Golf: Faldo inspires single-minded triumph

31st RYDER CUP: Captain signs off in style as Europe overcome two-point deficit to win on American soil for only the second time
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The Independent Online
Europe, traditionally weak in the singles, outplayed the United States to win the 31st Ryder Cup at Oak Hill yesterday. "People had written me off as a three time loser," Bernard Gallacher, Europe's captain said. Congratulating his team he said: "This was a terrific achievement."

Gallacher's record had been played two, lost two but he can now step down as captain with his reputation enhanced. The United States, who have won the Cup on 23 occasions to Europe's six, led 9-7 after the foursomes and fourballs and only needed five points from the 12 singles to ensure that they retained the Cup. They didn't get them.

Instead Europe notched up seven victories and halved another, thus winning by a point, 141/2 to 131/2. That was the score at Kiawah Island four years ago. The order in the singles worked exceptionally well for Gallacher but Lanny Wadkins, the US captain, gambled on the form of Curtis Strange and it backfired.

Strange did not qualify for the match and has not won on the US Tour since winning the US Open at Oak Hill in 1989. He was one of Wadkins's two choices but his record here was the worst of either team: played three, lost three. Yesterday Strange had a chance to frustrate Europe but he blew it. He missed a four foot putt at the 16th and a chance to go two up on Nick Faldo.

Faldo also had something to prove. He had played four, lost three but when it mattered he came up with the point. He holed a crucial eight foot putt to win the 17th hole and although he missed the fairway at the 18th he played a terrific pitch to within four feet of the flag and made it to win the hole and the match. "Everything was shaking except the putter," Faldo said.

Had Strange made a nine- foot putt to halve the match the result would have been a draw and the US, as the holders, would have retained the Cup. As it was an emotional Seve Ballesteros, crying like a baby, was able to give Faldo a victory hug.

Faldo's triumph gave Europe 131/2 points and the winning contribution came from the lone Irishman Philip Walton, although not without considerable drama and tension. Walton, making his Ryder Cup debut, was three up with three to play on Jay Haas. The American holed out from a bunker to win the 16th and Walton lost the 17th where he missed a four-foot putt.

Once again the formidable 18th came into play and Walton managed to survive, just, by matching Haas's five. The European team, who were barely able to watch, embraced Walton. Gallacher's middle order had undermined the United States with David Gilford, Colin Montgomerie, and Sam Torrance all winning. "I liked that draw," Gallacher said.

The Americans led 10-7 but then ran into trouble. Gilford, one up on Brad Faxon, missed the green at the 18th with his approach shot and was left with an extremely testing chip shot. Gilford has an impressive game but chipping is his Achilles heel and he duly duffed it and then put his ball about 15 feet past with his fourth. He holed it for a five and that was good enough for the match as Faxon missed a short putt for par.

In the opening game, Seve Ballesteros was beaten 4 and 3 by Tom Lehman. The extraordinary thing about this match is that it went to the 15th. Ballesteros was all over the place. He did not hit a fairway until the 10th hole by which time he was only one down. However, Lehman won the 11th, 13th and 14th holes.

Then Mark James and Howard Clark, who had been omitted after being beaten in the foursomes on Friday morning, made crucial contributions. James defeated Jeff Maggert 4 and 3 and Clark beat Peter Jacobsen one up.

At the 11th Clark had a hole in one with a six iron to make the game all square and he went one up at the 16th. "I hadn't hit a good six iron all week," Clark said, "and that was just about the best six iron I've hit in my life."

James said: "The pressure in these things doesn't get any easier to handle. This is the toughest yet. I was nervous on every shot but that's good. It gives you a bit of adrenalin and that's a bonus."

Ian Woosnam looked as if was going to enhance Europe's cause. The Welshman was two up on Fred Couples after 10 holes and was one up with two holes to play. Couples won the 17th to make the game all square and that's how it finished after Woosnam's putt for a three, the hole and the match, slipped just past the cup. Woosnam slumped to his knees. In seven Ryder Cup appearances he has yet to win a singles, losing five and halving two.

Gallacher, who is expected to relinquish the captaincy to Seve Ballesteros in Valderrama in 1997, said: "This was a real team effort. Every player contributed something."

It also worked in Europe's favour that Wadkins put Phil Mickelson out last. Mickelson was the only player with a 100 per cent record in the match but only played three times. By the time he had defeated Per- Ulrik Johansson the match had been lost.

Five matches went down the 18th and Europe won four of them. "Our desire was very strong," Gallacher said. When a four was needed at the 18th the Americans came up with a five. "I don't think it's a question of choking," he added.

Strange finished 5, 5, 5. "There's nobody I'd rather go head to head with than Nick Faldo," Strange said. "I want to beat the best."

Ken Jones at the Ryder Cup, page 20