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Kaymer heroic as Europe complete historic Ryder Cup comeback

Alex Dimond September 30, 2012
Martin Kaymer sank the decisive putt for Europe © Getty Images
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Europe pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of the Ryder Cup to clinch an incredible 14½-13½ victory over the United States at Medinah Country Club on Sunday.

Needing to pick up eight points from a possible twelve in the final singles to retain the trophy they won two years ago at Celtic Manor, five victories from the opening five matches for the visitors set the stage for Martin Kaymer, the 11th man out - as the German held his nerve at the 18th hole to defeat Steve Stricker and seal the point captain Jose Maria Olazabal needed to confirm at least a 14-14 draw.

As the celebrations began, Tiger Woods then missed a short putt at the 18th to ensure Francesco Molinari took a half from their anchor match - ensuring Europe ultimately won the event by a scoreline of 14½-13½.

"I am very emotional. The boys have done an unbelievable job," Olazabal, who soon broke down in tears, said in the immediate aftermath. "I had a few thoughts for my friend Seve [Ballesteros]. This one is for him!"

Kaymer's qualification - he was the final man to book an automatic spot for the event - was widely discussed before the tournament, and the out-of-form player had not won a point prior to Sunday's singles. But he held his nerve against Steve Stricker when it mattered most - rolling in mid-range putts at both 16 and 17 to sneak up the last with a one-hole advantage.

By then circumstances meant Kaymer could retain the trophy with victory in his match, but that looked less certain after Stricker left him needing to hole a seven-foot putt for victory. But, unlike fellow German Bernard Langer 21 years ago at Kiawah Island, Kaymer held his nerve and rolled the putt home to spark huge celebrations from the shell-shocked European contingent.

"I'm so, so happy," Kaymer said afterwards. "At 18 I was a little too aggressive. I don't know what to say - I'm just so happy for Olazabal too, I know he wanted to win the trophy."

On the decisive putt, he said: "I had a spike mark in my line, and I thought about it [Langer's miss] a bit. But I thought, 'C'mon, just hit a better putt than him'. And I did."

Olazabal added: "I have never experienced anything like this. That is why I have always said this event is so special. You don't see this anywhere else, in any other tournament."

It was a miraculous turnaround for Olazabal and his team, who started the day 10-6 behind. Only once in Ryder Cup history had that sort of deficit been overcome, but victories for Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy at the top of the order quickly created the sense that something historic could be about to happen.

McIlroy in particular had his dramas - nearly missing the start of his scheduled match with Keegan Bradley after a misunderstanding over his tee-time. But the Northern Irishman shrugged off the lack of a warm-up to defeat the in-form American at the 17th.

"It is the most worried I have ever been, riding to the golf course," McIlroy, who needed a police ride to get to Medinah, said. "If I had been playing for myself it would have been fine, but if I had let the boys down I never would have forgiven myself.

"When I saw the matchup I liked it. I wanted to get out there against one of their strongest players and deliver a point for the team."

It was in the middle matches, however, that the tide really turned. Both Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose won matches where they had been one down with just two holes to play - with Rose making a monster putt at the 17th to stun Phil Mickelson and Garcia taking advantage of some mistakes from Jim Furyk to put another, vital point on the board.

The match involving Garcia, who once again played tribute to the late Seve Ballesteros, was arguably the decisive singles contest of the entire event.

"There's no doubt it's been inspired by him, but also mostly from our captain," Garcia said. "What an amazing guy, what an unbelievable captain.

"It's been a hard week, I haven't played well. I haven't felt comfortable, I've just got lucky here and there. Jim kind of gave away a few holes - and I made some crucial putts for my team."

It was Donald who got the first point on the board, before Paul Lawrie - playing in the fifth match - completed an early and emphatic victory over recently crowned FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker. The performance vindicated the Scot's decision not to play in this year's US Open in order to pursue qualification points on the European Tour.

Poulter then closed out a scrappy match against Webb Simpson, the year's US Open champion, that ensured he won all four of his matches this week at Medinah. McIlroy quickly polished off Bradley, before Rose pulled off his remarkable escape against Phil Mickelson.

"To dig myself out of that game was incredible," the Englishman reflected. "I felt like we really needed that point too. He just missed that chip on 17 and then I buried it on top of him. That was one of the best feelings of my entire life.

"I'm looking at that guy on my left sleeve [Seve] - that's the sort of thing he would have done today."

That left the destination of the trophy down to the final matches, as Dustin Johnson got the United States on the board with a 3&2 victory over fellow big hitter Nicolas Colsaerts. Projections still had Davis Love III's team winning, but that changed with Garcia's remarkable turnaround against the unfortunate Furyk - who thought he had holed a putt to go dormie at the 16th, before ultimately ending up empty-handed.

The hero in 2010, Graeme McDowell, was then dispatched by the redoubtable Zach Johnson - as both teams closed in on the magical 14-point mark. Lee Westwood subsequently finished off Matt Kuchar as Jason Dufner ended Peter Hanson's own comeback, setting the stage for the final two pairings to decide everything.

Europe celebrated a remarkable triumph © Getty Images
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None of the four players involved - Kaymer, Stricker, Molinari and Woods - had won so much as half a point in their other appearances this week, but that had to change for at least two of them. And it was Kaymer who made the decisive move - taking advantage of Stricker's inept chip at the 17th to move one-up going down the last.

At the time Molinari was also securing a half, giving Europe some security over the closing stages. But the Italian made the same mistake as Stricker at the same hole - suddenly leaving Kaymer almost certainly needing to win his match if Europe were to retain the Ryder Cup.

Having put his approach to the 18th - from the bunker, no less - inside Stricker's attempt that looked almost certain, especially after the American left his birdie putt a good 10-feet left of the cup. But Kaymer ran his own effort past the hole and, after Stricker critically made his par, was suddenly confronted with a sizeable putt to decide everything.

Fortunately, the 2010 US PGA champion made it.

Molinari's subsequent half - conceded by Woods in a nice bit of sportsmanship - was the icing on the cake for Europe, as celebrations began after one of the most remarkable comebacks in sporting history.


Sunday singles

Europe

United States

Luke Donald
2&1
Bubba Watson
Ian Poulter
1-up
Webb Simpson
Rory McIlroy
2&1
Keegan Bradley
Justin Rose
1-up
Phil Mickelson
Paul Lawrie
5&3
Brandt Snedeker
Nicolas Colsaerts
3&2
Dustin Johnson
Graeme McDowell
2&1
Zach Johnson
Sergio Garcia
1-up
Jim Furyk
Peter Hanson
1-up
Jason Dufner
Lee Westwood
3&2
Matt Kuchar
Martin Kaymer
1-up
Steve Stricker
Francesco Molinari
A/S
Tiger Woods


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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk