European rally wins Ryder Cup U.S. team falters in singles matches after early lead

Losing captain in tears

Final hole decides five of 12 matches played on last day

September 25, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- There was no champagne shower from the clubhouse balcony, as there had been in 1985 at The Belfry. No conga-line dance around the 18th green, as happened two years later at Muirfield Village when Europe won the Ryder Cup for the first time in America.

But there was a little of everything yesterday for the European team at Oak Hill Country Club: joyous tears streaming down the face of Seve Ballesteros, pure ecstasy emanating from Constantino Rocca, and sweet redemption for captain Bernard Gallacher.

For the U.S team, there was only stunned silence and sickening disbelief.

Both scenes were played out moments after Jay Haas conceded a one-foot putt to Philip Walton, giving the Europeans a stunning come-from-behind victory in the 31st Ryder Cup. Europe erased a two-point deficit coming into the final day's singles matches to win, 14 1/2 -13 1/2 .

With their defeat, the Americans surrendered possession of the cup for the first time since 1985. It marks the sixth time the U.S. has lost in the history of the event, and the first since the Ryder Cup was expanded to three days that the U.S. team was defeated after taking a lead into singles.

"I know all these guys are disappointed because I've sat in their seats before," said U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins, who broke down during the closing ceremonies. "It's not fun. But I'd like to congratulate Bernard and the Europeans. They played some inspired golf."

Said Brad Faxon, "The Europeans had to play better today and they just drummed us. It's unbelievable."

In the kind of nerve-racking, knee-buckling finish that has typified this biennial event during the past decade, five of the 12 matches came down to the final hole. Europe went unbeaten, winning four of them. The most dramatic, not to mention the most crucial, was Nick Faldo's 1-up victory over Curtis Strange.

It was reminiscent of their showdown during the final round of the 1988 U.S. Open. Then, Strange forced a playoff after getting up-and-down from a bunker for par on the 72nd hole and went on to win the following day. Yesterday, Faldo's 4-footer to save par secured at least a tie. It came after Strange, whose approach was chunked into the rough, missed a 6-footer for par.

"I can't believe we lost," said Strange, surveying the European celebration from behind the 18th green. "I congratulate them, but I can't believe we lost."

It was an agonizing ending to a difficult week for Strange. His pick as one of two captain's choices was severely second-guessed. He lost all three matches in which he played, the last coming after he took a 1-up lead into the 17th hole yesterday.

Though Faldo made big putts on the last two holes to win -- "Everything was shaking but the putter," he said, in decribing the immense pressure -- Strange missed putts from similar lengths. He also hit poor approaches on the final three holes, each leading to bogey.

"It's the same problem I've been fighting for 2 1/2 , three years," said Strange, whose last PGA Tour victory came here at the 1989 Open. "I'm not sure how long I'm going to keep fighting it. It's a frightening thought, how I'm going to wake up tomorrow knowing that 11 guys fought their hearts out and I didn't play very well."

Strange wasn't the only American to falter -- some would say choke -- down the stretch. Faxon had chances to even his match with David Gilford on the last hole, but hit a wobbly approach from the middle of the fairway. He then missed a 6-footer for par after Gilford had made a 10-footer for bogey.

Had either Faxon or Strange made their putts, the U.S. team would have retained the cup by virtue of a tie going to the previous winner.

Then there was Haas at 18. After making miraculous shots to win the previous two holes to cut his deficit to 1-down, including holing out from a bunker at 16, Haas couldn't complete what he thought would have been "a storybook finish." He hit a weak wedge that left him with a 60-foot chip to save par. It didn't come close.

"They tell you to trust your instincts and I know I've been in that situation a lot of times, but this is different," said Haas, who was consoled by his wife and several teammates, as well as by hTC Ballesteros. "A lot of guys came over to me and said, 'I've been there too.' "

Walton, who missed a 4-footer to secure victory on the 17th hole, needed to get down in two putts from 15 feet. When the first putt stopped a foot from the hole, Haas shook his hand. It was all over but the shouting -- and the singing from Irish fans, who toasted Walton from the bleachers.

The champagne squirted from one mob of players. Walton, a Ryder rookie, hugged Rocca, who went from being the goat in Europe's defeat at The Belfry two years ago to one of his team's many heroes. Howard Clark, whose hole-in-one yesterday was the decisive shot in his 1-up victory over Peter Jacobsen, paraded with his son on his shoulders. And Ballesteros, whose 4-and-3 defeat yesterday to Tom Lehman had opened a 10-7 lead for the U.S. team, cried.

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