|Inspired by a Late Legend, Europe Completes Record-Tying Comeback to Stun the United States and Retain the Ryder Cup|
|The European Ryder Cup Team completed a miracle comeback on U.S. soil to retain the Ryder Cup. Capturing eight singles matches on Sunday, Team Europe finished with 14 1/2 points while Team USA garnered 13 1/2 points after three days of competition.|
MEDINAH, Ill. – European players wore the image of Seve Ballesteros on their sleeves, had his silhouette embroidered on their golf bags, and played with his legendary passion to match the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
European Captain José María Olazábal squeezed his eyes, fought back tears and looked skyward after Martin Kaymer stroked home a 6-foot par putt on the 18th green in the fading sunlight at Medinah Country Club. With a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory in the 39th Ryder Cup, the four-pound gold trophy was returning to Europe.
Kaymer defeated Steve Stricker, 1-up, to cap Europe's record-matching comeback from a 10-6 deficit, a rally that was even more stunning than what Olazábal and his former teammates experienced in 1999 in Brookline, Mass.
Thirteen years ago, it was Olazábal standing on the green watching the United States celebrate after roaring back from the identical margin on Sunday. The Medinah conquest was Europe's fifth victory in the last six Ryder Cups, and seventh in the last nine.
"This one is for all of Europe," said Olazábal. "It will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup."
Ballesteros, who died in May 2011 of a brain tumor, was Olazábal's mentor and dearest friend. The "Spanish Armada" first partnered in 1987 in the Ryder Cup, and built the Ryder Cup team standard as well as a spiritual bond.
"Seve will always be present with this team," said Olazábal. "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."
Wearing Ballesteros' signature navy slacks and white polo shirt Sunday, Europe mounted a comeback that began six points down midway through the Saturday afternoon four-balls. Led by England's Ian Poulter, who finished 4-0-0, the Europeans revived their chances by capturing the final two matches.
That afternoon momentum, fueled by Poulter's bug-eyed exuberance and fist pumps, energized Europe. They came out Sunday and won the first five matches, gaining confidence with every hole as the blue went on the leaderboard.
When Kaymer and Stricker arrived at the 18th green, an impossible victory had become inevitable. Kaymer delivered the critical 14th point to retain the cup, and Italian Francesco Molinari gave it to the Europeans outright with a halve with Tiger Woods in the final match.
The balance of the European Team was superb. Luke Donald downed Bubba Watson, who opened the Sunday singles. World No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy nearly missed his tee time and then beat Keegan Bradley. Paul Lawrie — 13 years after his only other Ryder Cup appearance — took down the FedEx Cup champion.
Europe won eight of the 12 singles matches and got a split from Francesco Molinari in the anchor match against Tiger Woods. It matched the legendary 1999 U.S. rally at The Country Club at Brookline, Mass., for biggest Sunday comeback in Ryder Cup history.
United States Captain Davis Love III, who was on the winning side in 1999, said that the momentum shifted on Saturday when Poulter made five consecutive birdie putts to end the day on a high, giving Europe some hope.
"Well it's exactly the same, the same score," said Love. "They came back and won. Give them a lot of credit; they played very, very well. They had a couple of hot streaks in the first two days that kept them in it.
"Ian Poulter's hot streak at the end on Saturday gave them some confidence and I know they built on that.
"I wouldn't have done anything different. They played great. We had a couple of matches get flipped there at the end that made it a little easier on them.
"This is a great team, we had a great week. We played together as a team and we said we wanted to win every segment. But we got beaten badly in this one, and any time you lose a segment that badly it is going to cost you the Ryder Cup."
Westwood, Garcia, and Lawrie were the only players on the '99 team that blew a 10-6 lead, and all won singles matches.
The U.S. came 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. Poulter won the last two holes, and so did Rose, a birdie-birdie finish to beat 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 Woods in the fairway and 1-up over Molinari.
Woods wound up missing a 3 1/2-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 one-point win for Europe. Woods and Stricker, the anchors in the lineup, did not win a match at Medinah.
As remarkable as Europe’s comeback was, the rally could have been defused hours earlier in the day, had McIlroy not received an Illinois State Trooper escort to Medinah. McIlroy thought that his match was at 12:25 p.m. — it was listed on Golf Channel in Eastern Time, not Central. He arrived at the course with 10 minutes to spare.
McIlroy said that he was leisurely leaving the team hotel – The Westin Lombard – assuming 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 gave him an escort to Medinah, with him in the passenger seat. He arrived, changed his shoes, hugged Olazábal, took a few practice putts, and headed to the tee box.
McIlroy never trailed in his match, making two straight birdies late to hand Bradley his first defeat of the week, 2 and 1.
"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."
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.
Love became the first U.S. captain to sit every player at least once before Sunday, intending 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.
"It was a difficult day for most of us," said Bradley, who preceded his Saturday and Sunday opening match by leading cheers on the No. 1 tee before running back over a bridge to finish his practice. "It was really neat coming back into the team room and having everybody kind of come together and let each other know that we all had each other's backs."
Kaymer said that he thought of fellow German, Bernhard Langer, who missed a Cup-clinching par putt from the same distance on Kiawah Island in 1991.
"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."
Another singles stunner was delivered by Paul Lawrie, 43, who returned to the Ryder Cup after a 13-year absence. He had the shortest match of the day against Brandt Snedeker, posting a 5 and 3 decision.
Poulter outlasted Webb Simpson, when the reigning 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.
"We are in shock," Rose said. "We wanted to believe. We really did want to believe, but we had no illusions of how hard that day was going to be — four (points) against a team that's played so well all week."
Olazábal wore an earpiece, a signature tool of a Captain in the Ryder Cup that links him to news of his players on the course. However, he was channeling Ballesteros, as if his mentor was on the other end of the radio transmitter.
To ensure that Ballesteros was with his team "every step of the way," Olazábal had his team's golf bags embroidered with a silhouette of Ballesteros' reaction to winning the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews. Ballesteros adopted the image as his business logo, and even had a tattoo of it on his left forearm.
"There's no doubt that (the victory) has been part inspired by him," Sergio Garcia said. "But mostly from our captain, Jose. What an amazing guy. What an unbelievable captain."
Olazábal kept his composure even as the Americans piled up the points the first two days, refusing to deviate from his plan. When Luke Donald and Poulter won those last two matches Saturday, he front-loaded the European singles lineup, sending out his strongest players first in hopes of building a wave of momentum that would lift the rest of the team. It was the same strategy the Americans used in 1999 to erase an identical deficit at Brookline.
Europe won eight matches Sunday, and the biggest points were delivered by Kaymer and Molinari – who had come up empty until then.
"It's been a tough week," Olazábal said. "The first two days, nothing went our way and we struggled on the greens. This morning, I felt a little change in that regard. We started to make a few putts and the Americans started to miss them."
As cheers and chants from European partisans subsided for a moment at the closing ceremony, Olazábal turned to his team, "What you did out there today was outstanding. 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."
39th RYDER CUP