Golf: Ryder Cup - Faith triumphs as Americans recapture glory

RYDER CUP Remarkable fightback by Leonard secures return of trophy as Europe are unable to resist final-day onslaught by US
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The Independent Online
BEN CRENSHAW'S American team, one of the strongest ever to represent their country, justified their captain's faith in the fates by producing the most sensational comeback to win the 33rd Ryder Cup. Europe could only manage victories from Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington and Paul Lawrie, who two months ago secured the biggest comeback victory at the Open Championship, as the United States won the singles 81/2-31/2 and the match by a single point, 141/2-131/2.

Needing only four points to retain the Cup, Mark James and his collection of exhausted stars and nervous rookies knew it was not going to be easy at the Country Club of Brookline. But no one was quite prepared for the strength of the American fightback.

With eight wins on the board, Justin Leonard secured the victory when he ensured at least a half against Jose Maria Olazabal with a birdie at the 17th. Leonard, who suddenly started holing putts to come back from four down with seven holes to play, holed another from 45 feet from the bottom tier and was then engulfed by his team-mates in premature victory celebrations.

Olazabal had to wait for the gallery to settle before missing his own birdie attempt and the victory dance could begin in earnest. Crenshaw bent and kissed the turf of the 17th green. "I never stopped believing in these guys," Crenshaw said.

"These are the greatest guys I have ever seen. I have never seen such an indomitable spirit. You have to believe in fate. The Ryder Cup transcends any monetary things. You have to play with heart and soul. I told them to go out and try and whitewash them."

Lawrie prevented that with his 4 and 3 in the anchor match against Jeff Maggert and Harrington beat Mark O'Meara at the last to keep Europe's faint hopes alive. But Leonard's brilliant rally against Olazabal decided the contest, though when the Spaniard won the last hole for the half, it stopped the American gaining his first victory in eight Ryder Cup matches.

"I've hit good putts all week but not holed anything and I had to get four-down to do it," Leonard said. "We've been criticised over the last two days but we pulled together and got the job done."

As at Valderrama, Montgomerie, Europe's strong man, was left in the last match on the course, but unlike two years ago, the contest was over when Payne Stewart conceded to the Scot at the last. James, who had guided his inexperienced team through the first two days of foursomes and fourballs to build a 10-6 lead, did not attribute the losses of some of his leading players to tiredness after the heroics of the previous 48 hours.

"You can go out and lose any day of the week," James said. "Any team that loses is going to be criticised. I'm prepared to take the rap."

Starting four points down, double the biggest comeback margin in 32 previous matches, the USA faced the prospect of losing an unprecedented third consecutive match. Their players appeared for the singles in shirts featuring photographs of the Ryder Cup and previous winning American teams designed by Crenshaw.

On Saturday evening the US captain had announced: "I am a big believer in fate and I have a good feeling about this."

It was even better when the Americans, finally playing like the men who occupy the leading spots on the world rankings that they are, took control of the top half of the draw, creating a sea of red on the scoreboard. "I have never seen so much firepower in those top six groups," Crenshaw said.

Not for the first time, while the Europeans seemed to hole all the putts on the first two days, it was the Americans, now with the responsibility of playing on their own, who were doing so yesterday.

All three of the players James had sat out of the opening two days were among the top-six in his order. It was the Open runner-up, Jean Van de Velde, who fell first, losing 6 and 5 to Davis Love, while, in something of a grudge match, Phil Mickelson beat Jarmo Sandelin 5 and 3.

The other three were all players who had played in every series and must have suffered from fatigue. In the vital top match, Lee Westwood lost 3 and 2 to Tom Lehman, who hit every fairway and every green and has not lost any of his three singles, and then Hal Sutton beat Darren Clarke 4 and 2 to tie the match.

The match between Jesper Parnevik and David Duval looked pivotal on paper but the Swede, a hero of the first two days with three and a half points out of four with Sergio Garcia, was demolished 5 and 4 by the American. After a poor first day when the gallery got after him, Duval, who had called the event an "exhibition" prior to playing for the first time, underwent a staggering conversion over the last two days.

"I was wrong about a lot of the other things," the normally placid Duval admitted after celebrating his win with an animated dance around the green. "Usually I go about my business, but here there are 11 other guys relying on me and that gets me excited."

Apparently Duval was an inspirational speaker at the American team meeting on Saturday evening, when Crenshaw invoked the spirit of Harvey Penick, his mentor who died a week before he won his second Masters title in 1995, while the Texas Governor George W Bush talked of America's military heroes.

Andrew Coltart, the world No 66, halved the first six holes against Tiger Woods but then the Scot lost three in a row and as the world No 1 completed a 3 and 2 win. That was followed by Steve Pate, who beat Miguel Angel Jimenez 2 and 1, and Jim Furyk, who quashed the enthusiasm of the 19-year- old Garcia with a 4 and 3 victory.

"Last night Ben kept saying, `We can do this. I've a good thing about this.' I kept thinking, `Golly, I hope this doesn't come back to haunt him.' But he kept saying it so many times. Every time someone said whether we win or lose, somebody would stop them and say, `Wait a minute, we're going to win'."

"We were a family and we made history today," said Sutton. Lehman added: "This is better than winning the Open."

"I never knew how good it was to win a Ryder Cup," said Woods. "We went out with courage and guts. It's a dream come true. I can't say enough about Ben. We did it for him."

Richard Williams and Andrew Longmore, page 3