By Tom LaMarre
It would be easy to say that Hunter Mahan went from a Ryder Cup hero to the goat, but his teammates won’t buy it.
Mahan was a stalwart for the United States two years ago at Valhalla, earning a critical halve against Paul Casey of England in singles to finish off a week in which he went 3-0-2 as the United States seized the Cup for the first time since 1999 at Brookline.
This time, he was the last American standing with a chance to finish off a remarkable comeback in singles, but Graeme McDowell took him down, 3 and 1, as the Europeans regained the Ryder Cup with a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory on a manic Monday at Celtic Manor in Wales.
Another half-point and the Yanks would have kept possession of the trophy.
“(McDowell) played great today,” said Mahan, who grew up in Orange and attended USC for one year before finishing up at Oklahoma State. “He didn’t miss a shot and made a bunch of key putts, probably the last four or five holes.
“He just beat me today.”
Mahan was in tears when speaking with the media, but not only did he not shrink from the task of playing in the anchor spot in the American lineup on the final day, he asked Captain Corey Pavin, the gutty little Bruin from UCLA, for the honor.
That earned the respect of his teammates even before they left the team room.
“If you go up and down the line of the tour players in Europe and the U.S. and asked them if they would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, probably less than half would say they would like to be that guy, and probably less than 10 percent of them would mean it,” teammate Stewart Cink said.
“Hunter Mahan put himself in that position today. He was the man on our team, to put himself in that position. Hunter Mahan performed like a champ out there today. I think it’s awesome. Not many players would do that.”
It seemed that Mahan had no chance when McDowell, who captured the U.S. Open in June at Pebble Beach, built a 3-up lead after 11 holes. Then Mahan clawed back into contention by making birdies to win the 12th and 15th holes.
However, McDowell stuck in the dagger by holing a 15-foot birdie putt to win No. 16, and it was over one hole later, when Mahan could not reach the green in regulation and eventually conceded.
“The U.S. Open felt like a back nine with my dad back at Portrush compared to this,” McDowell said. “I was nervous. Wow! It’s a different feeling. It’s just so much pressure. This is the most difficult nine holes I have ever played in my life. This is another stratosphere compared to Pebble Beach.”
Almost every player on the American team knows the missing half-point could have been theirs.
Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson appeared to be a formidable team in doubles, but Pavin had to break them up after two losing sessions, and neither earned a point until winning their singles matches to help spark the comeback.
Rickie Fowler, the 21-year-old from Murrieta, provided another half-point in the rally by winning the last three holes with birdies to pull out an unlikely draw against Eduardo Molinari of Italy.
However, Fowler made a rookie mistake earlier in a foursomes match when he threw down a ball out of his pocket rather than dig Jim Furyk’s ball out of the mud on what would have been a free drop. The penalty cost the Americans the hole and Fowler had to make some key putts down the stretch to earn a halve.
Furyk, coming off his victory in the FedEx Cup, went 0-2-1 and lost in singles to Luke Donald of England, 1 down, missing several chances in the closing holes to pull even and claim the needed halve.
Cink missed several putts down the stretch, including one on the final hole, which allowed Rory McIlroy to escape with a halve.
And none of the Yanks played well enough to earn even a point in six Sunday matches.
“We probably have a bunch of guys on the team who feel like, ‘You know what, that could have been my half point,'” Furyk said. “It’s not anyone’s fault individually, but there’s lots of people thinking about it.
” . . . Rarely have I been happier than winning a Ryder Cup. I’ve never cried after losing other than at the Ryder Cup.”
Best player on either team on the final day was Tiger Woods, who finally played like the No. 1 player in the world after a nightmare season following months of tabloid scandal that led to his divorce from Elin Nordegren.
Woods went 2 down to Francesco Molinari after three holes before steamrolling the Italian, 4 and 3, by playing 15 holes in nine-under par. That included an eagle on the 12th hole, where he holed his second shot from 133 yards.
“It was nice to turn my match around like I did,” Woods said. “I’ve been close to playing that way for a little bit now, but I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year.”
The Americans took a 2-1-1 lead after the Friday fourballs, which were not completed until Saturday because of heavy rain. The weather forced a change in the format, with six matches being played in each of the next two sessions.
Led by Woods and Steve Stricker, who both finished 3-1, the Yanks held a 6-4 lead heading into Sunday, when the Euros took control of the matches by going 5-0-1 to take a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead.
Cink and Matt Kuchar had a chance to salvage a full point out of the mess, but Francesco Molinari holed a three-foot birdie putt on the final hole to earn a halve.
And another reason not to put it all on Mahan.
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