Huge rally helps Europe retain Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Luke Donald put the hammer down on Bubba Watson. Rory McIlroy rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and stifled Keegan Bradley. Paul Lawrie — 13 years after his only other Ryder Cup appearance — took down the FedEx Cup champion.

In time, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose ripped points from U.S. hands. The European train was gathering steam.

And the Americans didn’t have enough to stop the momentum.

It ended with Martin Kaymer jumping into the arms of his teammates, the singsong “Ole, ole, ole, ole” echoing across Medinah Country Club, and the Ryder Cup headed back across the Atlantic.

The final score was 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 — matching the largest Sunday comeback in Ryder Cup history. It was a comeback that would have stirred the heart of the late Seve Ballesteros, the catalyst behind Europe’s Ryder Cup rise in the 1980s.

“We are in shock,” Rose said after the Europeans completed their comeback from a 10-6 deficit. “We wanted to believe. We really did want to believe, but we had no illusions of how hard that day was going to be — four [points behind] against a team that’s played so well all week.”

Kaymer, who has fallen on hard times since reaching world No. 1 just 18 months ago, provided the clinching point by finishing off with a 1-up victory over Steve Stricker. After leaving himself a six-foot par save at No. 18, the German’s putt dropped into the heart of the cup.

“I’m so, so happy,” Kaymer said. “On 18 I was a little too aggressive [with my first putt], but I wanted to make it. I’m just so happy. I’m happy for [Jose Maria] Olazabal as well.”

Ballesteros, the Hall of Famer who teamed with Olazabal to form the indomitable “Spanish Armada” that keyed so many Ryder Cup victories in the 1980s and early ‘90s, died in May 2011 after a long battle with brain cancer.

Olazabal, the European captain, kept his composure until his countryman’s name came up.

“The boys did an unbelievable job,” Olazabal said. “I’ve got a few thoughts for my friend Seve.”

Then Olazabal leaned his head back, pulled his white cap over his eyes and cried: “This one is for him!”

Europe paid tribute to Ballesteros by wearing his traditional Sunday attire — a white shirt with navy slacks and a sweater. One sleeve also featured a silhouette of the Spaniard, taken from his joyous celebration after he won the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews.

“I have no doubt in my mind that he was with me today, all day,” said Sergio Garcia, who flipped a 1-down deficit with two holes left against Jim Furyk into a victory. “There’s no chance I would have won my match if he wasn’t there.

“It was amazing, and it feels so good to be able to win it for him and for our captain.”

Rose also stole a point from Phil Mickelson with a birdie-birdie finish over the final two holes of his 1-up triumph. Even Mickelson clapped and gave Rose a thumbs-up after his long birdie putt on the par-three 17th.

Poulter and Kaymer were even in their matches until moving in front at No. 17.

“The U.S. played so poorly on 17 and 18,” NBC analyst Johnny Miller said. “They earned the loss.”

All told, Europe won eight of the 12 singles matches and got a split from Francesco Molinari in the anchor match against Tiger Woods after Kaymer had clinched the outcome. It matched the legendary 1999 U.S. rally at the Country Club at Brookline, Mass., for biggest Sunday comeback in Ryder Cup history.

“We’re all kind of stunned,” said U.S. captain Davis Love III, a member of that 1999 squad. “We know what it feels like now. . . . We just got a couple of matches flipped there in the middle that cost us.”

Europe’s victory also managed to make people forget what could have been a costly gaffe by McIlroy, the world No. 1 who showed up at Medinah not more than 10 minutes before his match after confusion about his tee time.

McIlroy sped to the clubhouse in the back seat of a police car as Donald and Watson were walking down the first fairway of their opening match.

The 23-year-old pro told officials he had become confused about his tee time, having seen them shown on TV in Eastern time. With no more warmup than a couple of practice putts, he still wound up dispatching Keegan Bradley by a 2-and-1 count.

“It’s the most worried I’ve ever been,” McIlroy said. “If I was playing for myself, I’d be fine. It’s my own fault. But to let down all the boys and vice captains and captain — I would never have forgiven myself.”