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U.S regains Ryder Cup with resounding victory
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The United States slump in the Ryder Cup is officially over.
For the first time since a dramatic final-day comeback from four points down at The Country Club in Brookline in 1999, the Americans wrestled the coveted Ryder Cup out of the arms of the heavily-favored Europeans at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday.
The final tally read: U.S. 16 ½, Europe 11 ½. It was the largest margin of victory for the U.S. since an 18 ½ - 9 ½ thumping of the Europeans at Walton Heath Golf Club in 1981.
"Today was an incredible day," U.S. Captain Paul Azinger said. "The crowds were beautiful and they were well-behaved, and the European team and players, I'm proud of them. They really showed a lot of class in defeat. I'm just so honored that I was able to be here and do this."
As was the case all week, it was the rookies who stepped up for the U.S. -- combining for a 4-1-1 record in Sunday's singles matches.
Anthony Kim got the crowds riled up early. Playing in the first match of the day against European stalwart Sergio Garcia, Kim looked far from a 23-year-old rookie.
Both players birdied the first hole for a halve and that's as close as it would be the rest of the day. Kim handed Garcia a crushing 5 and 4 defeat. Kim was so into the match that after he made what would be the winning putt on No. 14, he began marching to the 15th tee thinking there was more work to be done. When Kim was finally stopped and told he won, he walked back onto the green to take a bow.
"I wouldn't trade this for $10 million," said Kim, who finished 2-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut. "This has been an experience of a lifetime. I'm going to draw back on things that happened this week and the friendships I've made. It was all in all a great experience.
"This is the most exciting day I've ever had. I'm so excited to be here in Kentucky and winning the Ryder Cup... Best day of my golfing life so far."
Boo Weekley, another rookie, played some of the best golf of his career on Sunday. The fun-loving, self-proclaimed redneck who often says he'd rather fish than play golf, reeled in Oliver Wilson with dreamlike performance.
Wilson led the match 2 up after two holes, but then Weekley found his groove and never let up, making six birdies and an eagle -- a hole-out from a bunker at No. 7 -- for a 4 and 2 victory.
"This Ryder Cup is pretty awesome. This is unreal," said Weekley, who finished with a 2-0-1 record. "I think the more we're together, the closer we are going to get. I think we actually became a family and that's something we've been missing in the past, a little bit of laughter and cutting up, and Paul has made it real easy for us. He gave us ping pong and he gave us foosball and he gave us every opportunity to have fun, and if we couldn't take advantage of it, it was our own damned fault, you know what I mean?"
U.S. rookie Hunter Mahan battled with England's Paul Casey. Mahan had a 2-up advantage through seven holes, but Casey charged back to even things up. When the pair reached the 17th green, the match was all square. That's was right before Mahan provided what will be one of the most memorable shots of the 37th Ryder Cup by holing a multiple fist-pump inducing 50-foot birdie putt that made the crowd go wild and gave him a 1-up lead with one hole to play when Casey failed to convert his birdie try.
Perhaps a little jacked up after the unlikely putt dropped at No. 17, Mahan lost his drive to the right at No. 18 and found the water. Casey went on to win the hole for a halve. Even still, Mahan was thrilled to walk off with the half-point.
"Got a hole left. Got to get in there," said Mahan, talking about what he was thinking after his putt on No. 17. "Unfortunately I didn't do as good a job as I needed to, but you know, scored a half-point, which was huge."
Mahan contributed 3.5 points to the U.S. -- the most on the team -- with a 2-0-3 record for the week.
"I'm so proud of everybody, six rookies on our team, I think we were definitely underdogs, and we just went out and played," he said. "I mean, we were not afraid of anything, scared of anything, we just went out and played golf because we knew our golf was good enough. I didn't think we needed to go do something special out there. We were good enough to win this thing."
Rookie J.B. Holmes, a native Kentuckian, picked up a 2 and 1 win over Soren Hansen, while Holmes' fellow Bluegrass State teammate, Kenny Perry, took down Henrik Stenson with a 3 and 2 win.
"I figured this was going to define my career, but you know what, it made my career," Perry said. "You know, I made seven birdies -- I birdied four holes in a row right out of the gate, 2, 3, 4 and 5, and my putter was magical. I mean, I had great touch, great feel, had great confidence and had a great calm about me today. The fans here are awesome. It's a week I'll never forget. It's the greatest experience of my life, and I'm just fortunate enough to put it all together today."
It looked as if Holmes might earn the clinching point for the Americans, but Jim Furyk missed a five-foot putt on No. 16 to close out Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez. In the time it took Furyk and Jimenez to get to the green at No. 17, Holmes won his match with a stunning birdie on No. 17 after a remarkable approach to two feet, setting the stage for Furyk.
With just a short putt left after a valiant birdie try, Jimenez conceded the par and Furyk earned the decisive point for a 2 and 1 victory to win back the Ryder Cup for the U.S.
"My apologies to J.B. because it would have been his point, actually," Furyk said. "If I would have sucked it up and knocked that putt in on 16, J.B. would have closed it out on 17. I was a little anxious, to be honest with you. I made a big putt on 15 to top Miguel, and I knew I had that about a five? or six?footer to end the match on 16. I was a little anxious.
"I pulled it a touch, and I lipped it out," he said. "And quite honestly, I didn't want to go past 15, but ended up having to go to 17. So thankful to get it done. I was pretty tight out there. I think we are all relatively nervous to some respect, but individual matches probably make me the most nervous. I don't know why that is."
Here's how the other matches shook out: Robert Karlsson (EUR) def. Justin Leonard, 5 and 3; Justin Rose (EUR) def. Phil Mickelson, 3 and 2; Graeme McDowell (EUR) def. Stewart Cink, 2 and 1; Ian Poulter (EUR) def. Steve Stricker, 3 and 2; Ben Curtis (U.S.) def. Lee Westwood, 2 and 1; and in the day's final match, Chad Campbell (U.S.) def. Padraig Harrington, 2 and 1.
The U.S. win on Sunday prevented Captain Nick Faldo's Europeans from winning their fourth consecutive Ryder Cup and seven of the last eight.
"The team, the whole atmosphere, the camaraderie, the fun we had, a little bit of everything and it's just been a fabulous time in my life," Faldo said. "Twenty-four guys have given their hearts and souls in this event and Europe has come up short but the golf was fantastic. The shot-making was unbelievable and the putting was unbelievable. This particular week, they have done it, so congratulations."
The 38th Ryder Cup in 2010 will take place at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales. Until then, the U.S. has two years to savor Sunday's emotional victory.