Europe sang last and loudest on the final day of the Ryder Cup, matching the biggest comeback in event history to retain the title.
The final rounds began with Bubba Watson encouraging fans to cheer as he hit the opening drive for the U.S. team. It ended with European players and fans singing and celebrating.
Europe entered day three at Medinah Golf Club outside Chicago trailing 10-6, making them long shots to win golf’s premier team event for a fourth time in five tries.
Europe turned it around by winning the singles matches 8 1/2 points to 3 1/2, their best final-day performance in the U.S., to win the tournament by 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 points.
“When we got together at the team meeting, all I did was just tell the boys that all we needed was just to be a little bit more effective on the greens and to make a few more putts, and that would change the tide for us,” Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal told reporters yesterday. “The players believed, and what happened today, I think it will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup.”
It was the second time a team recovered from a 10-6 deficit to win. Justin Leonard sank the putt to give the U.S. victory at Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1999 after his team began the day trailing by four points.
“We’re all kind of stunned,” U.S. captain Davis Love III told reporters. “We know what it feels like now from the ’99 Ryder Cup. It’s a little bit shocking.”
The U.S. has lost seven of nine editions of the biennial competition that pits 24 of the best players in the world against each other in pairs and individual play.
The American team included five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, while four of the European golfers are ranked among the top five. The 40th Ryder Cup is scheduled for Sept. 26-28, 2014, at Gleneagles, Scotland.
Needing to get off to a winning start, Olazabal top-loaded his singles lineup. The strategy worked, with Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose of England, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, and Paul Lawrie of Scotland winning five of the first six matches for Europe.
Love tried to mirror the tactic by putting Masters Tournament winner Watson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson out first, followed by 2011 PGA champion Keegan Bradley, four-time Grand Slam titlist Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker, who won last week’s Tour Championship and the $10 million FedEx Cup.
“Everybody on our team was playing so well, we just figured it didn’t matter how we sent them out,” Love said. “We put who we thought were our hot players up front and we put who we thought were our steady players in the back that would get us points.”
Poulter -- who won all his matches for a tournament-best four points -- won the last two holes against Simpson to erase the U.S. team’s overnight lead.
“There was a buzz in the team room last night that didn’t feel like we had a four point deficit,” Poulter said. “We just felt we had that tiny little chance and, do you know what, the boys have proved it and made history.”
After Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson won for the U.S. and England’s Lee Westwood beat Matt Kuchar to tie the score 12-12, Sergio Garcia delivered a decisive blow.
In a match against Jim Furyk in which neither player could muster more than a one-hole lead, Garcia came to the 17th tee trailing by one. Furyk missed his par putt to leave the match tied and the American had another bogey on the final green to give the Spaniard the unexpected win and Europe a 13-12 lead.
“He missed some crucial putts,” Garcia said. “He missed a couple shots coming in and I was able to make a couple of solid pars and that was good enough.”
The result meant Olazabal’s team needed one point from the final three matches to retain the cup.
Jason Dufner beat Peter Hanson of Sweden to tie the match at 13 points before Steve Stricker, in the next-to-last match, missed a 7-foot par putt at the 17th hole to fall one behind Martin Kaymer with one hole to play.
After Stricker made par at the final hole, Kaymer sank his putt for a four before being mobbed by teammates. Stricker lost all four of his Ryder Cup matches at Medinah.
Kaymer’s success contrasted with the failure of his German countryman Bernhard Langer to sink the decisive putt at the 1991 edition. The U.S. won by a point when Langer missed a five-foot putt at the last hole in the final match against Hale Irwin at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Europe would have retained the cup had he made it.
“On Friday I sat down with Bernhard and talked to him a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude wasn’t the right one,” Kaymer said. “I know how important the Ryder Cup is for Olazabal and Bernhard helped me so much.”
As the Europeans celebrated yesterday, Tiger Woods missed a putt of about three feet on the final green to tie the final match with Francesco Molinari of Italy.
“My putt was useless,” said Woods, who had lost his other three matches teamed with Stricker. “It was inconsequential, so I hit it too quick and gave him his putt.”
Olazabal invoked his countryman Severiano Ballesteros after the win. Five-time major champion Ballesteros, who won 20 of his 37 Ryder Cup matches and captained the team to victory in 1997 in his native Spain, died in May 2011 from a brain tumor at the age of 54.
The European players wore the blue and white favored by Ballesteros yesterday and had an image of the player on their bags and his silhouette on their shirts.
“Seve will always be present with this team,” Olazabal said in a televised interview. “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.”