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Team Europe captain Nick Faldo congratulates U.S. Captain Paul Azinger after the Americans won the 37th Ryder Cup on Sunday. (Lyons/Getty Images)

U.S. Ryder Cup win closer than final score suggests

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By Dave Lagarde, Correspondent

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It will go into golf's history books as United States 16�, Europe 11�. But the final score doesn't tell the real story of the 37th Ryder Cup. It only distorts it.

It was no rout. Nor was it a runaway.

So let's trot out the clich�. It was closer than the score indicated. There, that fits as anyone who was at Valhalla Golf Club on this electric weekend of high-quality shot making and high human drama understands full well. Shoot, the 28 matches likely produced enough voltage to fry a few couch potatoes who tuned in at home.

Forget the score. In the end this Ryder Cup, which provided a large measure of redemption for a United States team that had lost three straight and five of the last six, came down to what Europe captain Nick Faldo aptly called "fractions.''

A bounce here or a lip out there could have turned the tide in the opposite direction, especially in Friday's and Saturday's foursomes and fourball matches. About that, there should be no doubt.

"The Europeans poured their hearts and soul into it,'' said United States captain Paul Azinger, who saw his team do the same. "(Saturday) could have gone either way. Friday could have gone either way.''

Sunday, however, was a red, white and blue day as the United States went 7-4-1 in the decisive singles matches, padding the two-point lead it carried into the final day.

"It just doesn't feel that way,'' England's Lee Westwood said when asked about the final outcome. "But hats off to the Americans. They played great.''

The Americans were a little bit better in just about every phase. And they received a lot more support from a highly partisan home crowd that rocked the Kentucky countryside and reverberated in the ears of the European team. But in the end it came down to Faldo's fractions, which made the golf compelling and the theater simply marvelous.

"We're talking in fractions here... in the games, in the putts, in the quality of matches,'' Faldo said. "We came up short, but not in pride and spirit.''

The Europeans were gracious in defeat while the Americans went about healing the deep wounds that Europe's last two blow-out, 18�-9� victories opened. To a man they offered very high praise of their conquerors.

"The Ryder Cup should be hard-fought competition and this year that's what it's back to being,'' England's Justin Rose said. "I think the last two Ryder Cups, the Europeans have had exceptional results. We knew it was going to be a tight game. The Americans played really, really well.''

The problem for Europe turned out to be the form of its best players -- Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Westwood, who came into the Ryder Cup ranked fourth, fifth and 12th in the Official World Golf Rankings. The trio did not win a single match, going 0-7-5 for a paltry 2� points. That performance likely will be put under the critics' microscopes until the 38th Ryder Cup convenes in Wales in 2010 when their shot at redemption likely will come.

Faldo would have none of the talk Sunday evening. He knew his team put it all on the line, but admitted the obvious.

"When you've come here and you've made such an effort, sure losing, for any player, any sportsman, it always hurts,'' he said. "But we leave here with our heads held high, our chins up and our backs straight.''

And in the end, the better team won, if only by a fractional margin.

"We just came up against a great team,'' said Ryder rookie Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland who acquitted himself well with a 2-1-1 record. "There were 24 guys playing their hearts out. It was a sporting war and I mean that in the best sense of the word.''