MEDINAH, Ill. — Match by match, leaderboards throughout Medinah Country Club turned European blue Sunday afternoon.
As each one did, the improbable morphed into the reality of a stunning European comeback that matched the greatest in Ryder Cup history.
Europe overcame a four-point deficit entering Sundays 12 singles matches, claiming eight wins and halving another match to equal the 1999 United States teams famed comeback at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
Only this comeback came on the road in front of what had been a boisterous pro-American Chicago crowd.
We had 12 guys out there today who played with heart and passion like Ive never seen before, said Ian Poulter, who went 4-0-0 at Medinah. It was incredible. It was the best day Ive ever had on the golf course.
The staggering numbers that spell out 8 1/2 points won in singles by Europe and 3 1/2 won by the U.S. are rife with European heroics and American collapses.
Justin Rose drained a 40-foot curling birdie putt on the 17th green and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to turn a 1 down deficit to Phil Mickelson with two holes to play into a 1 up win.
Poulters match with Webb Simpson was all square through 16 holes before a Simpson bogey on the 17th and Poulter birdie on 18 gave Europe another point.
Once those guys got the momentum it was tough, U.S. Ryder Cup Team captain Davis Love III said. A lot of our guys got beat that were ahead. We thought it was a great Ryder Cup, but obviously were going to be bitterly disappointed.
Jim Furyk could have all but clinched the Ryder Cup for the U.S. with a victory over Sergio Garcia in the eighth match and had a 1 up lead with two to play, but he bogeyed the final two holes, missing a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole to lose 1 up.
Cup possession was in the balance in the penultimate match, and Steve Stricker was tied with Martin Kaymer with two holes to play. Stricker bogeyed the 17th with a strong chip and missed 7-foot putt to fall 1 up, assuring the Europeans would retain the Cup.
Its not a good feeling, said Stricker, who said it was one of the biggest disappointments of his golf career. This isnt very good, but Ill be alright. Its more disappointing youre letting your other teammates down and your captain down. Were sad that we let everybody down.
Olazabal loaded the top of his lineup with stars and Ryder Cup stalwarts, and knowing that would be the European tact, Love countered with his hottest players at the top of his lineup. Other than Phil Mickelson, who went out fourth, those players all lacked much Ryder Cup experience. Three of the U.S.s four Cup rookies Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker were among the first five players.
Europe won the first five matches, as Luke Donald beat Bubba Watson 2 and 1, Poulter beat Simpson 2 up, Rory McIlroy beat Bradley 2 and 1, Rose beat Mickelson 1 up and Paul Lawrie beat Snedeker 5 and 3. Dustin Johnson claimed the U.S. first point with a 3 and 2 win in the sixth match.
We needed to get a couple points early, Love said. We figured that first five with Mickelson in the middle was going to get us at least two or three, even if we didnt play well because of the way Keegan was playing and Brandt was playing. Those guys are all major champions. We put some great players out there in the front and they just got beat by guys that were playing well.
We got beat by their good players and we got beat by the players they were trying to hide.
Tiger Woods, looking for his first 2012 Ryder Cup point, went out last for the U.S in a match with Francesco Molinari that wasnt expected to matter, and as it turned out, it didnt.
Woods watched from his drive in the 18th fairway as Kaymer holed a Cup-clinching 5-foot putt on the green ahead, setting off a wild celebration. He had to wait more than 5 minutes for the green to clear before hitting his inconsequential approach shot.
The only drama remaining was mere record keeping whether Europe would retain the Cup with a win or a tie. When Woods conceded a Molinari par putt to lose the hole and halve his match, the Europeans claimed victory.
Celebratory chants of Ole, ole, ole, overcame Woods as he lined up a 4-foot par putt that he missed.
European Ryder Cup Team Captain Jose Maria Olazabal was on the losing European team in 1999, as were several of his players, and Sundays win meant more than redemption. It was also special because it comes a year after fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, who he joined to form the most successful duo in Ryder Cup history, died from brain cancer last year.
Asked what it meant, Olazabal said it means everything before he broke down in tears.
Moments after the match was over, Poulter looked to the sky and pointed to the emblem depicting Ballesteros on his sleeve that was also on all of the European golf bags.
I was saying before to my teammates that I didnt win my match. I think Seve won it for me, said Garcia of Spain. I dont know how he did it. I was trying really, really hard. . . . [Furyk] opened the door a little on the last couple holes and I was able to do it.
Making the comeback more remarkable is the fact the U.S. held a six-point lead late Saturday afternoon. Only five consecutive birdies by Poulter and three birdies on the final five holes by Luke Donald allowed Europe to scrape out the last two four-ball matches 1 up.
You have to have momentum, Love said. They kept claiming it last night and we kept trying to get it back.
Europe has now claimed the past two Ryder Cups, five of the past six and seven of the past nine. Its another tough loss, Love said. It will be another tough two years, so hopefully we can go to Scotland and win one [in 2014].
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.