The Cup Comes Back to Europe

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SUTTON COLDFIELD, England ' It was all going according to plan. Europe was winning early; America was trying to rally late.
 
But then it happened. One of the biggest shockers in the 75-year history of the Ryder Cup.
 
Phil Mickelson, a man bred in match-play manner, flawless in singles competition, lost to Phillip Price, a point-less rookie.
 
The match was the fulcrum on which the 34th edition of the Ryder Cup swung into the Europeans hands.
 
Having started the day at eight points apiece, the Europeans won, 15 - 12.
 
It was always going to be close. And we won it. We won it, Torrance said while trying to fight back tears. All I did was lead them to the water and they drank copiously.
 
Torrances Sunday strategy of playing his top players first in the singles matches paid off handsomely in the form of a 17-inch gold chalice. His European team engulfed the Americans early, and got some surprising results late.
 
Price won the fifth, sixth and seventh holes to take a 3-up lead on the worlds No. 2 ranked player. Mickelson won the ninth to cut his deficit, but the 35-year-old Welshman, ranked 119th in the world, stuck his approach shot at 10 to two feet to reclaim his 3-up advantage.
 
Price saved par from 12 feet to keep his lead, and did the same with a birdie from seven feet at 13.
 
Mickelson tried to mount a comeback, sinking a six-footer for birdie at 15 to get 2-down. But Price made a 20-foot downhill birdie at the next to seal the surreal victory.
 
Mickelson, along with Tiger Woods, were supposed to be the Americans' safety net should the Cup come down to the end. But as it was, Woods' disppointing half with Jesper Parnevik was of no consequence.
 
Prices 3-and-2 win gave the Europeans a 13 - 10 lead. Niclas Fasth then earned a half against Paul Azinger, who holed his bunker shot for birdie at the last to avoid defeat.
 
It was Irishman Paul McGinley who put the Europeans over the top with his half against Jim Furyk. The Ryder Cup rookie sank a 10-foot par putt at 18 to send his team, and nearly 50,000 fans, into a frenzy.
 
It marked the first time the Europeans won the singles portion of the Matches since 1995, at Oak Hill, when they also captured the Cup. The only other occasion when theyve won the one-on-one session since incorporating the continent as a whole, in 1979, was 1985 at The Belfry.
 
Since winning for the first time in 28 years in 85, the oft-viewed underdogs have now won or retained the Cup six of the last nine competitions.
 
They also vanquished the lingering memory of the last Ryder Cup at Brookline, when they blew a four-point lead heading into Sunday. That day the U.S. won the first six singles matches to turn the tide and win the event.
 
Like three years ago, television viewers could barely keep the pace this Sunday. Every time directors cut from one hole to another, pixels emanated from the site of a European stuffing an approach shot to five feet, or holing a putt from 20.
 
Captain Curtis Strange and his 12 Americans must have thought they were in Bizarro Brookline ' a reverse world, one where a strangers imperfections are perfect in the eyes of the host.
 
Sam TorranceIn '99, then U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw stacked his line-up early, letting his horses run out of the gates in order to make up the deficit. They did just that, flooding the scoreboard in American red.
 
This time the strategy was the same ' for Torrance. And the scoreboard was awash in a sea of European blue.
 
The home team won five of the first eight matches, and halved another.
 
Colin Montgomerie went out first Sunday, facing Scott Hoch. He earned a half with Hoch in the 1997 singles at Valderrama; though, the overall outcome had already been decided in Europes favor.
 
This time it was up to Montgomerie to set the tone, which he did. He birdied the first, was 3-up by the turn, and won 5-and-4. He made six birdies in his 14 holes played.
 
Ive played six of these singles, Montgomerie said. Thats by far the best Ive played.
 
The next match in was that of Padraig Harrington and Mark Calcavecchia. The Irishman also thumped the American, 5-and-4.
 
It was Europe 10, America 8. Immediately thereafter, it was 11-8, as Bernhard Langer defeated Hal Sutton, 4-and-3.
 
We wanted to win the first six matches out here and take the pressure off the others, Langer said.
 
They werent quite able to that. Sergio Garcia led David Toms, 2-up through nine holes, when, as he had done all week, he went for the green off the tee at the short par-4 10th. His ball finished right of the green, but his chip shot didnt trickle down the slope to the hole. Garcia made par, while Toms made birdie after laying up in the fairway.
 
Toms went on to win 13 and 14 to take the lead, and won, 1-up, when Garcia hit his tee shot in the water on 18.
 
Europe 11, America 9.
 
David Duval and Darren Clarke traded birdies at 17 to keep their match all square. They then both badly missed the green at the last. Clarke pitched his third to within concession range, and Duval made an imperative eight-footer to halve the hole and the match.
 
Europe 11 , America 9 .
 
Thomas Bjorn defeated Stewart Cink, 2-and-1, when Cink made bogey on the par-5 17th. And Scott Verplank topped Lee Westwood, 2-and-1, to keep the margin between the two teams at 2.
 
After Price made it 13 - 10, Azinger stole a half from Fasth, reviving memories of his 1993 Memorial triumph when his bunker hole-out defeated the late Payne Stewart.
 
But McGinley officially ended it, making the final two matches for pride alone.
 
Davis Love III and Pierre Fulke agreed on a half. Woods bogeyed the last to give Parnevik a half.
 
Love and Fulke were tied on the 18th when Garcia came running down the fairway to hug Fulke's caddie and celebrate. At that point Love had had enough, and asked an official and Fulke for a half, which he was awarded.
 
'They won, it was over, it's hard not to celebrate,' Love said of Garcia's actions. 'It just was not the way to finish the match.'
 
Perhaps some fodder when the 2004 Ryder Cup takes place at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
 
Full coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches