They did it again: the European team left millions of US fans – following the action at Medinah or watching the event in their homes – incredulous as their compatriots, seemingly certain of victory thanks to a huge advantage going into the last day, succumbed in desperation before the overwhelming avalanche of their rivals’ play.
The battalion captained by José María Olazábal embarked on an unbelievable fight back, securing eight and a half of the 12 points on offer in the final-day singles matches, to regain the Ryder Cup and return home with the highly prized trophy.
In the end it was the same result as in Wales in 2010: 14 ½-13 ½. On that occasion it was Graeme McDowell who, on the 17th hole at Celtic Manor, won the decisive point; this time that honour went to Martin Kaymer on the 18th.
The 39th edition of what is considered the third most important sporting event in the world – held at Medinah Country Club in Chicago (Illinois) – was one of the most exciting of all time. Dressed in the colours of the late Seve Ballesteros, Europe pulled off one of his trademark great escapes in what will go down as the “Miracle of Medinah”.
What looked mission impossible when Europe trailed 10-4 at one point late on Saturday night suddenly became possible after they dramatically won the first five singles games, with Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Paul Lawrie all putting in colossal performances, and then picked up further points from Lee Westwood and Sergio García.
That put José María Olazábal’s side, almost unbelievably, 13-12 up and as the holders they needed only a tie to retain the cup. Yet they ended up winning it 14 ½-13 ½.
Three games were still on the course. Peter Hanson lost the first of them on the final green, but Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari had it in their power to retain the famous gold trophy.
And Kaymer, left out all day on Saturday, was the one to deliver the point they required to match the biggest comeback in the event’s history.
He was up against Steve Stricker. Level with two to go, the American bogeyed the short 17th after hitting his chip far too strongly. Kaymer, bunkered off the final tee, found the green and had two putts for it once Stricker missed his long birdie attempt.
He gave himself and his team-mates palpitations when he sent his first one two metres past, but 21 years on from compatriot Bernhard Langer missing from the same distance to lose at Kiawah Island Kaymer made the one back and sparked jubilant scenes.
Moments before, Molinari had fallen one down to Tiger Woods by bogeying the 17th himself, but suddenly it did not matter. The Cup was going back across the Atlantic.
Earlier, the four-point overnight deficit became three when Luke Donald beat US Masters champion Bubba Watson 2 and 1 in the top game. It was a massive relief after he led by four with four to play.
Scot Paul Lawrie beat Sunday’s FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker 5 and 3 – he was six-under with an eagle and four birdies – and Rory McIlroy then saw off previously unbeaten Keegan Bradley 2 and 1.
Ian Poulter, whose finish to the second session of fourballs really inspired the comeback, made it four wins out of four – and 12 wins in his last 14 cup games – when he defeated US Open champion Webb Simpson on the last after being two down early on.
They were level with two to go, but Simpson failed to get up and down from a bunker on the short 17th and could not grab the birdie he needed on the last.
Justin Rose’s second win over Phil Mickelson in his Cup career came in amazing fashion. He trailed by one with two to play, but holed from 13 metres on the 17th and five metres at the last.
Mickelson, America’s record cap-holder and winner of his first three games, could only stand and admire – and graciously applauded everything Rose did at the end. Mickelson can still consider himself to have had a good week.
The only previous side to win from four down entering the singles was Ben Crenshaw’s in Boston in 1999, but Europe have arguably trumped that with this most incredible away win.
Olazábal in Tears of Joy
Europe’s captain, who could not hold back his tears, was exultant. “This victory means a lot, not only for me but for European golf, for these 12 fantastic players, the four vice captains, the caddies... the triumph is for all of Europe.
“Last night the boys went to bed believing in themselves, convinced that it was going to be a difficult task but not impossible. I told them there was a halo of hope. This morning they came out very motivated to give their all, and they played great golf. I am very proud and the happiest man in the world.
“We had no room for maneuver. The key was to start earning points quickly, and we knew that if we succeeded we could have a chance.
“It has been a very tough week. Things didn't work out for us during the first two days, but this morning our team started sinking putts, the scoreboard immediately turned blue and we managed to win the first points, which was essential. I am used to feeling the pressure, playing for everything in a tournament, and I have won two majors, but this is much more. It has been a wonderful day, the happiest of my life.
“When I saw the pairings I told the guys that the games were very balanced and we could win. Nothing is going to console Davis (Love III); nothing can be said to him because there is no possible consolation. The same thing happened to us in '99. The Ryder Cup would not be what it is today without the contribution of the continental players.
“Sergio's point was very important. He gave us oxygen and extra hope at a key moment. Poulter feels extra motivation at the Ryder Cup like no other tournament. Martin Kaymer is a great player; he was happy to win the point which meant we retained the Cup.
“When I get home I’ll remember all this week’s experiences. I don't know if we are fully aware yet of what we have achieved.”