By Jack Bantock, CNN
Having suffered a record 19-9 defeat at Whistling Straits in 2021, the hosts made a ferocious start at Marco Simone Golf Club and maintained pace to take a commanding 10.5 – 5.5 point lead into the final day of singles matches.
Yet, after moving to within half a point of the 14.5 winning threshold inside the opening six games, a nail-biting wait ensued as the visitors accumulated a flurry of wins to keep their dream of a first away triumph in 30 years alive.
Europe’s rising anxiety was finally quelled when England’s Tommy Fleetwood, facing Rickie Fowler in the penultimate match, struck a sensational tee shot to help take the 16th hole, guaranteeing at least a tie in their singles match and, consequently, the Ryder Cup.
The confirmation sparked euphoric scenes among Team Europe and tears for captain Luke Donald.
“It has been a long process and an amazing journey,” an emotional Donald said in a TV interview.
“It has been stressful. USA put up a fight today, they really did, so hats off to them. But I am so proud of my 12 guys, they formed a bond from day one, they gave me everything.
“This is why the Ryder Cup is so special to me and the guys. We play for each other, we will share those memories forever.”
There was a brief interlude as the closing matches finished, crowds flooding onto the course to surround the 18th green as Republic of Ireland’s Shane Lowry played out what will undoubtedly be the most enjoyable lost hole of his career to tie with Jordan Spieth.
“The last two hours were the most stressful of my life, I could see it wasn’t going well for us,” Lowry said in a TV interview.
“I’m so proud of my team … it’s been the greatest week of my life!”
The defeat for US captain Zach Johnson’s side prolongs the country’s miserable record on European soil.
Having not won away since 1993, the barren run will have ticked over to a minimum of 34 years when the tournament returns to Europe at Adare Manor, Ireland in 2027.
Johnson praised his team before taking responsibility for getting “outplayed” by the hosts.
“We showed grit, we showed heart and then it got interesting there,” the 47-year-old said.
“It’s not them. It’s on me. I maybe made some poor decisions … I’ll reflect at some point, but it’s not about those 12 guys – I’m grateful for each and every one of them.”
Team USA will have the chance to secure a three-peat on home turf when the 45th Ryder Cup tees off at Bethpage Black, New York in 2025.
For Europe, the victory seals a dream double after its women’s team completed a dramatic comeback to retain the Solheim Cup in Spain last week.
A mountain to climb
The American team awoke Sunday with a mountain of historic heights to scale – though after the opening day’s showing it could have been a lot worse.
A horror start from the visitors had seen Europe record their first opening session sweep, and some Jon Rahm heroics helped send the hosts into the weekend with a 6.5 – 1.5 lead.
Even the relief of Max Homa and Brian Harman securing Team USA’s first win, which came on Saturday morning, was offset by a record 9&7 humiliation for Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka at the hands of Scandinavian duo Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg.
Scheffler was left in tears, and out of the afternoon lineup. Yet despite a world No. 1-sized hole in the roster, Team USA finally found their footing, Patrick Cantlay’s back-to-back birdies clinching a 3-1 fourballs win and a first session victory for the visitors.
That cut the overall deficit to 10.5 – 5.5, but still left the Americans needing to rewrite the history books to successfully defend the cup.
No side had ever recovered from five points adrift on the final day, the biggest singles day fightbacks coming from 10-6 down at two famous tournaments; the US at Brookline in 1999 and Europe at Medinah in 2012.
Tears of redemption for McIlroy
Donald sent out his biggest stars to try and finish the job quickly, with Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Hovland all deployed in the first four matches.
Scheffler – the only player boasting a higher world ranking than the trio – was tasked with stopping Rahm in a mouthwatering opening contest that saw deafening grandstand roars welcome the pair to the first tee.
Yet it was Hovland who secured the day’s first point, settling European nerves by easing past Collin Morikawa with a 4&3 victory. It marked a fitting send-off for the Norwegian, who dazzled throughout to finish the week 3-1-1 and nudge his side to within three points of victory.
Seeing that the US were leading in six matches, Hovland remarked that there was “a little too much red” on the leaderboard. Rahm answered the call immediately, serving up yet more 18th green magic to secure a half-point from a pulsating back-and-forth duel with Scheffler.
The Spaniard knocked a putt for eagle from nearly 90 feet to within inches of the hole, enough to preserve his unbeaten run in Rome after his American opponent failed to chip-in.
Tyrrell Hatton and McIlroy then put Europe on the brink with victories over Harman and Sam Burns respectively. Tears of joy marked a full-circle moment for the unbeaten McIlroy, almost two years to the day since his tearful outpouring that he “should have done more” at Whistling Straits.
“I was so disappointed in my performance there, so to come here to Rome and win four points, it means a lot to me,” McIlroy told Sky Sports.
“The team we have is incredible. It’s a young team, it will be around for a long time, the support we had was absolutely incredible and it’s been a great week for me personally.”
Victory was tantalizingly close, but the visitors refused to exit quietly.
Max Homa provided a spark, celebrating wildly having edged England’s Matt Fitzpatrick 1-up shortly after Koepka had taken his revenge on Aberg for Saturday’s loss with a 3&2 win.
Xander Schauffele saw off Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard by the same scoreline, giving voice to the US contingent who had made the trip across the Atlantic.
Chants of ‘USA! USA! USA!’ rung out as the gap closed to four. With Justin Thomas and Spieth leading Sepp Straka and Lowry respectively, the chase was very much on.
Enter Fleetwood and one of the week’s great tee shots. Fowler’s subsequent drive into the water eased the burden on the Englishman, his American opponent subsequently conceding to signal an end to a valiant fightback that was ultimately left too late.
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