NEWPORT, Wales — It was tough to say which was the bigger surprise — the fact that the sun finally shone on swampy Celtic Manor or that the foregone conclusion that was the 2010 Ryder Cup came down to the last, nerve-jangling match.
With copious rain necessitating the first Monday finish in Ryder Cup history, the Americans rallied under blue skies but couldn't quite produce a 1999-style miracle in the singles, and Europe won 14½-13½ to reclaim the Cup.
The U.S. won the singles matches 6-4-2, but after suffering one of the worst routs in the history of the Ryder Cup in the third session, it wasn't quite enough.
Needing just five points to win back the Cup, Europe got exactly five when U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell birdied 16 and hung on to defeat Hunter Mahan 3 and 1 in an anchor match many initially thought would mean nothing.
"Graeme McDowell was put there for a good reason," said an elated European captain Colin Montgomerie. "He's full of confidence, and that showed. That birdie on 16 was just quite unbelievable, quite unbelievable."
It was the sixth European victory in the last eight Cups, and the first since they pasted the Americans at the K Club in Ireland in 2006.
The U.S. was trying to win the Cup on foreign soil for the first time since 1993.
Rickie Fowler, a 21-year-old rookie and U.S. captain Corey Pavin's most heavily-debated captain's pick, set the stage for Mahan and McDowell by executing a stunning comeback to halve his match with Italian Edoardo Molinari. After falling 4 down through 12 holes, Fowler birdied the last four holes, the last two with 20-footers that found the center of the cup and set Celtic Manor on edge.
McDowell, who took an early 3-up lead over Mahan with three birdies on the front nine, backed up his birdie on 16 with a conceded par on the par-3 17th hole to end it.
It was a scintillating finish for a Cup that at the beginning of the day looked like another runaway, a result that will be remembered not just for who won but also for the unlikely and inspired charge by the underdog Americans.
After looking bewildered on the greens for most of the first three sessions to go 0-3, Dustin Johnson made four straight birdies to dispatch Martin Kaymer 6 and 4, and a minute later Steve Stricker closed out Euro star Lee Westwood 2 and 1 in the lead match.
The two results gave the U.S. the first two points of the day and cut Europe's lead to 9½-8½, providing a brief glimmer of hope for the red, white and blue.
Ian Poulter's 5-and-4 dismantling of Matt Kuchar in the fifth match restored a two-point lead, and when Rory McIlroy survived a scare to halve his match with Stewart Cink, Europe had only to coax 3½ points out of the final eight matches.
That seemed like it would be easy, until it wasn't.
It's an old chestnut that nothing is more fickle than match play, where momentum rules and everything can change in an instant. This Ryder Cup only underlined the point.
Bucking predictions and shrugging off defective rain gear in horrible weather, the U.S. took a 6-4 lead after the weather-delayed first two sessions. It was at that point that Montgomerie blistered his troops with a furious tirade.
"I can't repeat it," the expressive Scotsman later said. "It was quite rude."
It also worked magnificently. With the scoreboards reconfigured at Monty's request to show maximum blue for every European success, the home team annihilated the U.S. in the third session, seizing control. When it was all over Monday, the captain would call the lopsided session "the reason why we won."
The U.S. made a match of it thanks to some inspired play from its stars and another pleasant surprise from its most inspired rookie.
Tiger Woods watched Francesco Molinari birdie the first two holes to jump out to a 2-up lead, but swiftly seized control of the match by going 5-under in four holes, punctuated by a hole-out for eagle from the 12th fairway.
Woods won the match 4 and 3, ending the week with a Ryder Cup career-best 3-1-0 record.
"Francesco got off to a quick start," Woods said, "but I just stayed patient. I just felt, stay calm, stay patient, stay within myself and keep doing what I know I can do."
Phil Mickelson, rebounding from an 0-3-0 start that gave him the dubious achievement of having lost more matches than any American in Ryder Cup history (17), made six birdies and thumped Swede Peter Hanson 4 and 2.
Jeff "Boom Baby" Overton continued his memorable week with two birdies in the middle of the round and then hung on while Ross Fisher crumbled, winning 3 and 2.
That meant Overton ended his first Cup the same way he started it, with a win. He was the most pleasant surprise for the American side and provided its most unforgettable highlight with his fierce "Boom, baby!" reaction to his 140-yard hole-out on Sunday.
"This whole event has been awesome," said Overton, who ended the week 2-2-0. "I can't describe the emotional feelings you get, especially with all of the crowd, the fans, that come out and support the event. It's a dream come true to be a part of and, win or lose, it's all about the sport."
Captain's pick Zach Johnson birdied six of the first 11 holes and waxed Europe's controversial captain's pick, Padraig Harrington, 3 and 2. Harrington went 2-2-0 overall.
As is so often the case, the outcome Monday came down to the little things, and Europe won in part because of a couple of missed opportunities for the U.S.
Jim Furyk made a valiant comeback against Luke Donald, but, needing to win the par-5 18th hole to salvage a half point, he dumped his wedge into the right bunker.
After having stuck a wedge to within four feet to birdie the final hole with Fowler in the second session, Furyk couldn't duplicate the feat, finally succumbing to the dogged little Englishman in a match that included 11 birdies.
Cink won a match and halved three, but he missed a four-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that would have put him 1 up on McIlroy, and settled for a half point when both players made par on 18.
Mahan cut his deficit to just one when he got up and down for birdie on the short, par-4 15th hole, his first birdie of the day. But as the realization dawned that the Cup would come down to the last game, McDowell's answer on 16 put Mahan on the ropes.
The American needed to win the last two holes, but with everyone on the course suddenly gathering around the green on the par-3 17th hole, Mahan hit both his first and second shots heavy. When he missed a 30-foot par try from the front collar, it was over, as McDowell needed only to two-putt from four feet for the win.
"The talk we just had in [the team room] was very emotional," Pavin said. "It took me a while to get back out here to talk to you. It's a culmination of two years of work and preparation, and came close, didn't quite get there, but the bottom line is, I was very proud of the team and what they did and how hard they fought."