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Europe wins final battle of nerves, retakes Cup

Graeme McDowell, left, and Rory McIlroy celebrate after Europe held off the United States. McDowell won the final match.

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Graeme McDowell, left, and Rory McIlroy celebrate after Europe held off the United States. McDowell won the final match.

NEWPORT, Wales — The pressure was more than Graeme McDowell wanted.

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The heartbreak was more than Hunter Mahan could handle.

The longest Ryder Cup in history came down to the last match Monday at Celtic Manor, a moment that defines a career.

Clinging to a 1-up lead with three holes to play, with Europe needing his match to reclaim the gold trophy, McDowell gently sent a 15-foot putt toward the cup and set off a ground-shaking roar when it dropped for birdie.

"The best putt I've hit in my life," McDowell said.

Then Mahan was well short on the par-3 17th, flubbed a chip and conceded a par that gave Europe the needed 14½ points.

"I hoped that I wasn't going to be needed," McDowell said. "Coming down the stretch there, I've never felt nerves like it in my life. The U.S. Open felt like a back nine with my dad back at Portrush compared to that."

The thrilling finish was set up by big wins from the best U.S. players, and a stunning comeback by 21-year-old rookie Rickie Fowler, who won the last three holes with birdies to escape with a half-point against Edoardo Molinari. That gave the Americans 13½ points, and they only needed a halve in the last match.

Just as Fowler was being mobbed by teammates, Mahan made a birdie putt on the 15th to cut McDowell's lead to 1-up.

McDowell could barely keep his hands steady on his 6-iron from 181 yards to hit the shot at 16 that set up his birdie. And he couldn't hold back his emotions on the 17th, when the match ended with his 3-and-1 victory.

Neither could Mahan.

"That birdie on 16 was huge," Mahan said, fighting back tears. "He beat me."

That was all he could say before bowing his head.

Up to then, it had been a drab week, with two rain delays that forced a revamped schedule and led to the first Monday finish.

"Graeme McDowell was put there for a good reason — he's full of confidence and that showed," European captain Colin Montgomerie said. "That birdie on 16 was just quite unbelievable. … This is the greatest moment of my golfing career."

Tiger Woods had his best Ryder Cup, winning his opening two matches with Steve Stricker and overwhelming Francesco Molinari on the back nine for a 4-and-3 victory. Phil Mickelson, 0-3 in the team portion, won 4 and 3 against Peter Hanson in singles.

"Every one of us can look back on a match and say that this could have been the deciding factor, that could have been the deciding factor," Mickelson said.

Woods said: "We came so close, it's a shame."

Fast facts

A look at Europe's 14½-13½ victory at the 7,378-yard, par-71 Twenty Ten course at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales:

Winning point: In the closest finale since 1991, U.S. Open champ Graeme McDowell, playing in the last match against Hunter Mahan, delivered the winner on No. 17. Mahan conceded a par putt after flubbing a chip and missing his par putt.

Monday's tally: The United States won the singles matches 7-5 but could not overcome a 9½-6½ deficit from team play.

Quotable: "We started off a little slow. We came back hard. We almost got there. I can only say it's been an honor and a privilege to call them teammates." — Corey Pavin, U.S. captain.

Key stat: Europe has lost the Ryder Cup at home only once in the past 25 years, 15-13 in 1993 at the Belfry in England.

Series standings: The United States leads 25-12-2 overall, but Europe has won six of the past eight. "We're starting to get down to that word 'dominance,' " Europe's Luke Donald said.

Up next: The Sept. 28-30, 2012 Ryder Cup will be played at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.

Europe wins final battle of nerves, retakes Cup 10/04/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 4, 2010 10:30pm]
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