McDowell: 'I have never felt as nervous in my life'

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The Independent Online

As if they did not have enough Ryder Cup heroes already, Ireland came up with another amid amazing scenes at Celtic Manor today - a real giant in Graeme McDowell.

Following in the famous footsteps of Eamonn Darcy, Christy O'Connor, Philip Walton and Paul McGinley, the 31-year-old from Portrush won back the trophy for Europe when everything depended on him.

If McDowell thought he had faced the ultimate test of character when he won his first major at the US Open in June, he was made to think again.

"I have never felt as nervous in my life," he admitted.

Yet under such enormous pressure - this was the first match to go to the final game since 1991 - McDowell, back at the course where he won the Wales Open four months ago, beat Hunter Mahan.

And he did so thanks to a dramatic 20-foot birdie putt at the 16th and then a par on the short 17th.

Colin Montgomerie's side lost the singles 7-5, but having taken a three-point lead into the day - the first Monday in Ryder Cup history, of course, after all the rain - they triumphed by a 14 1/2-13 1/2 margin.

"This is crazy," added McDowell. "I was trying to do it for 11 team-mates, for all the fans, for the caddies, for Europe and for Monty - and we were all trying to win it for Seve (Ballesteros) too.

"The back nine at Pebble Beach felt like a back nine playing with my dad at Royal Portrush.

"It's so much pressure and this is a special feeling - there's nothing quite like it.

"Monty was amazing. For the last two years he has been up for this."

Yet the Scot immediately pushed the praise back to his team and backroom staff.

Montgomerie said: "Graeme was put there for a very good reason. He won the US Open, was full of confidence and it showed. His birdie on the 16th was unbelievable.

"We got off to a flyer, were up in eight and it was over, but they came back extremely well and all credit to them."

After early morning fog had threatened to add to the weather woes, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker scored the first two points.

Johnson thrashed US PGA champion Martin Kaymer 6&4 and Stricker beat new world number two Lee Westwood 2&1.

But Ian Poulter demolished Matt Kuchar 5&4 and 21-year-old Rory McIlroy halved with Stewart Cink to make it 11-9.

Last year the Ryder Cup was described by McIlroy as "an exhibition", but after his first taste of it - one win, two halves with Cink and one defeat to him - what a change of mind.

"In two years' time I do not want to be watching this on television," McIlroy commented.

"This has been the best week of my life - and this is the best event in golf by far."

McIlroy's relief was palpable, however, after his third shot from the sand by the final green rolled back in and he then got up and down.

Luke Donald took Europe close with a last-green success over Jim Furyk after being three up with five to play - and after a man dressed only in a thong ran on to the green and danced - and Miguel Angel Jimenez followed with a 4&3 success over Bubba Watson.

Six games were still left on the course at that point, though, and when Jeff Overton beat Ross Fisher, and Tiger Woods - nine under par and seven under for his last seven holes - took care of Francesco Molinari 4&3 the tension was mounting.

That was even more the case when Phil Mickelson, point-less from his first three games, beat Peter Hanson 4&2.

Padraig Harrington could not find a way back against Zach Johnson, also losing on the 16th, and then 21-year-old Rickie Fowler produced an amazing fightback against Molinari's brother Edoardo.

Four down after 12 and three down with three to play, the US tour rookie picked by American captain Corey Pavin on a hunch birdied them all, holing from 20 feet at the 17th and 18 feet on the last.

It meant that instead of needing "only" a half, McDowell had to win to keep the United States without a victory away from home since 1993.

But he was equal to the task.

What a man, what a team, what a match and what a captain. The Full Monty indeed.