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Monty's Magic Monday

ESPN staff
September 27, 2012
© ESPN.co.uk

The Ryder Cup gets underway at Medinah Country Club on September 28. ESPN will have extensive coverage of the event - including interactive text commentary, reports and reaction - for all three days.

On the eve of the Ryder Cup, we take a look back at how Europe ensured they would be defending the cup at Medinah

Andy Murray had his own Magic Monday in New York earlier in September, roll back two years and it was another Scot in Colin Montgomerie who was celebrating his magic Monday.

The 38th iteration of the Ryder Cup was the first renewal to run into four days, after a deluge of rain on Friday and Sunday forced play into Monday. For event organisers it proved to be a nightmare scenario, but the drama that played out will ensure that Monday in the Usk Valley will never be forgotten.

Sir Terry Matthews, famously Wales' first billionaire, bough Celtic Manor in 1980 and spent millions transforming it - with the aim being to host a Ryder Cup. His wish came true in 2001 when the resort won the right to host the 2010 event. The Twenty10 Course was born and nine years on it served up the kind of drama that is reserved for the Ryder Cup.

Monday's climax looked a long way off when the players awoke on Friday to rain, and lots of it. Celtic Manor's director of golf courses, Jim McKenzie, was the man in charge of ensuring things ran smoothly and he had a sleepless night. He said: "The rain just got heavier through the night. It was still pouring down at first light on Friday as the best part of two inches - or 40 per cent of the average monthly rainfall - fell in 12 hours or so. It was quite incredible."

Play somehow started on time, but McKenzie was not on deck to witness Dustin Johnson rifle driver off the first tee.

"One of the things I had been most looking forward to, having spent more than a decade preparing for this Ryder Cup, was watching the opening tee shot because it's one of the big moments in sport," McKenzie said. "Unfortunately, the conditions meant it was all hands on deck as surface water began gathering on the golf course and we needed to keep squeegeeing it away on the greens ahead of the players. So I missed the big moment I had been waiting for!"

The greenkeepers worked long and hard to get the course fit for play © PA Photos

Despite the best efforts of McKenzie and his 130-strong team of greenkeepers, play was suspended two hours later - with standing water making play impossible. The crowd were in fantastic form before play and that party atmosphere continued during the rain delay, although they were given a helping hand by the players who took it in turns to entertain the galleries.

Not a ball was struck between 9.45am and 5pm but those spectators who stayed the distance were rewarded as the players came back for a couple of hours of play. The resumption favoured Corey Pavin's USA side as when play was called for the final time, they led in two, were level in another and trailed in one.

The weather relented on Saturday and Europe drew first blood, with Lee Westwood justifying his desire to go out first by teaming up with Martin Kaymer to topple Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson 3&2. It wasn't the last time that chants of 'Europe, Europe' would drift over Celtic Manor.

Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher were beaten by Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods, while Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington lost out to Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton. The US took the opening session 2½-1½ - the first time they had done that on European soil since 1989 - but a vital half came from Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. The Ulstermen, despite being roared on by hordes wearing Rory wigs, struggled for rhythm all day and trailed Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink for most of the contest. But McIlroy came alive on 17, stroking a 35-foot birdie putt that fell into the cup to a deafening roar.

McIlroy experienced his first real Ryder Cup high on 17 to help gain a half. But later in the day things went full circle for the youngster on the same green. Stewart Cink, playing alongside Matt Kuchar, brought his golden putter with him and having seemingly rolled in putts from all distances, he was at it again on 17. This left McIlroy faced with a five-footer. This proved beyond him as he pulled it to the low side. He had a chance to make amends on 18, but found a greenside bunker as the US pair took the point - moving them 6-4 ahead.

The Europeans could have been forgiven for being subdued heading into the third session, but a team meeting ahead of the two hours of play that would be possible on Saturday evening saw the players storm out with a steely determination. In those two hours the Americans were simply overwhelmed. Huge roars were heard all over the course and by the time play was halted, Europe were up in all six games. The momentum had shifted, but the rain had returned.

