They said it couldn’t be done. Not again. Especially not on a course that was designed by an American and suited the style of their players. But to the backdrop of arguably the most emotionally-charged scenes ever witnessed at a golf tournament, Europe won The 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club by exactly the margin of two years ago, 18½ points to 9½.
Inspired by Captain Ian Woosnam and with two commanding on-course leaders in Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, Europe dominated the USA from the first drive on Friday morning to Lee Westwood’s final long iron onto the 18th green in the late afternoon sunshine on Sunday.
It was another resounding victory and an emphatic statement about the high quality of golf on The European Tour.
Each one of the 12 European players contributed to the points tally during the first two days of fourballs and foursomes, and when it came to the singles on Sunday, they expressed their considerable individual talents to win the session by 8½ points to 3½.
Along the way there was enough drama to keep Hollywood in business for years.
The story unfolded, as it has done in so many Ryder Cups, with Colin Montgomerie. Sent out by Woosnam at the top of the order and charged with the task of setting an example for those to follow, the Scotsman made a nerve-racking up-and-down birdie from a bunker at the 18th to close out a one hole win over David Toms, and in the process extend his amazing unbeaten run to eight singles matches.
It was first blood to Europe and from there they never looked back.
Paul Casey, a 2 & 1 winner over Jim Furyk, and David Howell, a 5 & 4 victor over Brett Wetterich, brought back two more points to offset Robert Karlsson’s 3 & 2 defeat to Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia’s 4 & 3 reversal to a hugely impressive Stewart Cink.
England’s Luke Donald, playing in the fifth match out, was the man who ensured Europe retained the trophy when he completed a 2 & 1 victory over Chad Campbell on the 17th green. Moments later, another of the strong quite types in Woosnam’s camp, Henrik Stenson, sunk the winning putt from seven feet on the 15th.
At exactly the same time as the Swede was raising his putter in triumph, Clarke, the people’s hero, was playing his approach into the 16th with the comfort of a three hole lead.
The massive crowds around the green gave the Irishman, who was about to complete an emotionally-charged return to the golfing arena following the death of his wife Heather, a deafening reception that echoed across the whole of the Palmer Course.
Clarke lagged his putt up to the hole and when Zach Johnson failed to convert his birdie effort, the American lifted Clarke’s marker and conceded the match 3 & 2. The celebrations that followed were unforgettable.
Clarke broke down in tears and was showered in hugs from Woosnam, USA Captain Tom Lehman and Tiger Woods, among others, while thousands more fans ran up the fairway to be part of the vocal party.
For many it was the perfect ending to the first Ryder Cup in Ireland, but there were still four games to finish.
Another Irishman, Paul McGinley, halved with JJ Henry and then Spanish Ryder Cup veteran José Maria Olazábal defeated World Number Two Phil Mickelson 2 & 1. Padraig Harrington, in the anchor match, could do nothing as Scott Verplank holed in one at the par three 14th, before finally losing 4 & 3 on the next green.
The overall score was now 17½ - 9½ with Westwood two-up against Chris DiMarco in the last match out on the course.
DiMarco, an Italian-American who never knows when he is beaten, managed to win the 17th to send the match down the last, where his fist-pumping adrenalin finally got the better of him.
In trying to reach the green in two, DiMarco pulled his approach into the water. Westwood, who was struggling with illness, knocked a long iron onto the putting surface but still his opponent was in no mood to concede. However, when DiMarco found the water for a second time the hole was conceded to the Englishman and then, with all the European players reunited, the champagne started to flow.
While Woosnam, his players and their caddies sprayed Moet & Chandon from the balcony of the Palmer Course clubhouse and down onto the jubilant crowd below, the truth was that the enduring image of this memorable contest had come some time earlier at the 16th.
Woosie had lifted the arm of a tearful Clarke into the air, in the manner of a winning boxer. It was a hugely symbolic moment, for Clarke had proven to the watching world that he was one of life’s great fighters – and one of the world’s best golfers.