It could not have been a more cruel end to their day. Corey Pavin chipped in from the edge of the final green to restore to America what Europe had taken from them during a glorious morning.
What had been a battle of swift and exciting momentum gradually ground down to a painfully tense struggle that finally centered on the last, and by far the slowest, of the afternoon fourballs that took five hours and 40 minutes, featuring those most deliberate of Europeans, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, playing against Pavin and his rookie partner Loren Roberts. The European pair needed to win to ensure that their team went into today's singles action on level terms, and they could scarcely have been closer to achieving that when Pavin struck.
Costantino Rocca will be hailed as the undisputed hero of the European day. His hole in one at the sixth in the morning foursomes was the defining shot of an excellent European performance in winning the session 3-1 and wiping out America's two-point overnight advantage.
But the American retort in the afternoon undid the pre-lunch work. Only Rocca and his new partner Ian Woosnam guaranteed that the Americans would be denied a whitewash. Their 3-2 win over Davis Love and Ben Crenshaw was a masterpiece of resolve that Rocca rounded off with back-to-back birdies on the 11th and 12th.
Meanwhile, Scots Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie, first and second in the European Order of Merit, were being disappointingly dumped by Fred Couples and Brad Faxon. The Americans did have one stroke of outrageous fortune. Torrance's approach to the 13th almost spun in and he was left with a 12-inch putt for a birdie. Couples chipped from the greenside rough 35 feet away and the ball rolled into the hole as Couples unashamedly conducted the deafening and prolonged ovation. Instead of being two down, Europe were three down and they never recovered.
Seve Ballesteros and David Gilford were unable to repeat Friday's magic and were dispatched by Jay Haas and Phil Mickelson. It was therefore left to Faldo and Langer to prevent Europe going into today's singles at a serious disadvantage. Two down at the ninth, they struck when Langer holed a 10-foot birdie. They won the next to par and although Pavin restored the lead at the 12th, Faldo snatched it back with a birdie at the 13th.
From then on it was par golf under the severest of pressure, and no half has been fought over so doggedly. The two-point deficit that Europe will be burdened with today by no means puts them out of contention, and they will prefer to remember yesterday's morning glory when they tackle today's head-to-heads.
Responding to bright sunshine and a brisk, chill wind blowing off Lake Ontario, they outplayed the Americans, especially on greens that had quickened to a speed that the home side should have been more suited to. Europe won the morning session 3-1, which halved the match at 6-6, but they could have won all four. Ian Woosnam and Philip Walton lost on the last green after a resounding match against Roberts and his partner, Peter Jacobsen.
The last time Europe were in the US to contest the Ryder Cup they lost the "War on the Shore" at Kiawah Island in 1991. At dawn yesterday they were facing the "Wake by the Lake". At lunchtime it was the Americans who had cause for concern as the form shifted dramatically.
It was Rocca who epitomised the determination that the Europeans took the first tee. His partner, Torrance, a hero himself, called him "The Rock of Italy". It was a welcome change from the other names Rocca has attracted from those who believe he has a tendency to choke under pressure.
Although he is rapidly disowning that slur, cynics might have thought that whoever chose the European clothing yesterday was tempting providence by sending out the team wearing bottle-green sweaters. But the Italian played with an unwavering solidity that saw him hole six-footers on both the second and fifth greens to set up a lead that rarely looked threatened by Love III and Jeff Maggert.
Torrance, whose hook the previous day was cured by a transatlantic telephone call from his father, Bob, splashed out a near-perfect bunker shot at the ninth to pile up their lead to five holes and his trusty broomhandle putter applied the coup de grace on the 13th hole for a 6 and 5 victory.
Europe's dynamic start contained much else that staggered the overnight confidence of the Americans. The point gained by Torrance and Rocca was soon followed by another from Faldo and Montgomerie, who always seemed to have the measure of Curtis Strange and Jay Haas. The worrying lack of form displayed by Europe's top pair surfaced once or twice during the morning but they took a comfortable and vital victory.
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