Chicago his home and had a small share of gallery support, overwhelmed Bubba Watson despite being some 50 yards behind him off the tee. Paul Lawrie, returning to the Ryder Cup after a 13-year absence, had the shortest match of the day against FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker. Poulter outlasted Simpson when the U.S. Open champion hit into a bunker on the 17th and made bogey, and then hit well long on the 18th when he needed a birdie to halve the match.

    Jack Nicklaus first suggested in 1977 that all of Europe be included in the Ryder Cup, which brought the great Ballesteros into the matches. He was determined to prove that Europeans were equal to the Americans, and they have shown to be every bit of that over the last three decades.