Kinniard/Getty ImagesMartin Kaymer celebrates the putt that clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe.
MEDINAH, Ill. — Martin Kaymer buried a suffocating and pressure-packed 6-footer for par on the 18th hole Sunday afternoon to assure that the Ryder Cup would be headed back to Europe for the fifth time in the last six meetings.
Kaymer’s victory over Steve Stricker in the penultimate match of the day completed a stunning comeback that saw Europe score 8 1/2 points out of 12 and rally from a four-point deficit.
That comeback equaled the largest in Ryder Cup history, accomplished by the Americans in 1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Interestingly, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal halved the clinching match that year to Justin Leonard.
"This means a lot," Olazabal said. "This one is for the whole of Europe."
Olazabal, who is a two-time Masters champion, said he felt the momentum change when Europe rallied for two wins in Four-balls late Saturday. Europe came out and won the first five matches on Sunday to quiet the crowd and send confidence through the lineup.
"It’s been a tough week," Olazabal said. "The first two days nothing went our way. We struggled on the greens, and this morning I felt a little change in that regard, and we started to make a few putts. The Americans just started to miss them. And winning those (first) few matches, that was key.”
The U.S. hopes ended up resting on the shoulders of Stricker and Tiger Woods — who had gone 0-3 in the team portion of the event — in the final two matches of the day. The score was tied at 13 when Jason Dufner put the final U.S. point on the board and the Europeans only needed one more to retain the Cup.
Kaymer made a 5-footer for par to win the 17th hole after Stricker missed from 7 to set the stage for the drama at the final hole. This time, Stricker converted the 8-footer he’d left himself after mis-reading an improbable 40-footer for birdie.
When Kaymer was equal to the task, it rendered Woods’ match with Francesco Molinari moot. Woods, who had gained the 1-up lead with a par at the 17th, ended up missing a short putt for par on the final hole and conceding the Italian’s putt to halve the match.
"To be honest, I don’t know," Kaymer said when asked what he was feeling over the final putt. "It’s a feeling that I’ve never had before. On Friday I sat down with Bernhard (Langer) and talked to him a little bit about the Ryder Cup because my attitude wasn’t the right one.
"But now, after that match today against Steve, I know how important the Ryder Cup became and is for Olazábal, and Bernhard helped me so much just to sit down with me and talk about it."
Langer is the only other German besides Kaymer to play in the Ryder Cup. He played in 10 Ryder Cups, owns a 21-15-6 record and captained the team to victory in 2004 at Oakland Hills.
Interestingly, he faced the same situation as Kaymer in the matches in 1991 at Kiawah Island. Only there, Langer missed a 5-footer that would have enabled the Europeans to retain the Cup.
U.S. Captain Davis Love III said he wouldn’t have done anything differently. The Americans only needed 4 1/2 points to retain the Cup so he had front-loaded his team with players who were hot and left the veterans at the end.
"We had a couple matches get flipped there at the end that made it a little bit easier on them," Love said. "This is a great team, we had a great week. We played together as a team, and today we said we want to win every segment, and we got a halve out of a couple of them, and we got beat badly in this one.
“Any time you lose a segment that badly, it’s going to cost you the Ryder Cup."
Love said Ian Poulter’s flurry of five straight birdies to win Saturday’s final match was big for the Europeans.
"Ian’s hot streak at the end there yesterday gave them some confidence, and I know they built on that," Love said. "We tried to say, they got on a little bit of a run, but if we can get a run early … guys that started hot the first couple days did not start hot today.
"Like I said, a couple matches there in the middle got flipped. We knew we were going to put Stricker and Woods in the back just in case, and they obviously fought hard, stayed in it all the way, but once those guys got the momentum, it was tough."