-- There would be no miracle on bent grass for the American Ryder Cup team Sunday. Trailing by a record margin of six points after two days, the U.S. once again was outplayed and overwhelmed by a relentless European side that clinched enough points after seven of the 12 singles matches to retain the Cup for the fourth time in the last five events.
Englishman Lee Westwood's par putt on Oakland Hills's 494-yard 18th hole was essentially the winning stroke in the worst loss an American team has suffered in the biennial competition, which began in 1927. Europe's victory also was its seventh in the last 10 matches, and the final score of 181/2-91/2 was the largest winning margin by either team since 1981.
Westwood's putt earned him a 1-up win over American Kenny Perry and pushed the Europeans to the brink of victory with 131/2 points. Because Colin Montgomerie, in the group just behind, already had clinched at least a half-point over David Toms by going 1 up after 17 holes, Europe was assured of at least a tie in that match for a half-point and the magic number of 14 required to retain the Cup it won in 2002 at the Belfry.
Montgomerie, 41 and a captain's choice pick, had the grand honor of making it official when he rammed in a four-foot putt for par to halve the 18th hole and win the match, 1 up, giving Europe a point and 141/2-81/2 lead with five matches still on the course. Europe was ahead in four of them, and would win seven of the 12 matches, halving another.
The last victory came when Padraig Harrington holed a 25-foot putt on the 18th green to defeat 50-year-old Jay Haas, 1 up. Both captains had said earlier in the week the team that putted best would win this event, and the Europeans seemed to make virtually every stroke they needed over the three days.
"I don't want this day to end," European Captain Bernhard Langer said. "It's hard to put into words. Players do the job. I can only make them feel comfortable and encourage them. They're the ones who hit the shots and made the putts. They did an incredible job."
The European team and several hundred of their fans had already been celebrating for almost an hour before Harrington came to the last hole. His match-winning putt touched off another raucous burst of boisterous singing -- "Ole, Ole, Ole" -- and the traditional spraying of well-shaken magnums of champagne.
"They played ferociously," American captain Hal Sutton said shortly after Montgomerie, arguably the finest European Cup player in history, fittingly ended the suspense with his third victory in four matches this week. "We've got a lot of great players in America, but they just flat outplayed us."
"I don't know what it is," said Montgomerie, now 19-8-5 in Cup play. "I spoke to Lee Westwood this morning, and he was number 5 and I was number 6, and it was about that time where we thought we might get the third point. And we did. We came here again as underdogs, and it's amazing how well we do. We really can't put it into words; if we could, the Americans would have worked it out by now. I don't know how it happens. . . . We doubled their points. Remarkable. Remarkable."
Several Europeans were heroes this week, with Spain's Sergio Garcia and Westwood each going 4-0-1. Garcia ruined the Americans' grand plan of an early Sunday blitz that might lead to a wave of momentum. Instead, in the second pairing of the day, he ran off three straight birdies in the middle of his match against Phil Mickelson to erase what had been Mickelson's 2-up lead through the first eight holes.
It gave the fiery Garcia, now 10-3-2 in three Cups, a 1-up advantage, and he never let Mickelson threaten again, sinking several critical putts in the four- to six-foot range, then winning 3 and 2 when Mickelson hit a questionable second shot in the water at the 16th hole. Mickelson tried to scoot a low hook onto the green from 140 yards, a choice NBC announcer Johnny Miller later described as "a totally nut shot."
When Frenchman Thomas Levet nailed down a 1-up victory over Fred Funk, it meant that every European player had scored at least one point.
Harrington also was a big-time producer, with four victories in his five matches, and Darren Clarke added 31/2 points, the halve coming when he and Davis Love III missed short putts at the 18th hole in Sunday's only tied match.
Love had a 2-up lead through 15 holes, but Clarke made a six-foot birdie putt to win the 16th, then tied the match when he holed out a brilliant downhill 25-foot chip from the back rough at the 17th. Love, who had three-putted at the 18th hole here to lose the 1996 U.S. Open, missed a five-footer for par Sunday. Then Clarke lipped out his own three-footer, and they embraced warmly.
"So far as friends go and the Ryder Cup, I think it was a good ending," Love said. "I told Darren I should have punched him in the nose for chipping in, and then for missing that last putt. But we're good friends, and it's hard to have one of us lose. . . . I'm disappointed. I didn't play very well. And Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love are supposed to play great."
Instead, the Nos. 2, 4 and 6 players in the world finished the week with a 4-9-1 record. Woods, now 7-11-2 in four Cups, won the day's opening match with a dominating 3-and-2 triumph over England's Paul Casey. Woods didn't lose a hole and said his main mission was to give his teammates an emotional lift with a quick start.
"We were up at one point in the first five matches and looking pretty good," Woods said. "But then the Europeans turned it around on us. One thing we've lacked is that we haven't made any putts. They basically just flat-out outplayed us."
Sutton had tried all manner of psychological and strategic ploys this week, each one seeming to blow up in his face. Mickelson and Woods played two matches as partners Friday, and lost both. Perry sat out Saturday's two sessions, and Sutton sent out Haas to play 36 holes and saw him get drubbed in the afternoon, 5 and 4. He wanted Chris Riley to play Saturday afternoon with Woods, but let him off the hook when Riley told him he was too drained emotionally.
On Thursday, Sutton had said his players represented the greatest putting team in U.S. history and should be favored, bulletin-board hyperbole that clearly got the Europeans' attention. And Mickelson didn't help much by switching to new woods and a new ball two weeks ago, and not practicing on the main course Wednesday and Thursday. He won only one of his four matches.
"You know what, second-guessing is a golfer's biggest problem," Sutton said. "We cannot second-guess what we did. We've got to live in the present. I made mistakes. I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made. I thought there was no bad way to pair the guys we had. Obviously, the pairings we sent out didn't create any charisma. So I'm going to live with it, and I'm going to move on. I'm going to hug my kid tomorrow, and everything will be great."