NEWPORT, Wales (Reuters) - Graeme McDowell coolly secured the winning point as Europe, led early on by Ian Poulter and Luke Donald, regained the Ryder Cup after fending off a brilliant fightback by the United States on Monday.
Northern Irishman McDowell, playing in the final singles match at Celtic Manor, beat Hunter Mahan 3&1 to give the home team victory by 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2.
Poulter crushed Matt Kuchar 5&4 and Donald beat Jim Furyk one-up before the Americans clawed their way back, rookie Rickie Fowler stealing a valuable half after brilliantly birdying the last four holes against Italian Edoardo Molinari.
With the overall score level at 13-1/2 13-1/2, McDowell sank a curling birdie putt from 12 feet on the 16th green to go two up on Mahan before securing the win with a conceded par at the 17th.
European players, caddies and fans swarmed across the 17th green to swamp McDowell in jubilant celebration as chants of “Ole, Ole, Ole,” echoed across the Usk valley.
“I’m so proud, it is a very proud moment for us all here in Europe,” beaming captain Colin Montgomerie told reporters. “They all played magnificently, they all gave 110 percent and that’s all I could ask.
“I just had to rely on certain people at certain times. Graeme McDowell was put there for a good reason, he’s full of confidence and that showed. That birdie on 16 was quite unbelievable.”
U.S. Open champion McDowell, who won the Wales Open at Celtic Manor in June, said he had never felt such pressure, even on the way to his first major title at Pebble Beach.
“The U.S. Open felt like a back nine with my dad back at Portrush compared to that,” he added. “I was really nervous there. Wow. It’s just so much pressure.”
Crowds of just over 35,000 at a sun-splashed Celtic Manor were treated to one of the most riveting last days at a Ryder Cup in recent memory as Europe won the trophy for the fourth time in five editions.
The home team led by three points going into the event’s first-ever Monday finish but the Americans cut the deficit to just one when Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker claimed the first two points.
Johnson routed Martin Kaymer 6&4 before world number four Stricker beat second-ranked Lee Westwood 2&1 seconds later to give the U.S. hope of retaining the trophy they won in 2008.
Poulter, who screamed in delight after draining a 25-footer to birdie the third, then notched Europe’s first point of the day by rolling in a six-foot birdie putt on the 14th green.
Donald, playing in the third match, was three up on Furyk after 13 holes but had to hold off a late surge by the American before sealing the win with a two-putt par at the last.
“I knew Jim was going to be a really tough opponent,” said Donald. “He put some pressure on me at the end but I was glad to get a point.”
Pony-tailed Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez never trailed in his match against U.S. rookie Bubba Watson before winning 4&3 to give Europe a commanding 13-9 lead.
However, the U.S. edged closer as rookie Jeff Overton came from two down to beat Ross Fisher 3&2 after the Briton bogeyed four of his last five holes.
World number one Tiger Woods added more red for the U.S. with a sizzling display of golf as he overwhelmed Italy’s Francesco Molinari 4&3.
Woods had gone two down after two before covering his last seven holes in seven under, the highlight a hole-out from the fairway to eagle the par-four 12th.
“Francesco got off to a quick start but I just stayed patient,” Woods said after winning his third point this week out of a possible four.
“I just felt, ‘Stay calm, stay patient, stay within myself and keep doing what I know I can do’. It all turned, and I did.”
Phil Mickelson, who had charged four up after four holes against Swede Peter Hanson, put the U.S. just one point behind at 13-12 with a 4&2 win.
Cup rookie Fowler then produced his late birdie blitz, sinking a curling 15-footer at the last, to earn a half.
Moments later Zach Johnson completed a 3&2 triumph over Irishman Padraig Harrington to level the score at 13-1/2 points all before McDowell gave European fans a day to remember in the bottom match.
The U.S. came desperately close to emulating their victory at Brookline in 1999, when they triumphed after trailing 10-6 going into the last-day singles, and captain Corey Pavin paid tribute to his players.
“I was very proud of how hard they fought all week,” Pavin said. “We would win as a team and lose as a team.
“That’s the way it was and the way it is. I’m proud of every single one of them and their caddies and everybody that’s part of Team USA.”