Is this the greatest European team ever? That was the question being asked here after a day when they did everything to answer it in the affirmative with a show of singles dominance unrivalled in the Ryder Cup's 79-year history. And the scary fact was that the emphatic 18 1/2-9 1/2 scoreline did not do them justice.
For if Paul McGinley had not conceded J J Henry's 20-footer then Europe would have won by a record margin and not merely matched the Detroit drubbing of two years ago. That would have been nothing less that Ian Woosnam's team deserved, so obvious was their superiority, so brilliant their execution.
Of course McGinley meant it as an act of blessed sportsmanship, but in fact it was nothing more than the final indignity for an America laden with it. Can you imagine Nicklaus, Palmer or Trevino having to rely on their opponents' generosity to spare their embarrassment? That sums up their mediocrity. What makes it worse is that they have not got Hal Sutton to blame. They were simply outplayed, outputted and outgutted.
The so-called golfing superpower has now, for the first time, lost three matches in a row, five out of the last six, and only the most optimistic of one-eyed patriots would dare to suggest it will not be four in row, six out of seven in Kentucky in 2008. Believe it, this European team has everything, but most of all it has youth. Their incredible 8 1/2-3 1/2 monopolisation of yesterday's singles fairly oozed it.
It would have been easy for this inevitable denouement to have petered out into an anti-climax as America's attempt to reprise the Brookline comeback of 1999 failed to get any further than Lehman's prayers. But the Irish crowd were not going to let that happen. Never has a walkover been so ecstatically received, although there was a very good reason for that. His name was Darren Clarke and his victory touched everyone who saw it. There were hugs, many tears and plenty of joy as he fulfilled the dying wish of his wife, Heather, who lost her battle to cancer six weeks ago. The poignancy was perfect.
Or it would have been if the fates had allowed the Ulsterman to hole the winning putt on the island of his birth. But after Luke Donald had secure the 14 points that at the very least meant Europe would be retaining the trophy they have now held since 2002, Henrik Stenson won the race to ensure outright success.
A few minutes later Clarke beat Zach Johnson on the 16th green and here the emotion really kicked in. The week started with Tiger Woods hugging his friend and so it ended. Woosnam grabbed him hardest of all and shouted in his ear "destiny, destiny". Yes, for a few moments out there in that Kildare countryside, everyone forgot what they were here for. "I will never forget this and what it's done for me," said Clarke, whose two young sons were watching at home in Sunningdale. "People have shown me how much they care for me and how much they cared for Heather, and that means everything. My team were unbelievable with their support and so were the Americans. They were fantastic."
If only they had been on the fairways. For as soon as Colin Montgomerie started the European ball rolling there was never the first doubt where this tie was heading. "This is the best European team I've ever played on," he said. "Why? Because we're bloody good." The 43-year-old, probably playing his last Ryder Cup on home soil, soon established a lead on David Toms and never wavered, until the 18th, as he almost always does, when he had to hole a five-footer for the first point. By then, though, the Scot's latest hero show did not seem to matter as the scoreboard was bluer than the air surrounding Lehman.
Of the American's timid front line, only Stewart Cink rose above his station with an inspired 4 and 3 victory over Sergio Garcia. The little Spaniard was gunning to become the first European to win five out of five but his remarkable efforts of the first two days eventually caught up with him.
In contrast, Woods managed to finish off in style, beating Robert Karlsson 3 and 2 and, in the process, to grab himself a measure of personal vindication after another uncomfortable team matchplay week. With three points he topped the American individual charts and cast into shame those such as Phil Mickelson. The world No 2 gained just half a point out of five. Scott Verplank, meanwhile, will wonder why he did not play more. The wild card recorded his second win from two games in beating Padraig Harrington 4 and 3 - with a hole-in-one of the 14th - and was one of the few American bright spots. Europe was positively lit up by them.
