Europe celebrates succesful defense of title

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Europeans completed their landslide with a dominating performance in Sunday's singles.

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Even after the skies cleared over Ireland, it kept right on pouring. First came the tears of Darren Clarke, the inspiration of this Ryder Cup, and then a shower of champagne as the Europeans celebrated another romp.

Ian Woosnam popped the cork off the first bottle, dousing his team on the 18th green. Clarke toasted the delirious Irish crowd by guzzling a pint of Guinness from a balcony and raising the empty glass like a trophy.

Even with Tiger Woods getting to pick his partner and finishing with a winning record for the first time in the Ryder Cup, it still didn't change the outcome from two years ago.

Europe 18 1/2, United States 9 1/2.

There's no doubt who owns the Ryder Cup -- and not just the shiny gold trophy.

"I don't know in the history of the Ryder Cup any European team that has played better than you guys," U.S. captain Tom Lehman told them at the closing ceremony after his American team endured its worst beating ever in the 12 singles matches.

The Europeans wanted to win this one for Clarke and the memory of his wife, Heather, who died of breast cancer six weeks ago to the day. They wanted to win for Woosnam, their pint-sized captain who made all the right moves once the tournament started.

Mostly -- as always -- they wanted to win for each other.

"That's what we do on this team," said Colin Montgomerie, who tied a Ryder Cup record with his sixth singles victory. "We play for each other. We're all just thrilled. And yes, we're going to have a big party."

Luke Donald holed a 10-foot par putt on the 16th hole for Europe's 14th point, all it needed to keep the trophy. Moments later, Henrik Stenson won his match for an outright victory, the first European team to win three in a row.

"This is the pinnacle of my life," said Woosnam, a former Masters champion and once No. 1 in the world.

The celebration was well under way when Clarke won his match against Zach Johnson, and soon the tears flowed as Clarke cried on the shoulder of caddie Billy Foster, then in the arms of Woosnam, sobbing mixed with songs and cheers.

He didn't know if he would play -- if he could play -- in the Ryder Cup so soon after his wife died and left behind two young sons. But he accepted a captain's pick from Woosnam and was determined as ever to bring his best game.

Clarke won all three matches he played, helped by some of the loudest cheers ever heard at this event.

"It was like an 80,000-seat stadium around one tee box," Johnson said of the start of their match. "Frankly, it was like that on every tee box for him. Well deserved, too."

Clarke and Woosnam embraced for the longest time, and then Woosnam thrust his arm in the air.

"It's done a lot for me for people to show me how much they care," Clarke said. "And it's done a lot to show how much they cared about Heather, and that means a lot to me. It's been a difficult week. From the minute I got here, I was determined to get myself ready, and I was. I played the way Woosie wanted me to."

Clarke had help from every one of his teammates.

Montgomerie set the tone by beating David Toms in the opening match, holing a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to improve his singles record to 6-0-2. Paul Casey followed by beating Jim Furyk, the American's first loss in Ryder Cup singles.

The Europeans tied a Ryder Cup record by winning 8 1/2 points from the 12 singles matches -- the total the Americans needed to pull off another comeback like they did in 1999 -- and they became the first team to win all five sessions since that format was adopted in 1979.

The Americans didn't stand a chance.

They tried to rally behind the memory of Brookline, when they trailed 10-6 and staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

But that was Boston. This was Ireland.

That U.S. team was so strong that only rookie was David Duval, who was No. 2 in the world. This team had four unheralded rookies and couldn't even rely on its stars. Of the top six players who qualified for the team, four didn't win a match all week. The biggest flop was Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who went 0-4-1 and has won only one match in his last two Ryder Cups.

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