By inches, U.S. retakes Ryder Europe loses cup on missed putt


KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- The 29th Ryder Cup had come down to the last match, Hale Irwin vs. Bernhard Langer. To the last hole, the 438-yard 18th. To the last putt, a 6-footer by Langer.

Langer needed to make that putt to win his match and end the U.S.-Europe biennial competition in a tie for the second consecutive time. Otherwise, the Americans would be victorious for the first time since 1983.

"With all that pressure, if a guy would hit that putt and it went in," Lanny Wadkins said, "he'd be the most relieved guy who ever walked."

Langer wasn't relieved.

He missed.

When the putt curled off to the right, that match ended in a tie. In this case, a tie for the Americans was like kissing the trophy. It was worth a half-point and clinched team victory after three days of high anxiety, 14 1/2 points to 13 1/2 .

"We were out to prove Americans can still play golf," said Paul Azinger, whose side had kept the cup for 27 years until surrendering it to the Europeans in 1985. "And we did it."

The emotion of the moment showed up in several places around the 18th green. Wadkins, whose victory in the penultimate match clinched at least a U.S. tie, was crying there, wiping his face with a towel. Mark Calcavecchia, who had blown a 4-up lead with four holes to play, also was crying. Irwin barely could talk. U.S. captain Dave Stockton and some of his players couldn't bear to watch when Langer putted.

Those were tears of relief and joy. They flowed, as did champagne. Flags waved. People chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" And the U.S. players took their captain down to the beach, picked him up and dunked him into the Atlantic Ocean about 50 yards out.

Meanwhile, Langer suffered.

"It all came down to a 6-foot putt," he said. "There were two spike marks in my line. I asked my caddy, and he said hit it left-center and firm to avoid the spike marks. That's what I tried to do.

"But it didn't work out."

His teammates were quick to console him. After all, he was 2-down to Irwin after 14 holes, but made a 7-foot par putt to win No. 15, a 5-footer for par after a sand shot to halve No. 16 and a 5-footer for par to win No. 17.

"There's no one in the world who could have made that putt of his on 18," European leader Seve Ballesteros said. "There was just too much pressure for anybody."

"It was like having the entire U.S. Air Force aiming all of its artillery at you," Irishman David Feherty said, "and if you don't make it, they shoot."

Tony Jacklin, the European captain in the past three Ryder Cups, said this of Langer's situation: "I don't think anyone in the history of the game has stood over a putt with more pressure than that."

Pressure was the byword yesterday, when the Americans won five, lost four and tied two of the 11 singles matches.

"Early on the back nine, I kept hearing 'U-S-A! U-S-A!' chants, and I couldn't breathe, I couldn't swallow, I couldn't do anything," said Irwin, who bogeyed five of the last eight holes. "Coming in from 14, I could barely hit the ball. The pressure and the course made us all look ugly."

Irwin had a few chances to win his match and the cup before 18. On No. 17, he three-putted for bogey from 35 feet while Langer chipped up to 5 feet and made par to win the hole and even the match.

"There's much more pressure in this than there is in a U.S. Open," said Irwin, who has won three Opens.

The normally talkative Wadkins was so emotional, he had difficulty talking after he won his match.

"The only two times I've ever not been able to talk were both at the Ryder Cup -- today and in 1983," said Wadkins, who clinched a U.S. victory eight years ago in the last match.

Yesterday's competition featured surprises as well as drama.

The U.S. team experienced disappointment when Payne Stewart lost to Feherty, 2 and 1, and Calcavecchia folded.

Calcavecchia shot at least a 44 on the back nine, finishing with a triple bogey, a bogey, a triple bogey and a bogey. At 17, opponent Colin Montgomerie knocked his tee shot into the water. Calcavecchia, however, followed with a skulled shot into the lake and missed a 2-foot putt for double bogey that would have closed out the match.

But the Americans got significant victories when Azinger defeated Jose Maria Olazabal, 2-up, in a shootout that featured seven holes won by birdies, and Chip Beck, who had not been playing well, upset Ian Woosnam, 3-1, thanks largely to a sand shot holed for an eagle.

"I felt I had to redeem myself after letting Azinger down on Friday," said Beck, who lost two team matches with Azinger that day.

When it was over, however, no one was more relieved than Calcavecchia.

"I felt as bad as I could feel," he said. "I thought I had cost us the Ryder Cup.

"Thank God for my teammates."

Steve Pate, United States, and David Gilford, Europe, halved (by agreement; match not played). David Feherty, Europe, def. Payne Stewart, United States, 2 and 1. Nick Faldo, Europe, def. Ray Floyd, United States, 2-up. Colin Montgomerie, Europe, halved with Mark Calcavecchia, United States. Corey Pavin, United States, def. Steve Richardson, Europe, 2 and 1. Seve Ballesteros, Europe, def. Wayne Levi, United States, 3 and 2. Paul Azinger, United States, def. Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe, 2-up. Chip Beck, United States, def. Ian Woosnam, Europe, 3 and 1. Paul Broadhurst, Europe, def. Mark O'Meara, United States, 3 and 1. Fred Couples, United States, def. Sam Torrance, Europe, 3 and 2. Lanny Wadkins, United States, def., Mark James, Europe, 3 and 2. Hale Irwin, United States, halved with Bernhard Langer, Europe.

United States, 6 1/2 , Europe 5 1/2 . Total points: United States 14 1/2 , Europe 13 1/2 .

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