Ryder Cup: Europe Pulls Off Improbable Comeback

FE_DA_121001RyderCup.jpg
Associated Press SHARE

By NANCY ARMOUR, Associated Press

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) — The scoreboard said 10-6 and just about everyone figured the Ryder Cup was over.

Everyone, that is, but the Europeans.

There was so much energy and excitement in Europe's team room Saturday night that Ian Poulter just knew they were on the verge of something special.

[PHOTOS: The 2012 Ryder Cup.]

"The atmosphere was like we had a two-point lead," Poulter said. "We're four points down. You're not going to turn around and say you're going to win, but we knew we had a little chance."

A chance, and a belief in themselves, was all they needed.

Point by point, they painted the scoreboard blue on Sunday. That deficit was gone by the time the first six groups finished, and that's when the fun really began. One, two, three matches flipped in Europe's favor on the last two holes, and 13 years after glumly watching the U.S. celebrate its epic comeback at Brookline, the Europeans had one of their own.

They partied on the 18th green, exchanging hugs with anyone in arm's reach. They wrapped themselves in their own country's flags and climbed the bridge between the clubhouse and the first tee. As giddy fans serenaded them with choruses of "Ole! Ole! Ole!" the players passed around oversized bottles of champagne, taking swigs and spraying the crowd with bubbly.

It was a scene the late Seve Ballesteros would have loved, and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal didn't even bother trying to hide the tears as he looked skyward. His dear friend and "Spanish Armada" partner was never far from the Europeans' minds or hearts this week, and they carried him with them Sunday, wearing his silhouette on their sleeves.

"What you did out there today was outstanding," Olazabal said. "You believed, and you delivered. And I'm very proud that you have kept Europe's hand on this Ryder Cup. All men die, but not all men live. And you made me feel alive again this week."

The Americans could feel nothing but numb, knowing the Ryder Cup had been in their grasp and they'd let it slip away.

The U.S. has now lost five of the last six Ryder Cups, and two of the last three on home soil.

"It was a hell of a lot of fun being on the other end," said Jim Furyk, one of the three Americans who were part of the Brookline squad. "It wasn't very much fun today."

The groundwork for Europe's victory was actually laid Saturday.

After getting trounced in pretty much every match, in pretty much every session, Poulter made five straight birdies to turn a loss into a win in the last Saturday match and swing momentum in Europe's favor — even if it was only in their own minds.

"The whole atmosphere of the team changed last night," Luke Donald said. "That was just a huge boost to our team and our morale, how we felt about our chances. It gave us a huge lift."

Just as Ben Crenshaw did in Brookline, Olazabal front-loaded his lineup, sending out his best players first in hopes of building a wave of momentum that would lift the rest of the team.

And just as it did in Brookline, the strategy worked perfectly. Even Rory McIlroy's confusion over U.S. time zones turned out OK, with the world's No. 1 player getting a police escort and arriving at Medinah with 10 minutes to spare before his 11:25 a.m. tee time.

"It's my own fault," said McIlroy, who didn't realize the Ryder Cup tee times he was reading on his phone were in Eastern time. "If I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captains this week, I would never forgive myself."

McIlroy delivered his point as Europe won its first five matches, an onslaught that knocked the Americans — and their fans — flat.

"Coming down the stretch this afternoon, there was some amazing periods where you just didn't hear anything on the golf course," Justin Rose said. "That's really what we were striving for."

It was Rose's match that might have been the most damaging. On the verge of losing to Phil Mickelson, he holed a 12-foot par putt to halve the 16th and made a 35-foot birdie putt from the back of the 17th green to win the hole.