All the fans jammed on the hillside above the 18th green at Celtic Manor in Wales could have testified to the special nature of the Ryder Cup before it even began.
As Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell settled over an approach shot at the end of the event’s final practice round, you could feel goose bumps rise on the back of your neck.
With the Welsh National Anthem rolling across the hillside as Ryder Cup officials prepared for the opening ceremony, the sense that something spectacular was in the making rode the air.
The soul-stirring music touched so many of the folks there.
“I was getting teary,” said Mark Roe, the three-time European Tour winner and Sky Television reporter who walked with McDowell’s group in that practice round.
Thanks to McDowell, there were a lot more tears in the end.
Tears of joy and heartache.
Through a difficult week, through two days of showers, through downpours that ignited an American raingear controversy, this Ryder Cup’s terrific closing act made all the trouble worth enduring.
With rain delays squeezing these matches into four sessions instead of five and pushing the singles over to an extra day, the heart-thumping Monday finish made the trek through the muck more than worth the journey.
Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan battled in a decisive final match that made this Ryder Cup finish among the best in the 83-year history of the competition.
The nature of the aftermath captured just what makes the Ryder Cup golf’s most riveting spectacle.
European fans swarmed McDowell and his teammates and paraded with them to the clubhouse.
It was a day so compelling, nobody in the crowd of 35,000 seemed to want to leave when it was over. They stayed around to celebrate Europe's fourth victory in the last five Ryder Cups. They sang and chanted with their heroes, who sprayed champagne down on them from a clubhouse balcony in a raucous victory party.
“I’ve never felt nerves like it in my life,” McDowell said of the tension surrounding his dramatic putt at the 16th. “The U.S. Open felt like a back nine with my dad back at Portrush compared to that.”
McDowell, winner of this year’s U.S. Open, doused teammates with bottles of champagne. You don’t see scenes like that in major championships. You don’t see the depth of emotions stirring players and fans alike at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship. You don’t see so much winning and losing, so much joy and misery packed into one day of golf like the final day of a Ryder Cup.
You also don’t see defeat quite the way you saw it among the Americans.
Mahan was so choked up with tears meeting the media that he could barely speak.
It inspired his teammates to rally around him with Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink and Jim Furyk defending Mahan.
“I’ve never cried after losing, other than the Ryder Cup,” Furyk said.
The Americans haven’t won a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1993.
“It was one of those Ryder Cups that had everything,” Europe’s Lee Westwood said.
And he meant everything.
The week started with American captain Corey Pavin forgetting to introduce one of his players (Cink) in the opening ceremonies.
“We’re 1-up,” European captain Colin Montgomerie cracked afterward.
It got worse for Pavin on the first day of competition when word spread that some of his players were complaining that the rain gear he and his wife selected was leaking. On the other side, Montgomerie was looking like a genius who was leaving no detail to chance. Frustrated that the electronic scoreboards weren’t sufficiently conveying the impact of Europe’s commanding three-point lead going into Monday’s finish, Montgomerie ordered the boards to be reconfigured overnight. He demanded a board that would more prominently display the Euro advantage with more blue European flags.
In winning five of the six third-session matches and halving the other, Europe strongly tilted momentum its way.
But the unforgettable nature of this Ryder Cup’s finish was set up by an American charge.
Dustin Johnson sparked the American rally, giving the USA its first singles point by routing Germany’s Martin Kaymer, 6 and 4. Moments after Johnson’s point registered, Steve Stricker closed out his match, beating Europe’s best player, Westwood, 2 and 1.
Tiger Woods fueled the American rebound with a 4-and-3 thumping of Francesco Molinari. Woods holed a shot from 133 yards for eagle. He made seven birdies and an eagle in a performance that rivaled any he’s delivered at the height of his powers. He was 9 under over 15 holes.
Jeff “Boom Baby” Overton came from behind to win three consecutive holes and beat Ross Fisher. Phil Mickelson delivered, too. He ended his streak of four consecutive Ryder Cup singles losses by defeating Peter Hanson.
American rookie Rickie Fowler embodied the resilient nature of the American team. Four down with six holes to play against Edoardo Molinari, Fowler birdied the final four holes to gain an improbable halve. He rolled in 18-foot birdies at the 17th and 18th holes.
When Zach Johnson followed with a victory, this Ryder Cup was tied at 13½ with the outcome down to Mahan vs. McDowell in the anchor match.
“There were a lot of points where I thought we weren’t going to win,” Westwood said.
McDowell wiped the doubt away rolling in his 15-foot birdie at the 16th to go 2-up on Mahan with two holes to play.
The emotional weight of the dramatic finish hit Mahan hard after his chunked chip led to a concession.
Still, it was in Mahan’s tears, in the way his teammates rallied to his defense, that golf fans appreciated just how much both sides care about this event.
“We know what it means to us,” Furyk said. “Whatever you all thought in the past, whatever you've all written in the past, it's your observations, the way you feel. But that judgment . . . we know what it means.”
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell