MEDINAH, Ill. –- The Europeans wanted to play for Seve Ballesteros in the first Ryder Cup since his passing. Their golf bags bore his image, and they wore his trademark navy blue on the Ryder Cup’s final day.
They completed a comeback Sunday that would’ve made the late Spaniard proud, matching the largest final-day comeback since continental Europe joined the proceedings in 1979. Europe trailed 10-6 when Sunday began but retained the Ryder Cup with a 14.5-13.5 victory, matching the United States’ incredible comeback at Brookline in 1999. There was one key difference: the United States was the home team 13 years ago. Europe was on foreign soil this year.
“Seve will always be present with this team,” said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who wiped tears from his eyes when his late friend was mentioned at the opening ceremonies. “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.”
Martin Kaymer, moved to the back of the lineup by Olazabal because of poor form this year, made a 5-foot par putt on No. 18 to clinch the cup. “It’s a feeling that I’ve never had before,” Kaymer said.
He beat Steve Stricker, 1 up, to give Europe its 14th point. Stricker, one of Davis Love III’s four captain’s picks, was 0-4 this week.
Europe also won Saturday’s final two matches to keep the cup within reach, meaning the victors won 10.5 of the final 14 points. That’s 75 percent.
Europe’s play over Medinah’s final two holes proved crucial to the comeback. Five matches came to the 17th tee either all square or with the United States holding a 1-up lead. Europe won four of them, and halved Francesco Molinari’s match with Tiger Woods, which was completed after the cup had been decided. The United States didn’t turn a single match in its favor over the final two holes.
“When we all got past No. 9, I knew that somebody was going to have to play well coming down the stretch,” Love said. “We got a couple matches flipped that normally would have counted. When you lose some of those, … when the match gets flipped, that’s what costs you.”
• Webb Simpson and Ian Poulter were all square through 16 holes. Poulter, who has won all four of his Ryder Cup singles matches, won the final two holes.
• Phil Mickelson was 1 up on the 17th tee, but even he could only smile as Justin Rose holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th and a 12-footer for birdie on the next hole for the 1-up victory. Mickelson’s loss ended his chances of his first 4-0 Ryder Cup.
• Jim Furyk, whose year has been decided by struggles under pressure, lost the final two holes with bogeys to lose, 1 down, to Sergio Garcia. He found bunkers on the final two holes, hooking his tee shot on 17 into a greenside bunker and finding a fairway bunker off the 18th tee.
• Stricker’s bogey at the 17th led to a 1-down loss to Kaymer. His tee shot just ran through the green, but he ran his simple chip shot 6 feet past the hole and lipped out the putt.
• Woods and Molinari were all square with two holes remaining and ended that way after swapping the final two holes. Their result was irrelevant at that point.
The match was tied 13-13 with two matches remaining. The United States need to earn 1 1/2 points in those two matches, both of which were all square, to win the cup. Stricker and Kaymer were on No. 17, while the final match of Woods and Molinari was one hole behind them.
After losing the 17th, Stricker needed to win the final hole to keep the United States’ hopes alive. Kaymer, who drove into a fairway bunker, and Stricker both reached the 18th green in regulation, but had testy par putts remaining. Stricker made an 8-footer for par to set the stage for Kaymer. His countryman, Bernhard Langer, missed a similar-length putt to give the Americans victory at the 1991 Ryder Cup. Kaymer didn’t repeat that fate, though.
Europe took a 13-12 lead after Furyk bogeyed the final two holes to lose his match with Garcia. It was the first time Europe had led the tournament. In between, the United States experienced almost-unprecedented success. This was the first time since 1981, and just the second time since Europe joined the competition, that the United States scored 10 points before the singles session.
All that did was set up a European comeback that was an appropriate tribute to its late legend.