Europe holds off American charge to claim Ryder Cup

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NEWPORT, Wales | The pressure was more than Graeme McDowell wanted.

The heartbreak was more than Hunter Mahan could handle.

The longest Ryder Cup in history came down to the very last match Monday at Celtic Manor, exposing the rawest emotions found in golf and delivering a moment that defines a career — even for a U.S. Open champion.

Clinging to a 1-up lead with three holes to play, with Europe needing his match to reclaim the precious gold trophy, McDowell gently sent his 15-foot putt toward the cup and set off a ground-shaking roar when it dropped for birdie.

“The best putt I’ve hit in my life,” McDowell said.

One hole later, Mahan was well short on the par-3 17th, flubbed a chip and conceded a par to McDowell that gave Europe the 14½ points it needed to take back the cup.

It was the first time since 1991 that the Ryder Cup was decided by the final singles match, a thriller made possible by the Americans getting big wins from their best players, and a stunning comeback by 21-year-old rookie Rickie Fowler.

Leave it to McDowell to cap off a great year — for himself in the U.S. Open, for all of Europe in the Ryder Cup.

Under far greater pressure than he felt at Pebble Beach, McDowell could barely keep his hands steady on his 6-iron from 181 yards to hit the shot in the 16th hole. And he couldn’t hold back his emotions on the 17th, when the match ended with his 3-and-1 victory.

Neither could Mahan.

“That birdie on 16 was huge,” Mahan said, fighting back tears. “He beat me.”

That was all he could say before bowing his head. This, from the player who delivered the most crucial putt two years ago Valhalla in a U.S. victory.

Such a heart-stopping finish salvaged what had been a drab week at the Ryder Cup, with two big rain delays that forced a revamped schedule and led to the first Monday finish in Ryder Cup history.

Under a beautiful blue sky in Wales, all was forgotten.

Memories of mud and umbrellas were replaced by Fowler winning the last three holes with birdies to escape with a half-point, Tiger Woods holing out from the fairway for eagle and not even knowing it, Miguel Angel Jimenez finally playing a Ryder Cup on home soil and winning a singles match for the first time.

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