Souhan: Colossal collapse gives Ryder Cup to Europe

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 1, 2012 - 3:15 PM

In an unprecedented rally, the Europeans started fast and ended with 10 1/2 of the final 14 points.

MEDINAH, ILL. - You want the essence of the European spirit in the Ryder Cup? After a guy from Germany sank the winning putt, an Irishman drenched in French champagne stood on American soil and thanked a man from Spain.

"I think if Seve could have written the script, he would have written it exactly like this," Graeme McDowell said. "I hope he's up there somewhere having a cerveza or two."

All week, the European players referred to the "man on the sleeve." They wore the late Seve Ballesteros' image on their shirts and carried bags bearing his silhouette.

They played with the spirit of the Spaniard to avenge the most painful loss suffered by another. European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal was playing Justin Leonard in 1999 at Brookline when Leonard's 45-foot putt unleashed a wild American celebration on the 17th green, with Olazabal waiting to putt.

Olazabal's miss gave the United States the most dramatic victory in Ryder Cup history. Sunday at Medinah Country Club, Olazabal's team trumped it. Down 10-4 late on Saturday and 10-6 to start the final day, Europe won the first five matches of the day, precipitating an unprecedented American collapse.

When Martin Kaymer's par putt on the 18th beat Steve Stricker, Europe had secured enough points to retain the Cup. After Francesco Molinari halved the final, meaningless match with Tiger Woods, Europe had a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory, having won 10 1/2 of the last 14 points.

"I guess they had to reroute the champagne from the American locker room to the European locker room," McDowell said.

Judging by the celebration, they probably ran out. After making his putt, Kaymer exulted, then leaped into the arms of Sergio Garcia. The European fans began inserting Kaymer's name into a variety of songs, and they may still be singing.

"It's a feeling that I've never had before," said Kaymer, who won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

For most of his teammates, it was merely a reminder. The Europeans had won seven of the past nine Cups. Never had they won like this. The biggest difference between the U.S. comeback in '99 and what happened at Medinah was that Europe had to win on foreign soil, had to silence a crowd instead of riding its emotions.

American captain Davis Love III played on the team that won in '99, and he and his teammates still tell stories about it. "I don't have a reaction yet," Love said shortly after Kaymer's putt fell. "We're all kind of stunned. We know what it feels like now from the '99 Ryder Cup. It's a little bit shocking."

Paris will host the next Ryder Cup. By the time the competition returns to America, at Hazeltine National in 2016, Love may still be explaining why he benched undefeated pairing Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson on Saturday afternoon, and why he sent his young players out early against Europe's best players.

"You know, we were playing so well, everyone on our team was playing so well, we just figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there," Love said.

When the European team was storming the 18th green, Woods stood in the fairway, one shot up on Molinari. Sunday started with Bubba Watson asking for American fans to cheer on the first tee; it ended with Woods playing out a meaningless 18th hole while European fans sang.

"We are in shock," Justin Rose said.

Shock? That's what the Americans felt. Rose was probably just describing what so many teams from Europe have experienced in the Ryder Cup, the familiar chill of champagne soaking through his shirt.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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