They thought it was all over: The year of the photo-finish: Cup that overflowed

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The Independent Online
EVEN ON this day of undiluted drama, when the prospects of an American victory in the Ryder Cup at the Country Club had shifted from the improbable to the inevitable, the ending appeared so sudden and shocking that few knew quite what was happening. Where's Kenneth Wolstenholme when you need him? There were people on the green, they thought it was all over.

Jose Maria Olazabal knew it was not. Not quite, and he stood alone on the 17th green at Brookline quietly assessing his putt. If ever a man should have a putt for Europe to win the Ryder Cup, all agreed the Spaniard was the hombre. But it was worse than that. Olazabal had a 25-footer to keep Europe's chances alive and all hell had broken loose.

Bedlam had taken over the moment Justin Leonard's 45-footer had dropped into the cup, one of the bravest, one of the most important and, as it turned out, one of the most controversial putts ever holed in the Ryder Cup. So shocked was Leonard himself, a gentlemanly former Open champion in a gentlemanly game, he set off on a maniacal lap of honour. In no time at all he had been engulfed by fellow American players, wives, caddies, the captain Ben Crenshaw, his assistants, a few TV cameramen and God knows who else.

The excited, if premature, celebrations could be resisted no longer. Between the gallery of 40,000, who would not countenance anything but American success, and the 12 home players, imagining how low their reputations would sink upon losing, a frenzy of desperation had built up on that Sunday to a point of mass hysteria.

The performances of the Europeans in the fourballs and foursomes were brilliant, but the roles were gradually reversed. The first six singles matches, the entire top half of the draw, went to the Stars and Stripes. The vital game was between Leonard and Olazabal, who was four up with seven to play. But the Spaniard bogeyed the next two, Leonard birdied the 14th and then holed from 40 feet at the 15th to square the match. If Olazabal could not halve the 17th, the USA were assured of the half-point they needed. Ollie missed. Now it was all over.

Mark James, the European captain, waited until he was back home to voice criticism of the Americans' behaviour, and something of a slanging match followed. The most honourable contributions to the debate came from the two players most directly involved. "If you are looking to point a finger, point it at me," said Leonard. "I'll take the blame for displaying so much emotion. I shouldn't have run off the green. I should have calmly walked over to my team-mates, which would have been very hard to do."

Olazabal replied: "The fact is they played better and won the match. We congratulate the Americans. Next time, I think it would be to the benefit of the game of golf if we manage to behave just a little better, every one of us."