Clarke had a 100 per cent record with three from three, as did Donald after his 2 and 1 win over Chad Campbell, as did Jose Maria Olazabal after his own 2 and 1 win over Mickelson. Of the rest Paul Casey was the pick, building on his World Match Play title the week previous with a 2 and 1 win over the world No 3, Jim Furyk, to win three points from four. But the real MVP was Lee Westwood.
Yesterday morning, he was in bed with a fever and feared he could not play. Up he got, though, and 18 holes later was seeing off the disappointing Chris DiMarco on the final hole. With four points out of five he finished tied with Garcia as Europe's top-scorer at the same time as validating Woosnam's captaincy. It was the Welshman who picked him and Clarke as wild cards. There were queries made about Woosnam's intelligence, his communication skills and his suitability, but in the event this brave little fellow proved what can be gained by being "one of the lads".
His bungles in last night's victory ceremony proved he is no public speaker, but where it counted, in the team room, he understood them and made them tick.
"I just can't say enough about my team," said Woosnam, who proved his status by necking from any number of champagne bottles. "They have performed even better than I imagined they could."
The same sentiment came from Lehman, who looked genuinely shell-shocked. No American team captain has done more to instil the spirit everyone said was missing from America and nobody will feel the futility of his labours more painfully. "I thought our team came ready - but I guess we weren't ready enough," he said. "I need to think what advice I can impart to my successor. But first I need to give credit where it's due. I just don't know if there's ever been a European team that's played better."
Ireland certainly thought not as the party began and the European team came out on to the clubhouse balcony. Once again the boys did not let them down. To deafening cheers, Clarke downed a pint of Guinness and then so did Woosnam with admirable haste. But it still did not match the manner in which America had been downed. In one almighty gulp.
"The greatest week in history," Woosnam was later to call it. Over the top, perhaps. But then, after this stunning triumph it was easy to be.
How Europe retained the Cup
1.39pm Eur 10 US 6
Verplank wins first hole to go 1 up against Harrington in the last match out
Europe Up in 6 US Up in 4 Level 2 matches
1.45pm Eur 10 US 6
Clarke goes 1 up against Johnson at the 6th
Eur Up in 7 US 4 Level 1
2.17pm Eur 10 US 6
Olazabal moves ahead against Mickelson to increase Europe's lead
Eur Up in 8 US 3 Level 1
2.35pm Eur 10 US 7
Cink beats Garcia to earn the first point
Eur Up in 8 US 2 Level 1
2.50pm Eur 11 US 7
Montgomerie beats Toms for Europe's first score
Eur Up in 7 US 3
3.12pm Eur 11 US 8
Woods beats Karlsson
Eur Up in 7 US 1 Level 1
3.17pm Eur 12 US 8
Casey beats Furyk
Eur Up in 6 US 1 Level 1
3.41pm Eur 13 US 8
Howell beats Wetterich
Eur Up in 5 US 1 Level 1
3.44pm Eur 14 US 8
Donald beats Campbell to retain the Cup as Europe cannot lose
Eur Up in 4 US 1 Level 1
3.44pm Eur 15 US 8
Stenson beats Taylor to give Europe the victory outright
Eur Up in 3 US 1 Level 1
Europe 18 1/ 2 US 9 1/ 2
Yesterday's singles (European names first)
Colin Montgomerie beat David Toms 1 hole
Sergio Garcia lost to Stewart Cink 4 & 3
Paul Casey beat Jim Furyk 2 & 1
Robert Karlsson lost to Tiger Woods 3 & 2
Luke Donald beat Chad Campbell 2 & 1
Paul McGinley halved with JJ Henry
Darren Clarke beat Zach Johnson 3 & 2
Henrik Stenson beat Vaughn Taylor 4 & 3
David Howell beat Brett Wetterich 5 & 4
Jose Maria Olazabal beat Phil Mickelson 2 & 1
Lee Westwood beat Chris DiMarco 2 holes
Padraig Harrington lost to Scott Verplank 4 & 3
Singles result: Europe 8 1/2 United States 3 1/2Reuse content