Europe pulls off incredible comeback to win Ryder Cup
MEDINAH, Ill. – Steve Stricker looked to his right and extended his hand, palm up.
His birdie putt on the 18th green at Medinah Country Club had barely settled eight feet past the hole, an attempt that needed to find the bottom of the cup in order to give Tiger Woods a chance to stave off the most improbable comeback in Ryder Cup history.
In that moment, it was as if Stricker released the Cup into the breeze and the waiting spirit of the late Seve Ballesteros.
The 45-year-old captain's pick from Madison made his comebacker for par. Should Stricker win the hole, and Woods his, the Ryder Cup would have been America's.
Yet, Martin Kaymer need to only two-putt to win the hole and retain the Cup.
The German, who won the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in a playoff over Bubba Watson, did just that to beat Stricker 1-up.
Kaymer leaped into the arms of his caddie and his teammates rushed the green.
The Cup was Europe's again, for the seventh time in the last nine tournaments.
"I knew it was going to be important and we just ... I just didn't get it done," Stricker said.
In the fairway Woods watched the bedlam, 1-up over Francesco Molinari, his match rendered meaningless.
Ballesteros, the strident Spaniard who died of cancer nearly 17 months ago, was on the mind and in the hearts of the Europeans as they stared down a 10-6 deficit heading into Sunday's singles matches.
"Seve will always be present. Seve will always be present with this team," said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, Ballesteros' friend, countryman, and longtime Ryder Cup teammate. "He was a big factor for this event, for the European side, and (Saturday) night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and I think they did."
Justin Rose, who came back from an early two-hole deficit to Phil Mickelson to win 1-up with consecutive birdies on 17 and 18, conceded the team wanted to believe, but "held no illusions" of victory.
Even the indomitable Ian Poulter, who went 4-0 and has a career record of 12-3, admitted they could not expect to win.
After all, the Americans had figured out the team aspect of the competition and headed to singles with three of the last five major champions leading off. Yet, Watson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley were Ryder Cup rookies, as was Brandt Snedeker.
"Everybody on our team was playing so well, we just figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there," U.S. captain Davis Love III admitted. "We put who we thought was our hot players up front and we put who we thought was our steady players in the back that would get us points."
To make up the difference, Olazabal ran out his horses to start the match – but told his entire team to "get them all" in that meeting Saturday night and Europe nearly did, dominating the singles competition 8-3-1.
Luke Donald, Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Rose and Paul Lawrie began the charge by sweeping the opening matches.
Then, Spaniard Sergio Garcia rallied from a 1-down deficit with two holes to play over Jim Furyk to win 1-up.
"I have no doubt in my mind that (Seve) was with me today all day because there's no chance I would have my match if he wasn't there," Garcia said.
Lee Westwood then dominated Matt Kuchar 3 & 2, setting the stage for Stricker in the penultimate match.
It was something he was preparing for as early as the 10th hole.
"Started doing the math," Stricker said. "Kind of figured it was going come down to Tiger or I in the last two groups."
The Edgerton native took an early one-hole lead through five before Kaymer flipped it at the turn. Stricker squared it with a par on the 15th hole and it remained that way to the par 3 17th, where Stricker rifled a chip shot six feet past the hole. He could not make the par putt, giving Kaymer the 1-hole cushion going to the 18th.
For the tournament Stricker went 0-4, losing three matches with Woods as his partner.
"I felt like I was a part of this team," Stricker said. "Towards the end of the season, I played well. I was really one birdie short of making the team on my own, so I felt like I deserved to be on the team. That wasn't it. And I felt like my game was in good shape. I drove the ball great this week, hit some nice irons here and there, not real consistent enough to put any points on the board, though."
The four point comeback tied the 1999 U.S. squad for the largest ever in Ryder Cup history, but it stands alone as the biggest deficit erased by a visiting team.
"We're all kind of stunned," Love III said. "We know what it feels like now from the '99 Ryder Cup. It's a little bit shocking."
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