MEDINAH, Ill. -- Jose Maria Olazabal squeezed his eyes shut as they filled with tears, overwhelmed and overjoyed that the Ryder Cup still belongs to Europe.
His players wore the image of the late Seve Ballesteros on their sleeves and played their hearts out Sunday at Medinah Country Club, filling the scoreboard with European blue as they chipped away at a four-point deficit until completing a comeback even more remarkable than what the Americans did to them at Brookline (Mass.) in 1999.
This one was on the road, where Europe didn't have the advantage of a flag-waving crowd carrying them along. All they had was a message from their captain to "play your socks off," and the spirit of another Spaniard whose name didn't need to be mentioned in the closing ceremony.
"Seve, Seve, Seve," the crowd chanted when Olazabal bowed his head to compose himself.
"I'm pretty sure he's very happy where he is today," Olazabal said.
The Americans were simply stunned.
Three times they came to the 17th hole with a chance to win a match, only for Europe to deliver the key shots that win the Ryder Cup. Ian Poulter won the last two holes, and so did Justin Rose, a birdie-birdie finish to beat Phil Mickelson. Sergio Garcia won the last two holes with pars to beat Jim Furyk.
Even at the very end, this Ryder Cup could have gone either way until Martin Kaymer delivered the knockout blow. The German stood over a 6-foot par putt that he
Kaymer poured it in to beat Steve Stricker, and the celebration was on.
"I'm so, so happy," Kaymer said. "On 18 I was a little too aggressive (with my first putt), but I wanted to make it. I'm just so happy."
Olazabal hugged all 12 players, saving the longest embrace for Lee Westwood, the only European who played on the 1997 team with Ballesteros as the captain.
"What you did out there today was outstanding," Olazabal said. "You believed, and you delivered. And I'm very proud that you have kept Europe's hand on this Ryder Cup. All men die, but not all men live. And you made me feel alive again this week."
Woods missed a 3½-foot par putt on the 18th hole, and then conceded a par to Francesco Molinari of about that length to halve their match. That extra half-point made it a clear-cut win for Europe, 14½-13½.
Woods and Stricker, the anchors in the U.S. lineup, didn't win a single match at Medinah.
"This one is for all of Europe," Olazabal said. "Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor for this event for the European side, and last night when we were having that meeting, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing. And I think they did."
Ian Poulter was the first to embrace Olazabal, which was only fitting. It was Poulter who gave Europe hope Saturday evening when he made five straight birdies to turn a loss into a win and swing momentum in Europe's favor. Poulter was up to his fist-pumping, eye-bulging tricks again on the final day, winning the last two holes in his match against U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.
And he had plenty of help. Europe's top five players in the lineup all won, including Rory McIlroy, who was lucky to be playing.
McIlroy thought his match was at 12:25 p.m. -- it was listed in Eastern time, not Central -- and needed a police escort to get to the course with 10 minutes to spare. Then, he came up with key birdies to hand Keegan Bradley his first loss of the week.
The biggest match might have belonged to Rose. He was on the verge of losing to Mickelson when Rose holed a 12-foot par putt to halve the 16th, made a 35-foot birdie putt on the 17th to win the hole and then closed out Mickelson with a 12-foot birdie on the last hole.
Six of the 12 singles matches went to the 18th hole Sunday. The Americans won only one of them.
"Today was certainly not what we expect," U.S. captain Davis Love III said.
Europe now has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups.
Love became the first U.S. captain to sit every player at least once before Sunday, wanting them to be fresh for the decisive day. Instead, the Americans faltered at the end -- especially Furyk and Stricker, two of his captain's picks.
"The plan worked the first two days," Love said. "It just didn't work today."
The only U.S. wins Sunday came from Dustin Johnson, who went 3-0 in this Ryder Cup, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.
"We're all kind of stunned," Love said. "We know what it feels like now from the '99 Ryder Cup. It's a little bit shocking. We were playing so well, we figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there."
It was most appropriate that Europe won the cup thanks to Kaymer.
Countryman Bernhard Langer missed a par putt from about the same length that allowed the Americans to win at Kiawah Island (S.C.) in 1991,.
"On Friday, I sat down with Bernhard and talked a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude was not the right one," Kaymer said. "But now I know how important the Ryder Cup is."
BY THE NUMBERS
The U.S. led the Ryder Cup 10-4 before losing the final two matches on Saturday. Here's how the Europeans caught and passed the U.S. team in the singles matches on Sunday:
Luke Donald (E) d. Bubba Watson: U.S. 10-7. Paul Lawrie (E) d. Brandt Snedeker: U.S. 10-8. Rory McIlroy (E) d. Keegan Bradley: U.S. 10-9. Ian Poulter (E) d. Webb Simpson: 10-10.
Dustin Johnson (U.S.) d. Nicolas Colsaerts: U.S. 11-10. Justin Rose (E) d. Phil Mickelson: 11-11.
Zach Johnson (U.S.) d. Graeme McDowell: U.S. 12-11. Lee Westwood (E) d. Matt Kuchar: 12-12.
Sergio Garcia (E) d. Jim Furyk: Europe 13-12. Jason Dufner (U.S.) d. Peter Hanson: 13-13. Martin Kaymer (E) d. Steve Stricker: Europe 14-13, clinches match. Tiger Woods (U.S.) and Francisco Molinari (E) halved: Europe 14.5-13.5.