x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Team who pulled off 'the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history'

With all 12 assembled for the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estares in Dubai this weekend, Europe's heroes speak to John McAuley about those memorable moments in Medinah.

The European team poses with the Ryder Cup trophy after winning the tournament on September 30 at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois.
The European team poses with the Ryder Cup trophy after winning the tournament on September 30 at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois.

September 30, 2012 will live long in the memory of the European team that gatecrashed an all-American party in Chicago and departed with team golf's most gleaming prize.

For much of the opening two days at the 39th Ryder Cup, the Stars and Stripes flew high above Medinah Country Club. A Friday that began with Graeme McDowell's opening drive concluded with the United States 5-3 up, Saturday's morning session stretching home advantage to four points.

Chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" filled the galleries as by afternoon the score crept to 10-4. Then, as darkness approached and with Ian Poulter possessed, Europe snatched two late points to offer hope.

Trailing 10-6, Jose Maria Olazabal's men, sent out in the colours of the late Seve Ballesteros, had to match the landmark turnaround achieved by the US at Brookline in 1999.

Yet the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history was stolen, Europe triumphing 14.5-13.5 to create the "Miracle at Medinah".

Nicolas Colsaerts's record 10-under-par debut that saved his four-ball with Lee Westwood; Justin Rose's implausible putt on the penultimate hole against Phil Mickelson; Rory McIlroy almost missing his duel with Keegan Bradley; Martin Kaymer's six-footer on 18 in the second-last tussle to retain the trophy. The German's nerveless stroke led to Tiger Woods's conceding a half with Francesco Molinari.

Europe had prospered. Together for the first time since that wild September night, the 12 European players recount tales of their improbable transformation.

Luke Donald (def. Bubba Watson 2 and 1)

"In the grand scheme of things, with Tiger in close, [my tee shot on 17 on Saturday afternoon was my best of the year]. At that moment it didn't seem like it mattered much - we were already down 10-4.

"But obviously we knew we needed to get every point possible, and without that and obviously without the heroics of Ian behind us, those two points certainly gave us the boost we needed to garner the confidence that helped us with that momentous comeback on Sunday.

"We left the cup a lot closer as a team. Any time you get together like that for a week's intense meetings, and the pressure on the course, you leave as better friends."

Ian Poulter (def. Webb Simpson 2 up)

"So many memories it's impossible to pick one. Justin's 45-footer on 17 on Sunday; Martin's putt on 18 to retain the trophy; my birdie on 18 on Saturday night to turn it around.

"Just the whole thing: the captain, vice captains, stuff behind the scenes. The group hug we had with Jose in the locker room afterwards was very emotional, and his words to me personally will stay with me for a long time.

"Everyone was so emotional. We were being beaten hands down, not looking good for a long time yet pulled off the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. And to do it for a captain like Jose Maria Olazabal, it doesn't get any better than that."

Rory McIlroy (def. Keegan Bradley 2 and 1)

"Caroline [Wozniacki] was in Beijing, so I was on Skype to her for nearly an hour. When I hung up I'd still an hour and 45 minutes to go before my tee time.

"So it was perfect: have shower, get dressed and get my stuff together. It was about 20 minutes to the course and I was leaving with an hour and 20 to go.

"I got a phone call - I'd a couple of missed calls but didn't know the number so didn't pick up - from my manager saying 'Rory, you at the course?' He thought I was winding him up. Luckily, they had a state trooper downstairs who could bypass the traffic and get me there on time. But it was the most worried, most nervous, and most panicked I've ever been going to the course."

Justin Rose (def. Phil Mickelson 1 up)

"It's the feeling of celebrating as a team. I played for a [poor] local football team so it was the first chance to win anything as a group. And popping corks on the bridge, sharing that with the loyal European fans.

"They'd tried their best to lift us all week, had a tough couple days, being battered by the American support and not having a lot to sing about ... that's when you really realise, 'Wow, it's really worth it.'

"[With those birdie putts on 17 and 18] you definitely get caught up in the moment. You realise how much other people want you to make putts, wanting the win so badly."

Paul Lawrie (def. Brandt Snedeker 5 and 3)

"It was important for at least four of our first five to win. The turning point was Justin's victory over Phil - how he won was quite incredible; there's no way he should have.

