Flooded Friday to Magic Monday: classic contest ends in golf glory

A nail-biting finish to an unforgettable Ryder Cup has much of Europe transfixed

An event that had on Friday looked like becoming at best a damp squib and at worst an epic washout ended in a blaze of sunshine and glory yesterday as Europe's golfers regained the Ryder Cup in a thrilling finale to the tournament.

Graeme McDowell emerged as the latest in an illustrious line of Irish golfing heroes to clinch victory over the US in the very last match of the day at the Celtic Manor club, near Newport.

Golf, that most respectable of sports, cannot often have been to blame for workers going absent without leave. But yesterday's unprecedented Monday finish lured 35,000 supporters back through the puddles along the Usk Valley to the course created by the billionaire exile Terry Matthews, who had transformed the place of his birth into one of his dreams.

Matthews maintained steadfastly upbeat throughout the first three days of rain delays – even claiming that the poor weather simply meant more business deals could be sealed in the hospitality tents as the rain bucketed down. Yesterday, he got his reward as the sun shone on one of the most absorbing days ever in the Ryder Cup, which had to be extended beyond three days for the first time in its 83-year history.

Europe, who needed to win to regain the trophy while the Americans could draw and retain it, took a three-point lead into yesterday's singles matches, when the 12 players from each side go head-to-head over 18 holes.

History was on Europe's side – a final morning advantage usually proves telling – and soon after lunch they looked home and, for once, dry. But the US big guns finally found their range: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won, Ricky Fowler, the rookie with a taste for over-sized baseball caps, snatched the last three holes against the Italian, Edoardo Molinari, and suddenly it was all down to "G-Mac" – as McDowell is known.

The 31-year-old, from Portrush, Co Antrim, had to beat Hunter Mahan, 28, of Orange County, California. That he did on the penultimate hole. The Cup was Europe's by a point and the celebrations began, many of them centred on Colin Montgomerie, the roly-poly Scot with the short fuse, who had captained Europe to victory.

"Monty was amazing," McDowell said as tributes poured in for a leader who repeatedly trumped his opposite number, the Californian Corey Pavin. Not the least of Monty's achievements was ensuring his team's waterproofs were just that.

Magic Monday, as it has been labelled, will take its place alongside, or probably above, the likes of the 2001 Wimbledon tennis final and the 1997 Grand National as events that caused organisers unexpected headaches.

McDowell, who also won the US Open in June, heaped praise on the passionate home supporters. A daily attendance of 45,000 over the weekend was followed by yesterday's surprisingly healthy turnout. Organisers had been criticised for not allowing sale of tickets for the extra day but their gamble was rewarded, as was the decision to stage the event in Wales in October.

McDowell said: "These fans are amazing to get out here every morning, walking around in the mud."