"I was woken by torrential rainfall again in the early hours of Sunday," McKenzie said. "I dashed down to the course and I bumped into Monty in the lift. He said there was a good chance that if we got no play at all on Sunday then the matches out on the golf course from Saturday evening would be declared halved matches and Europe would go into the singles two down. Monty said that would be a big, big blow as we were up in all six matches when play finished on Saturday night."

In the 20 years since I first started playing in The Ryder Cup, I truly believe that that was one of the greatest days for European golf that we've ever had

The decision was taken to move the singles to the Monday, for the first time in the event's history, but McKenzie and his team worked tirelessly to get the course fit for play and a restart of the six games was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Stricker and Woods had been imperious for two days, but they bumped into European big guns Lee Westwood and Luke Donald and they had no answer. The Americans trudged off the 14th green, having been spanked 6&5. Leading from the front, Westwood and Donald's win lit the blue touch paper and Europe drew level in the match when, almost inevitably at the 17th, McIlroy rolled in the winning putt - having been left 12-feet from the cup by a stunning tee shot from McDowell.

Three more wins came Europe's way and a huge moment arrived on 18 when the Molinari brothers, Ryder Cup rookies Edoardo and Francesco, found a birdie on the par five to snatch a half against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar. That battling half handed Europe a 9½-6½ lead - meaning five points were needed from the 12 singles matches to secure victory.

A chiselled Ryder Cup veteran, Montgomerie was taken aback by what he described as 'Super Sunday'. The captain said: "In the 20 years since I first started playing in The Ryder Cup, I truly believe that that was one of the greatest days for European golf that we've ever had. To turn a two-point deficit into a three-point lead was quite amazing today. All credit to everybody - to stop America winning a match was fantastic."

Bright sunshine and 35,000 spectators greeted the players on the Monday, which provided the backdrop to a day of changing fortunes and drama.

Monty stacked his team with power at the top, as Westwood, McIlroy and Donald were the first three out. It did not go according to script as Stricker battled back from a hole down to beat Westwood. "You've got Big Mac, we've got Little Mac" sang the crowd as McIlroy teed off on the first and he secured a half in an epic duel with Stewart Cink. Donald showed nerves of steel to halve the final three holes for a 1-up win over Jim Furyk.

Donald was not the first European win of the singles, though. That honour went to Ian Poulter. Match play was made for Poulter and he started the mind games before play by telling the media that he would guarantee a win. Whether his antics got into the head of Matt Kuchar is not clear, but Poulter never looked back after a fabulous birdie on the third and romped to a 5&4 triumph.

The wily, cigar smoking, rioja drinking Miguel Angel Jimenez weaved his magic to beat Bubba Watson with ease, but there was momentum in the US ranks as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Overton and Zach Johnson all claimed wins. And when Rickie Fowler won the final three holes to snatch a half against Edoardo Molinari, all eyes turned to the final match.

The scores were level meaning the equation was simple: Graeme McDowell had to beat Hunter Mahan for Europe to take the Ryder Cup.

Graeme McDowell found himself the centre of an epic celebration © PA Photos

It looked done and dusted at the 11th, as Mahan had the look of a beaten man when missing a four-foot putt to drop three behind. It would not be the Ryder Cup if things were done simply, however, and errant drives from McDowell on 12 and 15 handed two holes to Mahan. Having got back into the contest, Mahan promptly sent his drive down 16 into thick rough.

McDowell did not pass up the gift and a superb drive and solid approach put him in command. The one concern for McDowell was that he was faced with a slippery, swinging downhiller. With a putt to go two up and two to play, McDowell stepped up, stroked it tentatively down the hill and watched it topple in. Massive cheers from the gallery, a fist pump from McDowell.

Mahan had to go on the attack but he miscued his tee shot at the par three 17th and left himself short of the green. The American needed a brilliant chip; he got anything but as he fluffed it. McDowell cosied his ball up to four feet. Four feet to win the Ryder Cup, but he was not made to make that nerve-jangling shot as Mahan missed his par putt and promptly conceded.

There was no holding back as McDowell was the centre of a huge scrum on the green, engulfed by team-mates, family, friends and spectators desperate to be a part of an 'I was there' moment.

It was the first time since 1991 that the Ryder Cup had been decided by the final singles match and Montgomerie, fighting back tears, said: "Graeme McDowell was put there for a good reason, he's full of confidence and that showed."

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