"After that we all thought, 'Man, this is possible.' I looked around at the board and could see points all over the place for us. And as much as it was a snowball for us, it was the opposite for them.

"You could see them saying, 'Oh my God, this is getting messy, getting tight.' I was there in '99 when the shoe was on the other foot. It was fantastic to be part of it. It might never happen again: 10-6 down, away from home."

Nicolas Colsaerts (lost to Dustin Johnson 3 and 2)

"Obviously 17 is the one that stands out. When you're faced against the wall, knowing Tiger is going to make birdie, you've got to give it the best chance you have.

"It was just another one that found the hole. My reaction was taken the wrong way; some people said I was rubbing it in with the crowds. But that wasn't my intention. It's one of those very uncontrolled reactions that the tournament makes you do.

"It's pretty cool to watch it back - goose bumps, pure entertainment. I'd seen parts but when you see the continuity, the way it happened since day one, most of us still find it pretty hard to believe."

Graeme McDowell (lost Zach Johnson 2 and 1)

"Saturday afternoon, 18th green, in the twilight in the Poulter/McIlroy match. Poults had just birdied the last four holes and I watched him make that 15 footer on the last. He gave the usual Poulter reaction, but the look on Rory's face was as if to say, 'Who is this animal?'

"That was the turning point. It was the first bit of momentum we had for two days and there was an unnecessary amount of belief within the team room after that. Everyone was charged up.

"When we saw the singles draw we knew, on paper, we could win every match. Whatever little semblance of belief we did have increased significantly with Poults's putt on 18."

Sergio Garcia (def. Jim Furyk 1 up)

"There are so many great things, even before Sunday, but the hug from Martin after he holed the putt and then everybody coming together, that's the one that sticks in my mind. I was just hoping he'd hole it. I didn't want to think about Bernhard Langer [at Kiawah Island in 1991] or anything else, just send him as much positive energy as possible.

"Ryder Cups are all special but this one a little bit more because Jose was captain and it was our first without Seve. Some of the speeches from Jose were unbelievable. He had us crying almost every time he opened his mouth. He tells them with so much energy and enthusiasm - just amazing."

Peter Hanson (lost to Jason Dufner 2 up)

"On the bridge, when everything was over. You're there ... with all your teammates with people down below, cheering and singing. I've never seen 35,000 people leave a golf course that quickly. It was a bit surreal because the atmosphere around the green was electric, and then Martin made that putt.

"Also, the speech Olly held on Wednesday had a personal connection with all of us and pretty much everyone in the room was in tears. It was about his relationship with the cup and then he put it into context with all of us. To have Seve there as well, playing with him on your sleeve, was so, so special."

Lee Westwood (def. Matt Kuchar 3 and 2)

"I almost fell in love with [Colsaerts] that day at Medinah. He said he's watched the highlights DVD - it must be all him on the Friday. I've been watching the cup since 1985, played in eight, and it was just staggering [what happened on Sunday]. It was the same as Brookline - we were on the other end of that - so there were a few of us, like me and Sergio, who knew what it was like when momentum starts to change.

"We tried to impress that on a few in the team room, and you could see that out there, with the people and the players. Poults holing that putt [on 18 on Saturday], I can't put into words how important that was."

Martin Kaymer (def. Steve Stricker 1 up)

"The last two or three holes were the most exciting I've played in my life. Obviously, 18 was just brilliant, no other word to describe it than outstanding.

"Everybody thinks I must've had a special thought, but if you think about missing, or failing, or what the Ryder Cup is worth, then you don't focus on the main thing: a putt, uphill, inside right - just make a really good stroke.

"I'd never felt so much pressure and excitement before. You see that in my reaction. It's a big gift that not a lot of athletes have. I was fortunate enough to be in the situation to make history and gained a lot of belief in myself."

Francesco Molinari (halved with Tiger Woods)

"It was a huge relief when I saw Martin hole his putt and everyone going crazy. Part of me wanted to run down the fairway and celebrate with them, but I still had to finish my match. It was just a fantastic feeling, so much adrenalin after the tension.

"It was a great gesture for Tiger to give me the putt and for all the European team it meant something to win, not only to retain the cup. I kind of laughed when I saw I was going out last because I thought, 'Here we go again.' It was a nice thought of the captain putting me last - it meant he trusted me."

jmcauley@thenational.ae