On Thursday evening at the opening ceremony of the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah, Chicago, Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal paid homage to the late Severiano Ballesteros in his opening speech. Fast forward to Sunday evening and Seve would have been so proud of his side kick, Olazabal, and the European team.
Graeme McDowell got the match underway on Friday morning with a pulled tee shot which was followed almost exactly by opponent Jim Furyk, underlying just how much pressure the players are under in and how it can affect the best of them.
By Saturday evening it looked like it could have been all over for Team Europe, they trailed 10-4 with just two matches in the fourballs left out on the course and it looked as though they were now playing for pride.
Step forward Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, the only Europeans yet to lose a match at Medinah. The pair were two down through 12 holes against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson when they arrived at the par three 13th hole. McIlory holed a birdie putt for the first time during the match to bring them back to just one hole behind. This was the catalyst the European pair needed and it sparked Poulter into playing like a man possessed to bring Europe back in with a small chance of retaining the Cup. In the penultimate match, Donald and Garcia were being pegged back from four holes up by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker but they were able to hold off the Americans charge, to claim a valuable point by a victory margin of just one hole.
Poulter halved the 14th with a birdie, then made another one at 15 to win the hole and get the match back to all square. The Englishman continued his run to give Europe a lead for the first time on the 16th with another birdie, bringing a frightening roar from Poulter as he beat his chest. He quickly calmed himself for the demanding par-3 17th, where he put his tee shot to 8 feet to which Johnson put his ball closer to the pin. Without an ounce of self doubt Poulter stood over his putt and knocked it in, still just 1 up but he now had four birdies on the bounce. They got to the 18th green with Dufner stone dead for his three and Poulter hitting his second to ten feet. As Johnson had the American right to play he allowed Dufner to knock his ball in meaning Poulter needed to hole his fifth consecutive birdie putt to make it 10-6. The outline of Seve on Poulter's bag may as well have been glowing because the putt never looked anywhere else but in the middle of the cup. He had singled-handedly dragged Europe out of the darkness of certain defeat and given them tremendous hope. Utter it quietly but Europe had a chance, a small chance.
The Sunday morning in Chicago brought much American excitement, after all it was widely suggested that this was the strongest team they had ever had. With half an hour until the first tee off Keegan Bradley was buzzing around whipping the crowd up into a frenzy, the cries of “USA, USA” were deafening. Bradley may well have been optimistic as his singles opponent, McIlroy, was yet to arrive at the course after mixing his time up and would have no time to warm up before he went out.
But it was Luke Donald and Bubba Watson who would lead their sides out and if Europe were to have a sniff of retaining the cup, Donald simply had to win. In fact, all of the first five players would have to win as they were Europe’s most in form players. Donald was simply superb and he was never going to lose his opening match. Bubba chipped in on 16 to make it dormy two but Donald parred the 17th to win 2&1.
Paul Lawrie faced the $11 million man, Brandt Snedeker, but the Scot was relentless and after a chip in for eagle on the 10th he never looked back as he won 5&3. 10-8, a good start from the Europeans.
Then there was McIlory, the man who nearly disqualified himself as he was not on the tee in time, but he was never behind, never even looked like being behind. Against an in form Keegan Bradley he closed his match out on the 17th to make it 10-9 to America.
This is was when the magic really started and of course it started with Ian Poulter.
Poulter was out second, surely after yesterday's heroics he had to win his match didn’t he? Well he struggled against US Open champion Webb Simpson and he was 2 down for much of the match, but something happened with Poulter, particularly around the last four holes this weekend. By the 16th he would be back to all square and he then won the 17th to lead the match for the first time. Perfect timing from the man from Woburn. He was never going to lose the last hole, he blocked his drive a long way right, he couldn’t bottle it could he? Of course he couldn’t, he hit a miraculous 8 iron over a line of trees to 12 feet and Simpson conceded the the whole after he could not make a 50 footer to win the whole. Now it was even, 10-10 from no where, and the Europeans had their tails up.
Poulter immediately returned to the 16th where his best mate, Justin Rose, found himself one down to the impressive Phil Mickelson who had had a great match. Rose holed an eight footer to keep himself alive in the match. On the 17th, Rose was left with a 30 footer for birdie with Mickelson off the back of the green. It was Mickelson to go first and in a statement of intent the flag was taken out. The American hit a beautiful chip which rolled past the hole and was given. Rose had to hole this for a chance to win the match and he hit the putt of his life which even left Mickelson applauding his efforts. Simply inspirational stuff.
In the time they walked to the 18th green, Nicolas Colsearts had lost 3&2 to Dustin Johnson to put the Americans back in the lead.
Mickelson went long as he took the flag on at the 18th and Rose hit his second to 10 feet. Mickelson hit a good chip as always, leaving Rose with a putt to win. Let the superlatives roll of the tongue. He rolled it in, and from absolutely no where Rose had won the match bring it back to 11 a piece.
Zach Johnson, who had been impressive all week, comfortably beat Graeme McDowell who was never at the races in this match to put the US back in front, 12-11.
There were now only five matches left on the course, Westwood finished off Matt Kuchar on the 16th to win 3&2, and the scores were again tied.
Furyk never looked like losing to Sergio Garcia, who was suffering with illness, but the American's game went up in smoke down the last three holes and Garcia somehow managed to win the match on the 18th after Furyk missed a six foot putt for a half .
Mission impossible was now probable with just a point needed to retain the Cup but with Dufner beating Swede, Peter Hanson it was 13-13 with just two groups to play.
Martin Kaymer used to be the best player in the world, but in recent times he has been a shadow of his former self, yet he made his way to the 18th green 1 up on Steven Stricker and had an 8 footer to retain the Ryder Cup. When it comes to it German's rarely bottle these situations.
Tiger Woods was waiting back in the fairway potentially just needing a half to win the Ryder Cup for the US, had Kaymer missed.
Kaymer's putt never looked like going anywhere else and the comeback was complete. Molinari ended up winning the 18th after Woods conceded his putt after missing his own par putt. Incredibly Europe had done it, not only retaining the Ryder Cup, but winning it on American soil.
There can be no way better than summing the 39th Ryder Cup up than with the words from European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal, "All men die but not all men live and you made me feel alive again this week."
Jose, your assistants, Team Europe and everyone involved, we salute you.