MEDINAH, Ill. — Jose Maria Olazabal squeezed his eyes shut as they filled with tears, overwhelmed and overjoyed that the Ryder Cup still belongs to Europe.
His players wore on their sleeves the image of the late Seve Ballesteros, the soul of European golf in this event, and played their hearts out Sunday at Medinah Country Club, chipping away at a four-point deficit until completing a comeback even more remarkable than the Americans' in coming back from four down to Europe to win at Brookline in 1999.
This one was on the road, where the Europeans didn't have the advantage of a flag-waving crowd carrying them along. All they had was a message from Olazabal, their Spanish captain, to "play your socks off" and the spirit of Ballesteros, who died of a brain tumor in May 2011.
"I'm pretty sure he's very happy where he is today," Olazabal said after the 14½-13½ win.
The Americans were simply stunned.
They began the day with a 10-6 lead and needed just 4½ points out of 12 singles matches, their traditional strength, to reclaim the Cup. But Europe won the day 8½ to 3½, with the only U.S. singles victories coming from Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Cup rookie Jason Dufner.
Even worse, three times the United States came to the 17th hole with a chance to win a match, only for Europe to deliver the key shots that won the Ryder Cup. Ian Poulter won the last two holes against Webb Simpson. Justin Rose had a birdie-birdie finish to beat Phil Mickelson. Sergio Garcia won the last two holes with pars to beat Jim Furyk.
Even at the very end, the result could have gone either way. In the 11th match, Martin Kaymer stood over a 6-foot par putt he needed to make to assure Europe would keep the trophy. If he missed, Tiger Woods was in the fairway behind him, ready to take the final point the Americans needed.
Kaymer poured it in to beat Steve Stricker.
Woods delivered the final U.S. half-point, losing his final hole to halve his match with Francesco Molinari.
"We're all kind of stunned," U.S. captain Davis Love said. "It's a little bit shocking. We were playing so well, we figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there (Sunday). We got a couple of matches flipped there in the middle that cost us."
It is a collapse the Americans won't soon forget. Just 24 hours earlier, they had a 10-4 lead with two team four-ball matches still on the course. They were ahead in one, and Woods and Stricker were closing in on the other.
They lost both.
That lit an emotional fuse for Europe, Rose said: "It was a glimmer of hope … but it was huge. We didn't need a big pep talk from Jose. For the first time, we felt inspired. When he handed out the singles (lineup), we liked what we saw. Golf does the talking at the end of the day, but we had a feeling."
Olazabal frontloaded his lineup, putting his in-form players on the course early in an attempt to commandeer the momentum. It worked. Europe won the first five matches, even with one of those players, Rory McIlory arriving 10 minutes before his tee time.
McIlroy said he mixed up his time because the TV coverage he was watching in the team hotel announced tee times in Eastern time, one hour ahead of the tournament's Central time zone.
After arriving in an unmarked police car, McIlroy was unable to warm up on the driving range, settling for a few practice putts. Though he mis-hit his opening drive, he quickly settled down and defeated Keegan Bradley 2 and 1.
"It's my own fault," McIlroy said. "If I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captains this week, I would never forgive myself. I'm just obviously happy to get the point and help the cause out a little bit."
Said Love, "Once those guys got the momentum, it was hard."
Asked if he could explain what had happened from Saturday to Sunday night, Poulter — 4-0-0 in this Cup and whose five straight birdies late gave Europe one of those final four-ball wins Saturday — was temporarily speechless. Finally, he pulled at his left sleeve, showing the silhouette of Ballesteros.
"That's how I explain it," Poulter said.