Commentary

Graeme McDowell seals European win

Originally Published: October 4, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

NEWPORT, Wales -- Tears flowed, but the words would not. Hunter Mahan was obviously having difficulty with the aftermath of the Ryder Cup on Monday, so much so that his U.S. teammates had to not only console him but also stand up for him.

The excruciating one-point loss to Europe at Celtic Manor was far from Mahan's fault, but a remarkable American rally turned his match -- the 12th and final one on the course -- against Graeme McDowell into the one that would decide the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Mahan fell to McDowell 3 and 1, unable to push the match to the 18th hole, where a tie would have given the Americans the 14 points necessary to retain the Ryder Cup.

It was a fitting and dramatic end to the first Ryder Cup extended to a Monday, and the 14½-13½ final margin turned out to be the closest since the United States rallied for the biggest comeback ever in 1999.

This rally fell a half-point short, and Mahan -- who has won twice this year on the PGA Tour and earned a spot on his second Ryder Cup team -- was taking it hard.

So overcome was he more than an hour after the match was completed that Mahan, 28, was unable to answer a question about the intensity of the final match.

[+] EnlargeHunter Mahan
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesA disheveled Hunter Mahan struggled through tears at a news conference after the Americans lost the Ryder Cup on Monday at Celtic Manor.

"It really doesn't come down to Hunter," Steve Stricker said. "And you hate to put a guy in that position. We can all look back, and we can all think about a shot here or there that could have turned the match to make up that one point, and you hate to see Hunter go through what he's going through. Because it really shouldn't have come down to that.

"But unfortunately it did, and we are taking this as a team loss. We are trying to help Hunter along here in this situation. But it's a tough deal for him."

No doubt. It is not easy to take on that burden, and Stewart Cink said that Mahan had wanted that role of bringing up the rear in case the match mattered.

Sure enough, it did, as the Americans won six of the 12 matches and tied two others. That put them within a half-point of what they needed Monday.

Unfortunately for Mahan, he picked the wrong time to have a tough day. He was 3 down through 11 holes, made just one birdie and actually did well to be in the game through 16 holes.

"It could be a match nobody knows about or the biggest match of your life," Mahan said later through a PGA of America media official. "You feel like you're playing everybody. So it's like one man. You're competing for everybody you know."

McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion, made five birdies and just two bogeys to take control of a match during which all eyes were fixated on the last few holes.

"The U.S. Open felt like a back nine with my dad back at Portrush compared to that," the Northern Irishman said of his home course. "I was really nervous there. Wow. It's a different feeling. It's just so much pressure."

And under that duress came some incredible golf.

Stricker got things started with a 2-and-1 victory over Lee Westwood, who ascended to No. 2 in the world this week and is likely to go to No. 1 soon.

Jeff Overton rallied to defeat Ross Fisher, 3 and 2. Tiger Woods was 9 under par for 15 holes and completed a 3-1 Ryder Cup by knocking off Francesco Molinari 4 and 3. Phil Mickelson won his first match of the Ryder Cup with a 4-and-2 win over Peter Hanson. Zach Johnson defeated Padraig Harrington 3 and 2.

Then Rickie Fowler, a rookie, made an incredible comeback, birdieing the last four holes to earn a half against Edoardo Molinari.

It was that half-point that set the stage for the McDowell-Mahan match, although you could point to any number of instances when a different outcome would have changed everything.

"It was won yesterday evening when we came away with 5½ out of 6," European captain Colin Montgomerie said. "The Americans played brilliantly today, they really did. They battled hard. But we won this because we were three points ahead. And that was a team effort. That's why we won the Ryder Cup today."

That didn't make it any easier for the Americans to take. This was the sixth loss in the past eight Ryder Cups, with no victories in Europe going back to 1993.

Mickelson has been on all those teams, including a couple of blowouts, and coming so close was of little consolation.

"We put a lot of heart and energy into this event," he said. "We really believed all week we were going to win. And that's what's hard because we were so close. Every one of us can look back on a match and say that this could have been the deciding factor."

Mickelson pointed to his failure to win any of his first three matches. On Saturday, two of the matches reached the 18th hole, and the U.S. side was unable to prevail in either one.

On Monday, Cink had a 1-up lead on Rory McIlroy through 14 holes, three-putted the 15th for a par to fall back into a tie, then missed decent birdie tries at the 16th, 17th and 18th holes. He had to settle for a tie, and that half-point also could be pointed to as the difference.

Jim Furyk battled all day against Luke Donald and made two late birdies to pull within 1 but could not get a look at birdie on the 18th hole. A tie there also would have made a difference.

"The Ryder Cup brings stuff out of you that you don't know you had, from an emotional sense, from a golf sense, and that's what is personal about it," Mahan said. "I don't think people give us credit for how much we actually care about it. It's not fun to lose in this event. It's not fun to watch them parade around and get a victory at their home place.

"But it is one of the best events in the world. Because it is different than what you usually do, and what you're playing for."

For Mahan, it was agony. For McDowell, ecstasy.

All over a half-point.

"I just can't describe the feeling of this golf tournament," McDowell said. "Trying to win it for your 11 other teammates, the caddies; the fans here have just been unbelievable. Monty, Europe. It's a special feeling. There's nothing quite like it."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com