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 Seve Ballesteros on their sleeves and played their hearts out Sunday at Medinah, 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 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 of Germany stepped forward to erase another bad memory. He stood over a 6-foot par putt that he needed to make to assure Europe would keep the trophy. If he missed, Tiger Woods was in the fairway behind him, ready to take the final point the Americans needed.
Kaymer poured it in to beat Stricker, and the celebration was on.
“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.”
He hugged all 12 players, saving the longest embrace for Westwood, the only European who played on the 1997 team with Ballesteros as the captain.
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 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.