They were chanting "Justin, Justin" and "U-S-A, U-S-A" amid the bedlam of the champagne-soaked 18th green at The Country Club late this afternoon after Justin Leonard's stunning 45-foot birdie putt on the previous hole capped the greatest and perhaps most improbable comeback in Ryder Cup history.

Leonard's crucial stroke of brilliance on the 17th green, followed by a close miss from 30 feet by his European opponent, Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, erased two days of frustration for the U.S. team. By just a single point, 14 1/2-13 1/2, the squad won back from Europe the Cup it lost in 1995.

After two days of match play pitting pairs of U.S. and European golfers, the Americans entered today's 12 singles matches trailing by four points and knowing that no team in the previous 32 biennial Ryder Cup competitions going back to 1927 had come back from more than a two-point deficit.

In Ryder Cup play, a victory is worth one point and a tie is worth half a point. The Americans needed 8 1/2 points to pull off one of golf's most amazing comebacks, and that's exactly what they put on the board this memorable afternoon.

"We kept telling each other we thought we could do it, we thought we could do it," American Davis Love III said. "But until it happens, you're just talking. It's a miracle, that's what it was. It's the best day of golf ever."

For Leonard, it was a day of consummate vindication. Two years ago in this competition at Valderrama Golf Club in Spain, he was unable to win any of his four matches, recording two ties.

And his play this week was less than inspired, with a loss and two ties going in to today's singles.

NBC's Johnny Miller had even criticized U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw on national TV for substituting Leonard into Saturday afternoon's best-ball matches ahead of Jeff Maggert.

Miller said he thought the team would have been better served if Leonard had gone home to Texas and watched on television.

Those words seemed prophetic when Leonard found himself four holes down with seven to play against Olazabal, a two-time Masters champion.

That sort of deficit in match-play format usually is virtually impossible to make up. But Leonard has been behind before. Three of his four professional victories, including one at the 1997 British Open, came from final-round comebacks when he trailed by five shots at the start of play.

Leonard gritted his teeth, and quickly found his putting stroke. He bombed in a 35-footer for a birdie at the 15th to get the match even, then finished it all off at 17.

The best Olazabal could do playing the 18th was win the hole and tie the match. He did exactly that, but the tie was good for the half-point that put the Americans on top, and Leonard in a dazed state of euphoria.

"I'd like to say it's probably a good thing I didn't go home," he said, referring to Miller's comments. "You're going to hear me say that a lot more times today, too."

The victory also touched off one of the wildest scenes ever witnessed at this staid old club, which was founded in 1882. The Country Club also was the site of one of American golf's greatest upsets -- the 1913 U.S. Open triumph by 20-year-old former club caddie Francis Ouimet, who beat the world's best on his home course and helped touch off a surge of American interest in the game.

Interestingly, Leonard's putt came on the same green where Ouimet made a 20-footer to get himself into a playoff. He won the tournament by making a 20-footer at the same hole.

"It was spooky," Crenshaw said.

After Leonard holed out his own historic putt, Crenshaw dropped to his hands and knees and kissed the 17th green. The U.S. players and their wives hugged and kissed, and leaped around the green.

Olazabal still had a chance to tie the hole, and he was extremely critical of the celebration.

"If you saw it on TV, that kind of behavior is not the one anyone expects," Olazabal said. "It was very sad to see. . . .

"I understand there was a lot of emotion, but at some time you have to have your feet on the ground and realize what the situation is. . . . Just show respect for the opponent."

The victory could not be called an upset because the U.S. team was loaded with superstars -- 10 of the world's top 16 players -- and the Europeans entered the competition a heavy underdog.

But the Europeans, with seven first-time Cup players, had 10 points after the first two days of doubles competition. They needed to win only four head-to-head matches today to take the Cup back home on the Concorde tonight.

Instead, they could manage only three victories and a tie against a U.S. team that won the first six matches to start the comeback. It then got a seventh point when Steve Pate edged Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and an eighth when Jim Furyk easily handled 19-year-old Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland beat Mark O'Meara on the final hole to give Europe its only point of the first nine pairings.

That left the United States up 14-11 with three matches still on the golf course, two of them -- Colin Montgomerie-Payne Stewart and Leonard-Olazabal -- extremely close. The Americans needed just a half-point from either to complete their remarkable resurgence, and Leonard took care of that shortly before 4 p.m.

"I'm stunned," Crenshaw said. "I don't believe I'm in this place and time. I've never seen such indomitable spirit. It's fate."