Europe Edges Out U.S. To Win Ryder Cup

Robert Siegel talks to NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman about golf's Ryder Cup, which wrapped up on Monday. It came down to the last match — but the European team held on for the victory, beating the Americans by just one point.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

A thrilling finish today at golf's Ryder Cup in Wales. The every-other-year competition between the best American and European players came down to the final match. And when it was done, it was Europe on top by just one point, holding off an American team that played very well today. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now.

And, Tom, it call came down to that final group, American Hunter Mahan versus Graeme McDowell´┐Żfrom Northern Ireland. What happened?

TOM GOLDMAN: Little set up first, Robert: Coming into today - the first Monday finish, by the way, in cup history because of rain delays - Europe was comfortably ahead and needed just five of 12 possible points out of the singles matches, where one U.S. golfer plays one European. And the Americans rallied and tied the score.

And with one match left, as you said, and it was McDowell versus Mahan, it was quite a scene. Both teams gathered to watch, as did thousands in the gallery at Celtic Manor resort. And, of course, millions watching on TV.

McDowell won the U.S. Open this year, and he said the Open was like playing a casual round of golf with his dad compared to what he went through today. Still, he sank a crucial birdie putt on the 16th hole. Hunter Mahan then had to win the final two holes for the U.S. to retain the cup, which it won in 2008.

On 17, though - oh, God - the pressure got to him. He flubbed a little chip shot right off the green, missed a final putt and that was it. McDowell won the match. The U.S. fell just a half point short of what it needed. And Europe won its sixth Ryder Cup out of the last eight.

SIEGEL: So jubilation for the Europeans.

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: A tough loss for the Americans. How did Mahan take it?

GOLDMAN: Hard. He was bereft. He had a hard time saying anything at the team press conference afterwards. Here's what he did say about his opponent in that singles match, Graeme McDowell.

Mr. HUNTER MAHAN (Golfer): You know, he - that birdie on, you know, 16, after I, you know, got it to one down was huge. So he played - he just beat me today.

GOLDMAN: That was tough. After he broke down, his teammate Phil Mickelson and a few others, notably Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink, they rallied around him and said there's no way Mahan should take the blame. Mickelson said, rightly so, that he could have done better and gotten the U.S. more points in earlier matches over the weekend. Cink and Ryder Cup veteran Jim Furyk also didn't play their best in the singles.

And, you know, Robert, we talk about the way these PGA players, these guys who are only looking out for themselves on the tour, how they come together in the Ryder Cup, show this team spirit. This was a great example of that in a losing effort, the way the U.S. team drew this protective shield around Mahan.

SIEGEL: Now, the U.S. team did play well today, even if Mahan didn't win that last match. And they played well at the beginning of the tournament also. It was the middle - it was the second day that didn't go well.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, not at all. Because of the condensed schedule due to the heavy rains on the first day, they crammed a bunch of matches into the second day. And Europe won almost all of them late in the day. And that put the U.S. in a big hole. More so than Hunter Mahan's bad shots on 17 today, it was that Sunday surge by Europe and the meltdown by the Americans that determined the outcome.

SIEGEL: It's a big deal to be Ryder Cup captain. It was Corey Pavin this time. He assembles the team. He sets up the lineups. How did he do?

GOLDMAN: Pretty well. His so-called captain's picks - those are the guys who fill out the team after the automatic qualifiers - those picks were Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, youngster Rickie Fowler. They all either won or tied their singles matches. Pavin did OK. Europe was just a little better.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Goldman.

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