In the nostalgic rush to recall the magic moment, the critical moment before is invariably forgotten. So it has been with Graeme McDowell and the birdie on the 16th at Celtic Manor which all but secured the Ryder Cup.
Of course, it is so very easy to picture the little Ulsterman on that green, with his arms outstretched as his ball nestles at the bottom of the cup after traversing 12 treacherous downhill feet. It put McDowell two-up with two to play and needing just a half on either the 17th or 18th to regain the trophy for Europe. It was no given, but such was the momentum created by McDowell with that three on the imposing 500-yarder, it seemed to be. The body language of Hunter Mahan, his opponent, certainly took on a four-lettered feel.
McDowell, himself, was to call it “the best putt of my entire life”; but he was also to refer to “the best second shot of my entire life”. It was that perfectly, nervelessly struck six-iron which had his team-mates swooning.
Context is everything in golf and, in this instant, the context was truly terrifying. The last singles out, McDowell had believed his tussle would be a “dead rubber” and that he would be out in the country when Europe prevailed. How wrong he was. As the US clawed back the 91/2-61/2 overnight deficit it gradually became apparent that the first four-day Ryder Cup in history was going to the wire. For the home crowd, it would be G-Mac or bust.
The Ulsterman realised as much when Colin Montgomerie walked on to the 16th fairway. “Dyou want to know how Edoardo got on?” asked the captain. The elder Molinari brother had been four up with four to play, but sensationally lost them all to the remarkable rookie Rickie Fowler. The half-point meant McDowell would have to win - or else Corey Pavin would be taking the Cup back home.
McDowell nodded. “I was so nervous anyway, it didn't matter what Monty told me,” he later recalled. There was little wonder why. For the first dozen or so holes he and Mahan had traded blows in surreal isolation, but now, as the only game still running, the crowd of 35,000 swarmed to the final three holes. In the frenzy, the mud-splattered suspensions of the first three days were forgotten. This expectancy on that so-called magic Monday only added to the tension.
But it wasn't just the fans; the teams were there, too. As McDowell looked across the fairway he could see his team urging him on - and the US team trying desperately not to portray the opposite sentiment. “It was the most nervous I've ever felt,” he said. “Compared to that the win in the US Open at Pebble Beach suddenly seemed like nine holes with my father around our home course.”
So Montgomerie told him exactly what was needed, McDowell replied “Oh” and his caddie, Ken Comboy, held out his six-iron. One practice swing, two practice swings and the skinny green cut into the slope 181 yards ahead narrowed by the second. Only three birdies had been recorded there all week and Thomas Bjorn, one of the Europe vice captains, explained why. “It's one of the most demanding par fours a professional will play all year,” he said. “You take your four and run to the next tee.”
But for McDowell there was no place to run. Mahan had missed the green, but deep down McDowell knew he would make his four. After losing the 15th, this was McDowell's chance to hammer the nail back in. With that quick motion of his - which, due to technical difficulties, he actually had made shorter for the week - McDowell blazed it at the pin. As soon as it landed, the Europe contingent jumped and danced. In the semi-rough McDowell's two fellow Ulsterman broke into a high-fiving quickstep on the march to the green. “How good was that Rors?” said Clarke to McIlroy. “Christ, how good was that?” The answer was very. Yet it was about to get a hole lot better.