Comeback kings honour Seve

Martin Kaymer proved the unlikely hero for Europe last night as Jose Maria Olazabal’s side staged a remarkable and record comeback from 10-6 down overnight to retain the Ryder Cup on a dramatic night in Chicago.

Comeback kings honour Seve

The day had begun with Rory McIlroy avoiding embarrassment at the first tee to deliver victory on the 17th green as the world number one helped Europe stage the unprecedented fightback on foreign soil but it was Kaymer who clinched the victory on the 18th hole over Steve Stricker that took the Europeans to the magic 14-point mark that meant they retain the trophy for another two years.

It got even better still, as with the celebrations already under way, Tiger Woods missed a three-foot putt to halve his match with Francesco Molinari at the 18th and give Europe a stunning 14.5-13.5 win few thought was possible 24 hours earlier.

“This one is for the whole of Europe, period,” Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal said, who paid tribute to his dear, late friend Severiano Ballesteros, who died in 2011 and whose image the team had carried on their bags throughout the week and worn on their sleeves yesterday as they wore his signature navy blue and white.

Olazabal had sent his European team to their beds to dream of Ballesteros’s heroics, needing to instil some belief the same way Ben Crenshaw had converted his 1999 US team at Brookline into believers.

“It’s not over. Simple as that,” Olazabal said on Saturday night. “We have a tough task ahead, but I believe it’s not over. That’s what I learned from Seve, and that’s what I’m going to pass to the players.”

A day later and Olazabal added: “Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor in this event for the European side and last night when we were having that meeting I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing.”

The message could quite possibly have sent Rory McIlroy into a trance. The last thing Olazabal needed from the world number one was a missed tee-time that would have cost his main man at least a hole.

Having read his start time on a website that gave it as Eastern Time, McIlroy received a rude awakening when he stepped out of the team hotel to learn he was on the tee to face Keegan Bradley in 25 minutes.

He arrived on time but started his match having hit just two practice putts. Who needs ‘em? By the 17th hole McIlroy was bowing to the crowd and celebrating a famous 2&1 victory over the Americans’ star and previously unbeaten rookie.

McIlroy said: “I liked the idea of playing one of their strongest players and going out there to put a point on the board early for the team, and I was able to do that.”

As for the mad dash to make his tee time, McIlroy added: “It’s my own fault, but if I let down these 11 other boys and vice captains and captain this week I would never forgive myself.’’

It was a day when every point would count. McIlroy was one of Olazabal’s planned assault on the four-point deficit at the top of the singles order and the captain was repaid by five wins from five, Luke Donald leading the way in the first match with a 2&1 win over Bubba Watson.

Next to score was Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, the winner of a meaningless rubber over Jeff Maggert at Brookline, who secured a much more significant point, 5&3 over Brandt Snedeker.

Ian Poulter, the hero of Saturday for Europe, was again saving the best for the last of his match with Webb Simpson. He had followed his five-birdie flourish the previous night by going 2-down to the US Open champion. Back came the English lion, handed the lead at the par-three 17th when Simpson bogeyed. One-up going to the last, Poulter made life hard for himself with a sprayed tee shot right but then performed miracles with his next shot, plucking the ball off a dusty, hard-baked pathway in front of hospitality chalets and cutting it in some 30 yards over trees to the centre of the green to retake the initiative.

When Simpson just missed his 40-footer for birdie, the American’s hat came off in surrender and Poulter had secured his fourth point in four attempts this week.

Justin Rose was locked in a titanic struggle with Phil Mickelson, who was leading the contest 1-up. Both made the green safely but Rose produced one of the putts of the week from 40 feet to send his ball below ground and win a hole in a moment even Mickelson applauded.

All-square at the 18th, Mickelson over the back of green and down a slope to a collection area while Rose stuck his on the green, around 12 feet from the hole. He holed the putt and snatched the point, tying the overall match at 11-all to complete a sweep of the top five matches.

For all the advantages of top-loading Olazabal’s order, the fear was that the American’s would expose the softer underbelly. Dustin Johnson beat Nicolas Colsaerts 3&2 and Jason Dufner was a 2-up winner over a below-par Peter Hanson.

Graeme McDowell had also been out of sorts, stirring briefly with a nerveless putt at the 15th to halve to avoid dormey three and then sending in a magnificent approach to the 16th green, only to miss the putt. When he gave himself too much to do from the back left greenside rough to the front-right green on 17, the game was up, Zach Johnson a 2&1 winner.

And all of a sudden it was down to the bottom order.

Jim Furyk had a Bernhard Langer at Kiawah moment when he missed a short putt at the 18th to hand a point to Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood played the best golf of a pretty average week when he took a point off Matt Kuchar.

Onto the shoulders of Kaymer fell the pressure of retaining the Ryder Cup for Europe. Steve Stricker had handed him the initiative at 17 with a bogey to send the German to the last 1-up. A totally misread putt on 18 from the American handed Kaymer the chance to claim victory win two putts.

The first went uncomfortably past the hole, leaving a five feet putt back. Unlike Furyk, he would not follow Langer into golfing infamy and Kaymer credited the former Masters champion and Ryder Cup-winning captain with giving him an attitude adjustment earlier in the week.

“It’s a feeling I never had before,” Kaymer said. “On Friday I sat down with Bernhard and talked to him about the Ryder Cup because my attitude wasn’t the right one. But now I know how important the Ryder Cup became and is for Olazabal. Bernhard helped me so much.”

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