Backed by the clutch performance from its English rookies and reliable play from Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, Europe put the United States in another huge hole Saturday by taking an 11-5 lead and making victory Sunday seem like a mere formality.
Europe looked like it might get swept in the morning, but recovered to win 1 1/2 points to maintain its lead. Then it turned the Ryder Cup into a runaway, sending Tiger Woods and Davis Love III to a crushing loss and whipping up on the rest of their teammates.
The Americans can't even rely on memories from Brookline five years ago, when they trailed 10-6 before staging the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history by front-loading their best players to build momentum and eventually winning on Justin Leonard's 45-foot birdie putt.
Finding their best players is the real problem, not to mention a six-point deficit.
'There's not a lot we can say,' U.S. captain Hal Sutton said. 'We've been outplayed to this point. We'll have to come out charging.'
Europe will be waiting. Even as its fans wrapped themselves in flags and heartily sang 'Ole! Ole!,' the players were cautious to celebrate too early.
'We've got too much respect for the Americans,' Paul McGinley said after he and Padraig Harrington stormed back form an early deficit to beat Woods and Love, 4 and 3. 'The lessons from Brookline have been learned. It's a great day, two really good days. But we have a long way to go.'
Where's Mark James when the Americans really need him?
He was the European captain in 1999 who benched three rookies until Sunday, then sent them out as sacrificial lambs that enabled the United States to stage its rally.
European captain Bernhard Langer allowed three of his rookies to make their Ryder Cup debut Saturday, and two of them shined. Paul Casey and David Howell won the final two holes for a 1-up victory in a better-ball that kept the Americans at bay and sent a surge of confidence through their teammates in the afternoon.
Europe immediately took the lead in the first three matches, but the turning point came in the one it trailed.
Woods, who won earlier Saturday with the ebullient Chris Riley, teamed with Love to win the first two holes and seemed destined to make it a short match.
'I didn't see a way out for us,' Harrington said. 'Paul said to me going up the second hole, 'Look, we're in trouble here. We shouldn't be playing against these guys; we should be playing the course. From here on in, we'll shoot under par.' And that's what we did.'
Woods and Love bogeyed four out of six holes in the middle of the match and lost, 4 and 3.
Phil Mickelson, benched in the morning after his poor play Friday, joined David Toms for the lone U.S. victory in the afternoon, 4 and 3 over Thomas Levet and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
But the European stalwarts were Garcia and Westwood, the only players who have yet to lose a match this week.
First, they held off Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco for a tie and a half-point in the morning.
Westwood teamed with Darren Clarke for a 5-and-4 victory over Haas and DiMarco in the afternoon, and Garcia joined Luke Donald to win 1 up over Jim Furyk and Fred Funk.
After a par on the 18th clinched the match, Garcia retrieved the flag and waved it over his head, then leapt into the arms of his teammates.
The blue on the scoreboard -- European wins -- was undeniable.
With every match that ended, the Americans were losing faith.
'Anything can happen, but we're getting way too far down,' Haas said. 'It doesn't look good.'
Mickelson, Friday's goat and Saturday morning's cheerleader, found enough of his game to score his first point at Oakland Hills, but that was a small consolation.
'I don't know if we want to start a new challenge of coming from five or six points behind,' he said after winning his match. 'Right now, we're fighting to keep our head above water.'
They started going under toward the end of the morning better-ball matches.
Trailing 6 1/2-1 1/2 at the start of a sunny day, the Americans looked like they might erase most of that deficit in one session. They got off to a great start, and the crowd responded with raucous chants of 'USA!' that rang out across Oakland Hills.
At one point, they were poised to win 31/2 points from the better-ball matches, maybe even sweep.
But it all changed in about 30 minutes -- the lead, the momentum, everything but possession of the cup, which looks like it will remain in Europe for another two years.
Furyk made three three straight birdies for a 1-up lead on the 13th hole. After David Howell hit his approach to 3 feet for birdie on the 15th, Chad Campbell finally contributed with a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole to regain the lead with two to play.
But the English rookies showed their mettle.
Howell stuffed his tee shot on the 17th into 8 feet for birdie to square the match. Then, with Howell out of the hole after a poor tee shot, Casey hit to the right side of the green, a difficult two-putt for par. Campbell was just short of the green, and he decided to chip instead of putt through about 6 feet of fringe.
It looked like the worst the Americans could do was a halve.
But Campbell's chip came out a little hot and went 8 feet by, and he missed that for bogey. Casey lagged beautifully over the ridge, calmed his nerves and holed a 3-footer for par to win the match.
They became the first rookie tandem to win their Ryder Cup debut in 25 years.
'That's the biggest part of the week there,' Lee Westwoodsaid. 'It made a massive difference.'
Despite all the early momentum, all the boisterous cheering, the Americans only had to look at the scoreboard to realize they didn't have much to show for it going into the afternoon matches.
Europe 8, United States 4.
And it was all downhill from there.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.