Dressed in the colours of the late Seve Ballesteros, Europe were fittingly fighting for all they were worth on the final day of the Ryder Cup in Chicago.
But after four hours’ play they were still needing nearly everything to go their way to have a chance.
The four-point overnight deficit became three when Luke Donald beat Masters champion Bubba Watson 2&1 in the top game.
Scot Paul Lawrie was on course to register the second win of the singles as he led FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker by four with four to go and world number one Rory McIlroy – at the centre of attention again for a different reason even before he hit a shot – was two up on Keegan Bradley with three to go.
But with Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner all holding advantages America’s bid to regain the trophy they lost at Celtic Manor two years ago was still looking good.
The day had a quite astonishing start when word reached everybody that McIlroy was needing a police escort to reach the course in time for his match.
Two minutes late and he would forfeit the opening hole, five minutes late and he faced disqualification, but to the relief of every European he was driven into the parking lot with 10 minutes to go, ran across to the practice putting green and then proceeded to reach the turn in a four under par 32, albeit only two-up.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal admitted his heart was “racing quicker than expected” and added: “We did not have that in mind.
“All of a sudden we realised Rory was not here and started to look for him. Finally we got hold of him and he came in.” It was reported that the Northern Irishmen had seen a 12.25am tee-off time on television, but it was Eastern Time - one hour ahead of Chicago.
The United States, addressed by former Presidents George and George W Bush yesterday evening, led 10-6 overnight, which meant Olazabal’s side had to take eight of the 12 games to retain the trophy with a tie.
It would match the record recovery of Ben Crenshaw’s team in Boston in 1999 – a match that ended so controversially with a premature invasion of the 17th green - but things began promisingly for Europe.
Nearly three hours after the start the Americans were not ahead in any of the first six games, but still had no reason to panic.
Lead-off man Donald, playing in the city that has been his home for the past 15 years, was four-up on Bubba Watson with five to go, missed a five-footer for victory on the next and then saw his opponent chip dead on the 15th and chip in at the next.
Watson went long into the crowd off the 17th tee, however, and needed to chip in again when Donald hit a bunker shot close, but made it only to the fringe and conceded.
“It was a big honour for me that Ollie had enough trust in me to go out and get that first point,” Donald said. “That means a lot and I did what I had to do.
“It certainly helped having some local support. It wasn’t totally going Bubba’s way – I felt a lot of love from the crowd.”
Ian Poulter, yesterday’s star, was second out, but found himself all square with US Open champion Webb Simpson with two holes remaining.
Three other games were level and Europe desperately needed them all to come out on top in them – and turn a couple of others around.
Lawrie closed the door in style with a superb pitch to four feet on the 15th and, when Snedeker hit a poor chip and was unable to make a birdie, the putt was conceded.
That meant a 5&3 win for Lawrie and took the overall match score to 10-8, Europe having taken the last four points available after trailing 10-4 on Saturday afternoon.
McIlroy had been pegged back to all square after 12 holes but birdied the 14th and 15th on his way to completing a 2&1 victory which made it 10-9, and Poulter won the final two holes to beat Simpson and make it four wins out of four.
Parity only lasted a few minutes before Dustin Johnson completed a 3&2 win over Nicolas Colsaerts, but that was before a sensational finish from Justin Rose.
One down to Mickelson with two play, Rose holed from 40ft on the 17th for a birdie two – drawing a sporting round of applause and a thumbs-up from his opponent – and then from 14ft for another on the 18th to snatch victory and level the scores at 11-11.
With Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari leading in the bottom three matches, Europe were in position to win for the first time by claiming a 14-14 tie.
America went 12-11 up when Zach Johnson finished off McDowell on the 17th and they were back on course for victory with Furyk and Dufner ahead, Stricker level after Kaymer went in the lake on 13 and Woods going ahead for the first time with a par on the same hole.
They all had to finish things off, however, and Europe clung to a glimmer of hope.
Westwood beat Kuchar 3&2 - that after being asked to hole from little more than a foot for the victory - and when Furyk bogeyed the last two holes to lose to Garcia it was 13-12 to Europe.
Hanson then won the 17th to be one down again, but Kaymer bogeyed the 15th and was all square with Stricker, while Molinari birdied the long 14th to get back on terms with Woods.
As it stood with three games left it would be a tie – good enough for Europe.
Hanson pulled his approach into a bunker on the last, failed to get up and down and lost to Dufner.
Now the scoreboard read 13-13 and the last two games were level.