MEDINAH, Ill. - Erasing some of their worst Ryder Cup memories, the Europeans wore the image of Seve Ballesteros on their sleeves and played their hearts out Sunday at Medinah to match the greatest comeback in history and head home with that precious gold trophy.
Europe got its payback for Brookline, when the Americans roared back from the same 10-6 deficit. This rally was even more remarkable, carried out before a raucous American crowd that began their chants of "USA!" some three hours before the first match got under way.
Jose Maria Olazabal squeezed his eyes and fought back tears when Kaymer holed a 6-foot par putt to beat Steve Stricker and give Europe the point it needed to keep the cup. This was the first Ryder Cup since Ballesteros, the soul of European golf in this event, died last May of a brain tumour. Olazabal wanted his team to wear navy blue, Seve's favouritecolour, and added a clever touch - his iconic silhouette on the sleeves of their shirts.
"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."
Tiger Woods missed a 3 1/2-foot par putt on the 18th hole, and then conceded a par to Francesco Molinari of about that length to halve their match. That extra half-point made it a clear-cut win for Europe, 14 1/2-13 1/2.
Woods and Stricker, the anchors in the lineup, didn't win a single match at Medinah.
Ian 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 favour. 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 Justin Rose. He was on the verge of losing to Phil 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.
The Americans also rallied from a four-point deficit to win in 1999 at Brookline. This was different, though. The Americans won big in those early matches. At Medinah, so many of them could have gone either way.
It was so close, so tense, that either side could have won the Ryder Cup down to the very end.
Stricker made an 8-foot par putt on the 18th, and Kaymer faced a par putt from 6 feet to win the match. If he missed, the Americans would get a half-point, and Woods was leading 1-up over Molinari and in the middle of the 18th fairway.
Kaymer, a former No. 1 and major champion who has struggled all year, poured it in the middle and the celebration was on.
He could barely speak at this point, not so much from pure emotion but having to scream over the crowd behind him. Players were hugging and crying, and the small European contingent that had been drowned out all week was serenading themselves with what has become the theme song of the Ryder Cup.
"Ole, ole, ole, ole," they sang merrily, even as the teams prepared for the closing ceremony.
Europe now has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, and even more remarkable about this comeback is that they did it on the road.
Davis Love III 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 Jim Furyk and Stricker, two of his captain's picks.
"The plan worked the first two days," he said. "It just didn't work today."
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.
"It's a feeling I never had before," Kaymer said. "On Friday, I sat down with Bernhard and talked a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude was not the right one. But now I know how important the Ryder Cup is."
A capsule look at the 12 singles matches Sunday in the Ryder Cup:
Luke Donald, Europe, def. Bubba Watson, United States, 2 and 1.
Watson revved up the crowd to cheer as he hit his opening tee shot, and while he hooked it badly, he holed a 15-foot birdie putt before Donald made his from 6 feet. That was Watson's lone highlight until it was too late. Watson bogeyed the second hole and didn't make a birdie until the par-5 seventh. Donald pulled away by winning the 11th and 12th with a birdie and par, and on the 13th, Donald hit into the water and still halved the hole when Watson made bogey. Donald missed birdie putts of 5 feet on No. 14 and 7 feet on No. 15 that would have won the match, and then Watson chipped in for birdie on the 16th, Donald's lead was 2 up with two to play. Not to worry. Watson hit his tee shot into the gallery on the 17th, while Donald hit a longer bunker shot to a foot for par and the win.
Ian Poulter, Europe, def. Webb Simpson, United States, 2 up.
Poulter made it a perfect week, and for the second time in two days, rallied on the back nine to turn a deficit into a win. Simpson was 2 up through six holes, mostly through Poulter's mistakes. None were more memorable than Simpson's blunders - a bogey from the trees on the seventh, and a cold shank on the eighth tee to hand Poulter another hole. Simpson went 1 up with a birdie on the 10th, and Poulter squared the match with a birdie on the 12th. The decisive shot came on 17, when Simpson pulled it into a back bunker and missed a 10-foot par putt as Poulter took his first lead. From the right rough, Poulter ripped a shot over the trees to 12 feet. Simpson hit well long, missed his putt and conceded Poulter's birdie.
Rory McIlroy, Europe, def. Keegan Bradley, United States, 2 and 1.
The most anticipated match almost didn't happen when McIlroy kept seeing his tee time as 12:25 EST - Chicago is in the central time zone. He received a police escort to the course, arrived 10 minutes before his match, only had time had for a few putts - and never trailed. McIlroy had three straight birdies early (one was conceded) and was 2 up at the turn. Bradley fought back to all square with a birdie on the 10th and McIlroy's bogey on the 12th. McIlroy seized control when Bradley's second on the par-5 14th wound up behind a tree and he made par. On the 15th, Bradley hit into the gallery on the 15th, and after a great flop shot, missed his birdie putt to fall 2 down. They halved the next two holes with pars. Yes, you can say McIlroy rolled out of bed and won his match.
Justin Rose, Europe, def. Phil Mickelson, United States, 1 up.
In a key match for Europe to build momentum, Rose delivered a critical point that not many saw coming. Mickelson lost the first two holes, squared the match three holes later, and it was tight from there. Mickelson appeared to seize control with a birdie on the 14th to go 1 up for his first lead, and then a tee shot to the front collar of the par-4 15th. But he failed to make birdie, Rose made a 12-footer for par to halve the 16th, and the fireworks followed. Mickelson hit a great chip behind the 17th for a certain par, and Rose squared the match with a 35-foot birdie putt. On the 18th, Mickelson's approach went long, and Rose made a 12-foot birdie putt for the win.
Paul Lawrie, Europe, def. Brandt Snedeker, United States, 5 and 3.
