The Europeans celebrated their fourth straight home-soil victory, but their margin of victory on Monday couldn't have been any more narrow. (Getty Images)
Team USA rallies valiantly, but Europe holds on to win thrilling Ryder Cup
Europe reclaimed the Ryder Cup on a picture-perfect Monday, but its victory wasn't secure until the 17th hole of the event's final match thanks to an inspiring American rally that fell just short.
NEWPORT, Wales (AP) -- Europe reclaimed the Ryder Cup, winning a thriller that went down to the final singles match Monday.
The Americans rallied from a three-point deficit to tie the score, bringing the title down to the 12th match. But U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell made a clutch birdie putt at the 16th and was conceded his par putt at No. 17. Hunter Mahan flubbed a chip shot, then missed a last-gasp putt from off the green to save par.
The Europeans won 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 to reclaim the cup won by the Americans at Valhalla two years ago. This was the closest Ryder Cup since 1999, when the Americans rallied from a 10-6 deficit at Brookline for a one-point win.
The youngest American, 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, gave the visiting team hope of pulling off an improbable comeback when he won the final three holes to halve his match with Edoardo Molinari. Fowler rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the 17th to extend the match, then made an 18-footer at the final hole to stun the Italian.
A few minutes later, Zach Johnson finished off a 3-and-2 win over Padraig Harrington, evening the score at 13.
That brought it down to McDowell vs. Mahan.
The Northern Irishman was 3 up with seven holes left. But he made a bogey at No. 12, and an errant tee shot at the 15th, a short par-4, handed Mahan another hole.
With Fowler's half-point, Mahan had to halve his match for a 14-14 tie that would've kept the trophy in American hands.
But McDowell rolled in a slick, downhill putt from 15 feet at No. 16 for a brilliant birdie at one of the toughest holes on the course. When Mahan struggled at the 17th, the winner didn't even have to bother with his final putt.
"The U.S. Open felt like a back nine with my dad back at Portrush (his home course in Northern Ireland) compared to this," McDowell said. "I was nervous. Wow! It's a different feeling. It's just so much pressure."
The decision to have McDowell in the anchor spot worked brilliantly for Captain Colin Montgomerie.
"There was a reason why he was put there," Ian Poulter said. "He's the U.S. Open champion. He pulled it off."
McDowell was engulfed by his teammates on the 17th green, but perhaps the biggest cheers were reserved for Monty. One of Europe's greatest Ryder Cup players, he now has a win leading the team in what he called the highlight of his career before the event even started.
The Europeans then set off on a victory lap back to the clubhouse behind the 18th hole, where they sprayed the fans with champagne from a second-floor balcony, serenaded by chants of "Ole! Ole! Ole!"
"I didn't hit a shot, so it wasn't much of an achievement," Montgomerie said. "But at the same time, it's a proud, proud moment."
It was anything but that for the Americans.
"We came close," U.S. Captain Corey Pavin said, "but we didn't quite get there."
The Europeans were inspired by a conference call with ailing Seve Ballesteros earlier in the week, and the guy who helped end American dominance in the Ryder Cup was on everyone's minds after another European victory. Ballesteros is battling brain cancer and wasn't well enough to travel to Celtic Manor.
"Seve is at home watching this because he can't be with us right now," Poulter said. "Every player out there knew what he meant to European golf. We know what this means to him. We brought this trophy back. It's a special day."
"I hope he's proud of us," added Sergio Garcia, who didn't make the European team but served as an assistant captain. "It meant so much for him to call us earlier in the week."
The singles were played on a warm, sunny day -- a striking contrast to the previous three days at Celtic Manor. Torrential rain and two long delays forced the first Monday finish in the 83-year history of the event.
It was worth the wait.
The Europeans got off to a strong start in singles, but Pavin backloaded his lineup in hopes of rallying at the end. It almost worked.
Tiger Woods played in the eighth spot and routed Francesco Molinari 4 and 3, even after losing the first two holes. The world's top-ranked player finally looked like it, holing out from the fairway at No. 12 for eagle and playing 15 holes at 9 under.
Phil Mickelson, who lost all three of his team matches, played in the 10th spot and beat Peter Hanson 4 and 2.
But the Europeans put up just enough points to reclaim Samuel Ryder's gold chalice. Poulter, Luke Donald and 46-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez -- the oldest player at this Ryder Cup -- won their matches. Rory McIlroy pulled out a crucial half-point against Stewart Cink, whose putter went ice cold down the stretch.
Then at the end, McDowell clinched it, adding to a brilliant year that already featured his first career major title at Pebble Beach over the summer.
"No regrets at all," Pavin said. "I'm quite content with everything -- except maybe the result."
Looking back, the U.S. will know that it ruined a chance to win in Europe for the first time since 1993 with its performance on Sunday.
In the last six team matches, Europe won five and halved the other to take command of the match, bringing a daunting three-point lead into the singles. The U.S. won every other session in the event: the opening fourballs, the first six alternate-shot matches, and finally the singles.
It wasn't quite enough.