In the morning's semi-final, Tiger Woods got the cue to hit the road after a bogey at the 17th. The world No 1's defeat by a player 13 years older, 189 places lower in the world rankings and considerably less rich, signalled the collapse of the American dream team and a remarkable victory for Spain.
Sadly for Santiago Luna, the unlikely hero of the morning, the cycle of waxing and waning in the game is preciously short. In the afternoon's final, the Spaniard fell to Retief Goosen, whose run of 10 successive victories leaves him one short of Greg Norman's record and has much to do with South Africa becoming the first team to successfully defend the Alfred Dunhill Cup since Australia did so in 1986.
Goosen's 72 beat Luna by one but David Frost was home by two against Miguel Angel Jimenez after a 76. The high winds made scoring difficult but the Spaniard bogeyed four of the last five holes to hand South Africa victory. For good measure, Ernie Els defeated Jose Maria Olazabal by two with a 75.
"To have two players as strong as Ernie and Retief is great," said the South African captain David Frost. "It doesn't matter how strong the wind blows because no one is stronger than these two guys."
Where the South Africans succeeded was in winning the matches that mattered. They lost to Germany on Friday but beat their rivals Zimbabwe on Saturday and Australia in the semi-finals.
Ultimately the dream team of Woods, Mark O'Meara and John Daly failed to do the same. Proof of their superiority during the group stage was the fact that their three-man aggregate for the first three rounds was 18 strokes better than anyone else. The next best aggregate was that of Sweden, the runners-up in Group One, and England, who came third in the same group, outscored Group Two winners Spain.
Luna, who was born at the Puerta de Hierro club in Madrid and was coached by Ramon Sota, the uncle of Seve Ballesteros, played an important part earlier in the week giving Spain a narrow victory over China when he beat Cheng Jun by a score of 80 to 81.
The 35-year-old found himself in the pivotal match in the semi-final because while John Daly, six ahead at the turn, birdied the last to beat Jimenez and give him an unbeaten record in four matches, Mark O'Meara was always behind Jose Maria Olazabal. Woods led by two at the turn and by four with eight to play. By the 17th, the match was level, however.
Woods was on the green but 45 feet from the pin on the front right. He left his approach putt six feet short and then saw Luna play a delicate chip over the infamous bunker to two feet. "Impressive," Woods said.
While Luna would duly make his par, Woods missed his to fall one behind up the last. Both drove into the Valley of Sin, Woods having slightly skied his tee shot. The American putted up to four feet past the pin, and in trying to leave his putt just short of the hole, Luna saw his effort roll back off the green.
"I wanted to get my ball just over the hill, so it would run to the hole," Luna said. "I did not want to hit it too hard and see it run past but I did not get the right speed and it rolled back. My caddie said: `Relax, and take two putts', and I did. This time I got the speed right and I knew I would take four."
So Woods had to hole his for a birdie to take the match into extra holes but the putt missed on the left. "I think it was more difficult for him today," said Luna. "He is the No 1 and is meant to beat me."
"I pulled a couple of short putts at the last two holes," said Woods. "I just didn't hit them the way I would have liked and it wasn't good enough to take the matches into extra holes. I have to hand it to Santiago."
But in the final, the Spaniard found Goosen, the 29-year-old from Johannesburg, too strong. Goosen had won his morning match against Australia's Stuart Appleby by coming home in 34 and he did the same against Luna despite trailing by two at the turn.
Luna holed from 18 feet for a par at the 17th to take the match up the last level but the Spaniard then drove through the green at the 354-yard hole. He was unlikely to keep his chip from the thick rough on the green and, in the Valley of Sin again, he had to get down in two for a par. He did so but Goosen, having found the green from the tee, two-putted for birdie.
"Retief has been unbelievable," said Els. "He deserves a medal for the way he has performed these last two years. I mean, 10 wins out of 10 is incredible round here. He has been the player we've relied on all the time. I can't praise his contribution highly enough. He was our trump card."
n Laura Davies is to take on Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Jesper Parnevik and five other men in a 72-hole competition next month. The Johnnie Walker Super Tour will be staged in Malaysia on 10 November, Thailand two days later, Taiwan on 14 November and then China the following day.
Davies, the former women's world No 1, will be competing for pounds 220,000 prize money. The rest of the field is Brian Watts, Marimuthu Ramayah, Prayad Marksaeng, Chang Tse-peng and Felix Casas.
DUNHILL CUP SCORES
United States lost to Spain 1-2
US names first
J Daly 73 bt M A Jimenez 75
T Woods 72 lost to S Luna 71
M O'Meara 76 lost to J M Olazabal 72
South Africa bt Australia 2-1
South African names first
D Frost 72 bt C Parry 78
R Goosen 71 bt S Appleby 74
E Els 73 lost to S Elkington 72
South Africa bt Spain 3-0
South African names first
R Goosen 72 bt S Luna 73
D Frost 76 bt M A Jimenez 78
E Els 75 bt J M Olazabal 77
(South Africa receive pounds 100,000 per man, Spain pounds 50,000 per man).