Lawrie didn't have a point going into singles, though he had been playing well. On his own, he showed it and buried Snedeker. Lawrie took his first lead when he chipped in from behind the fourth green, and then he hit a 6-iron to 6 feet for eagle on the fifth hole. He went 3 up on the ninth with another birdie. Snedeker's birdie on the 10th gave him hope, but he started missing the kind of putts that carried him through the FedEx Cup playoffs. Snedeker bogeyed three straight holes to fall 5 down, and Lawrie closed him out with a sand wedge into 3 feet for a conceded birdie on the 15th.
Dustin Johnson, United States, def. Nicolas Colsaerts, Europe, 3 and 2.
In the battle of the bit hitters, Johnson never trailed, although he was plenty wild at times. He had four birdies on the front nine, along with a double bogey. Colsaerts squared the match with a birdie on the ninth. Colsaerts was poised to take his first lead of the match when he reached the par-5 10th in two. He ran his eagle putt some 5 feet by the hole, missed his birdie putt, and then lost the hole with a four-putt double bogey. Johnson made back-to-back bogeys to fall back to all square, only to make two straight birdies, the biggest one a 12-foot putt on the 15th. He closed out the Belgian with a par on the 16th.
Zach Johnson, United States, def. Graeme McDowell, Europe, 2 and 1.
McDowell, the hero in Wales, struggled at Medinah and this single match was no different. He opened with a bogey to fall 1 down and never caught back up. Johnson birdied the third and McDowell bogeyed the fourth as the American quickly went 3 up. McDowell made his first birdie on No. 9 to get with two holes, and they have the next eight holes. McDowell had a chance to make it interesting with an approach into 6 feet on the 16th. But he missed the birdie putt, and Johnson holed a 6-footer for par. Johnson closed him out with a par that McDowell conceded on the 17th.
Sergio Garcia, Europe, def. Jim Furyk, United States, 1 up.
Garcia made a birdie on the second hole for a 1-up lead in a see-saw match that took a dramatic turn at the end. Garcia's bogey on the eighth hole gave Fury his first lead, and Garcia didn't lead again until the end. Furyk went 1 up for the last time with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 14th. Furyk missed a chance to go 2 up when he missed birdie chances on the 15th and 16th holes. Garcia saved par from front bunker on the 16th. On the 17th, Furyk pulled his shot into the back left bunker, blasted out to 12 feet and missed it to square the match. On the 18th, Furyk drove into a bunker and went long of the green. He went 7 feet by the hole, and after Garcia missed his birdie putt, Furyk's par putt to halve the match slid by on the right.
Jason Dufner, United States, def. Peter Hanson, Europe, 2 up.
Dufner became a surprising star for the American team with his third win of the week. He had to work harder than he imagined, though. Dufner made back-to-back birdies to go 4 up through eight holes, and that's how the match stood at the turn. Hanson won his first hole at the 10th, and then Dufner started missing putts. He made bogey on the 11th and 12th holes, and suddenly his lead was only 1 up. Dufner made a 12-foot birdie on the 13th to restore his cushion, Hanson answered with a birdie on the 14th, and then Dufner went 2 up again with a great drive on the 15th that set up birdie. Dufner bogeyed the 17th, sending the match to the 18th. But Hanson hit into the bunker on the 18th and wound up conceding a par to Dufner.
Lee Westwood, Europe, def. Matt Kuchar, United States, 3 and 2.
Kuchar was a birdie machine in fourballs with Dustin Johnson. He was a different player on his own. Westwood and Kuchar traded bogeys in the early going, and Westwood took a 1-up lead to the back nine when Kuchar made a bogey on the ninth hole. Kuchar answered with a birdie, but this match ultimately was decided by mistakes. Kuchar made bogey on the 12th and 13th holes, and Westwood made birdie on the 15th to go 3 up. Westwood had two putts from about 10 feet to win the match on the 16th. Kuchar had him putt both of them, including a 2-footer for par.
Martin Kaymer, Europe, def. Steve Stricker, United States, 1 up.
Stricker took the early lead with a birdie on the second hole, though this match was going to be a struggle all day. Stricker's bogey on the sixth squared the match, and Kaymer took a 1-up lead to the back nine with a birdie at No. 9. Kaymer's clutch par putt on the 12th from about 10 feet gave the German a 1-up lead, but he hit a poor shot from the first cut by the 15th green and missed his par putt. The match was tied with three holes to play. Both players made nervy par putts on the 16th. Stricker was in the best spot behind the 17th green, but he bladed his chip about 7 feet by the hole and lipped out the par putt as Kaymer took the lead. Kaymer only needed to not lose the 18th for Europe to retain the cup. He was 30 feet away, Stricker at the back of the green. Stricker misread the putt and left it 8 feet left of the hole, only for Kaymer to run his putt some 6 feet by. Stricker made his par, and Kaymer calmly sank the putt to set off the celebration.
Francesco Molinari, Europe, halved with Tiger Woods, United States.
The trouble with putting Woods in the last match was that his point might be irrelevant. It only counted toward the final score. Woods made only one birdie against Molinari. The Italian jumped out to a 2-up lead and never trailed until early in the back nine. Molinari made bogey on No. 12 as the match fell back to all square, and Woods made about a 6-foot par putt on the 13th to go 1 up for the first time. Molinari birdied the 14th to square the match. Molinari had a chance to go 1 up until missing a 12-foot birdie on the 16th. Woods went 1-up on the 17th when Molinari chipped too strongly and missed an 8-footer for par. Ahead of them, Kaymer won his match to assure Europe keeping cup. Woods missed the green to the right, chipped to 3.5 feet and missed the par putt. He conceded Molinari's putt from about the same distance, giving Europe the half-point it needed for the outright win.