McDowell's final masterstroke sparks euphoria for team Europe

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The longest Ryder Cup in history was always going to come down to the very last match; it had kept us waiting and it was not going to disappoint. Graeme McDowell was the heroic winner, the last man standing who earned the final point which retained the trophy for Europe by the slimmest 141/2-131/2 margin and triggered a scene unprecedented in its collective euphoria.

Wales's biggest sporting event started in chaos and ended in chaos. But the chaos on that 17th green – as the crowd burst through the ropes and engulfed the two teams – was the chaos of a good kind and one which at last bathed the contest and yes, this country, in a positive light. The quagmire of humiliation had been transformed into a sun-filled amphitheatre which produced one of the great Ryder Cup finishes of all time.

It was an absolute classic with an absolute classic moment. McDowell's putt across the 16th green, which all but sealed the glory, has already entered the annals, next to those of so many fellow Irishmen, like Christy O'Connor Jr, Eamonn Darcy and Paul McGinley but also others such as Sam Torrance and Justin Leonard. And, of course, the many, many of Severiano Ballesteros.

How he would have revelled in the images flickering on his screen in northern Spain and how inevitable it was that Colin Montgomerie would dedicate to him the victory. It was cheesy, but irresistible cheese, as was all of Montgomerie's closing ceremony speech. The Scot has bestrode the Ryder Cup more than any European – other than Ballesteros – and this was an entirely fitting farewell. "This is one of the finest moments of my golfing career," said Monty, before re-reading his notes and delivering his punch-line. "Hang on... this was the greatest moment of my golfing career." (PAR)

It was impossible to be anything other than hyperbolic; the galleries had seen to that on the first fourth-day climax. It may not have People's Monday, but believe it, the Welsh people were here in force. Some 35,000 lined the fairways then stayed on for the prize-giving. "Hero, hero, hero, hero..." they chanted when McDowell was introduced.

Indeed, he was. And is, after a quite remarkable 2010. McDowell is too damned nice ever to be disliked anywhere but after winning their national championship – the US Open – in June and now after snatching this gold trophy from their grasp, he should perhaps not crow too loudly from their scryscrapers. He admitted later: "I've never felt so nervous in my life." McDowell's knees had every right to tremble, as from a long way out it was obvious it was going down to the anchor-man's match with Hunter Mahan.

So much for the European canter which many had predicted after they had marched into a 91/2-61/2 lead following the near whitewash of the third session. America needed to win eight points out of the 12 singles and came within the nerve of one man. Steve Stricker set the tone for the fight-back – the USA won the final session 7-5 – with the lowering of Lee Westwood. That was a blow to the very heart of Europe, who had considered the Englishman their unstoppable Pied Piper.

Yet when the new world No 2 fell 2&1 and when, at the same time, Europe's next-highest ranking player, Martin Kaymer, was humiliated 6&4 by the previously winless Dustin Johnson, the rats started scrambling. Suddenly a blue-covered leaderboard took on a different hue. Tensions were running high as a stand-up argument in the Ross Fisher-Jeff Overton encounter signified. The valley was rocking.

Ian Poulter steadied it a little with a 5&4 fist-pumper over Matt Kuchar. Just think, once he was famous for his individual take on fashion, now he is Mr Ryder Cup. When Poulter chipped in on the 11th for an eagle his eyes nearly popped out of his head. Poulter loves talking about his wins so it says so much that he ran out to support his team-mates. Many needed it.

McIlroy came close to penning a tear-jerker against Stewart Cink, when leaving his ball in his bunker on the last. Yet he somehow steeled his young frame, splashed out to five feet and holed to bag a half. He did not know at that moment how appropriate his relief was; a defeat would have meant the US retaining the Cup with a 14-14 draw. As it was, the moment became lost in a blur of drama and, as ever, in golf, Tiger Woods was at its heart.

Word quickly circulated the course the world No 1 was up to his old tricks. No, not those; the tricks where he reduces a 7,400-layout to a pitch-and-putt. Poor old Francesco Molinari was up early, but then hit by a devastating spell which had Woods at seven-under from the seven holes from the ninth. In a display of vintage Woods, he holed a wedge from 130 yards on the 12th. Nine-under for 15 holes, the Welsh crowd saw Woods rekindle his very best. Yes, this one-off Monday really did have everything golf has to offer.

The nail-biting duly followed the eye-rolling and head-shaking. Luke Donald hung on for a point on the last against the redoubtable Jim Furyk, but Fisher's early advantage was hauled in and overtaken by Overton. No matter. As the traditional Ryder Cup count began in earnest ("he's two-up, that's one point; he's three-up that's another") the golfing equivalent of an exit poll implied a close but comfortable European win. If only.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, the ever-popular veteran with a Cuban in his gob, turned one set of blue into a point, but Edoardo Molinari could not deliver. Only two players had ever conceded a four-up lead in the back nine of a singles match; but now there are three. Rickie Fowler, the amazingly cool 21-year-old, rolled in a 15-footer down the hill on the 18th for his fourth birdie in a row and the most unlikely half. The celebrations were justified as out on the 16th McDowell was only one-up. Nothing else but a win would be enough for Europe to win their sixth Ryder Cup in eight years. "It was horrible having to watch," said Westwood. "Absolutely horrible."

But through all the excruciation the little Ulsterman rose; first with a brilliant approach on the longest par four on the course, then with that 15-foot putt which made so many millions leap off their armchairs. Two up, two to go, and when Mahan fluffed his chip the formality was confirmed. The American was still weeping two hours afterwards and Mickelson felt obliged to protect him from the inquisitors. It was that sort of day, that sort of match. What mud? What rain? What a Ryder Cup.


After Sunday's matches Europe went into the final day of the Ryder Cup leading 9.5 to 6.5 before the event was decided in yesterday's singles matches.

L Westwood lost 2&1 S Stricker

R McIlroy halved S Cink

L Donald won 1 up J Furyk

M Kaymer lost 6&4 D Johnson

I Poulter won 5&4 M Kuchar

R Fisher lost 3&2 J Overton

M A Jimenez won 4&3 B Watson

F Molinari lost 4&3 T Woods

E Molinari halved R Fowler

P Hanson lost 4&2 P Mickelson

P Harrington lost 3&2 Z Johnson

G McDowell won 3&1 H Mahan

Europe defeated US 14.5 - 13.5 to win the Ryder Cup.