Ryder Cup Cliffhanger: Europe Edges Out the Win

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European Ryder Cup player Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland reacts on the 17th green on the fourth day after the European team won the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Newport, south Wales October 4, 2010. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT GOLF IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The 38th Ryder Cup will last long in the memory for not just being the first time that it went to a Monday finish but for the dramatic nature of the final day’s singles which saw Europe regain the trophy from the Americans by the closest possible score: 14.5-13.5.

The torrential rain at Celtic Manor in Wales had caused two major delays over the weekend, forcing organizers into the historic decision to extend play until sunset on Monday (and in an anachronistic twist, had there still been any uncompleted games on the course at that point, both players would receive a half, irrespective of the score at the time).

Europe had roared back into contention on Sunday, taking 5.5 of the potential 6 points on offer. This meant that Europe just required 5 points out of 12 from the Monday singles, whereas the U.S. were in need of a miracle similar to Brookline in 1999, where Europe threw away a 10-6 lead. Then U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw’s rallying cry was “Remember the Alamo,” and it paid off. They would need a reminder.

And far be it from us to blow its own trumpet, but the prediction on this updated TIME.com photo essay noted that we should, “Expect it to come down to a couple of putts during the singles.” So it proved. The U.S. did about as much as they could early on — though Stewart Cink not putting Rory McIlroy away looked as if it may prove costly — with their best players coming to the party in the form of solid victories from Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson, who had previously spent the rest of the week playing to a similar standard as NewsFeed.

But despite their awesome efforts, the projected scores still had Europe winning. A good thing that the game is played on grass and not paper then as Ricky Fowler came back from the brink of defeat to birdie the final four holes to get a vital half against Italy’s Edoardo Molinari.

The scores were 13.5-13.5 with just one game left on the course: U.S. Open winner, and master putter, Graeme McDowell taking on Hunter Mahan. Both the captains — Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin — had intentionally kept one of their best players right to the death in case it came down to this. The Northern Irishman McDowell had dominated the game and knew that a half wasn’t good enough because 14-14 would mean that the U.S. would retain by virtue of winning back the Ryder Cup in 2008. Coming to the 16th and McDowell held a slender 1 shot lead: and the putt he subsequently sank — a breaking beauty from 15 feet — meant that he only needed a half from 17 or 18. And sure enough, he played 17 safely enough to ensure that the Europeans took back the Ryder Cup at the first time of asking. Cue the wild celebrations where Europe’s players were drowned in a sea of fans and captain Monty drenched in a sea of champagne.

But there was surely no prouder supporter than former player — and winning captain — Seve Ballesteros, who watched from his home in Spain, where he continues his recovery from a brain tumor. “Congratulations Europe!” Ballesteros said on his official website. “What a magnificent event! Great Ryder Cup!” The players were quick to dedicate victory to him. And the one paid by the man of the moment, McDowell, was succinct and to the point. “We wanted to win it for Seve Ballesteros.”