Europe reclaimed the Ryder Cup on Monday as U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell won the final singles match at Celtic Manor to hold off a late charge by the Americans.
The Americans rallied from a three-point deficit to tie the score, bringing it down to the 12th match. But 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 1/2-13 1/2 to reclaim the cup won by the Americans at Valhalla two years ago.
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 (4.5 meter) birdie putt at the 17th to extend the match, then made an 18-footer (5.5 m) at the final hole to stun the Italian.
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, then an errant tee shot at the 15th, a short par-4, handed Mahan another hole.
With Fowler's half-point, Mahan merely 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. When Mahan made a mess of the 17th hole, the winner didn't even have to bother with his final putt.
"There was a reason why he was put there," Ian Poulter said of having McDowell in the final spot. "He's the U.S. Open champion. He pulled it off."
McDowell was engulfed by his teammates on the green, but perhaps the biggest cheers were reserved for European captain Colin Montgomerie. 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 it even started.
The Europeans then set off on a victory lap back to the clubhouse behind the 18th green, where they sprayed the fans with champagne from a second-floor balcony, serenaded by chants of "Ole! Ole! Ole!"
"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 man 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 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 U.S. captain Corey Pavin backloaded his lineup in the hope 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. Luke Donald, Ian Poulter 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 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.