Graeme McDowell became the fifth Irish player to clinch the winning Ryder Cup point for Europe with a sensational 3 and 1 victory over Hunter Mahan in the final singles.
The Ulsterman provoked a mass invasion of the 17th green he described as “bananas” as the American crumbled under the pressure in the decisive game of a classic Ryder Cup.
Two down and needing to win the last two holes to help the USA retain the trophy, the Bridgestone Invitational winner came up 20 yards short of the green with his tee shot, fluffed his chip in front of him and then failed to convert a 30 footer for par after McDowell had putted up to five feet from the fringe right of the green.
But like Christy O’Connor Jnr and Philip Walton, he didn’t have to hole out for victory as Mahan conceded defeat.
Despite not being comfortable with his game all week, the 31-year old from Portrush showed just why is arguably the gutsiest golfer on the planet as he withstood incredible pressure coming down the stretch when it became clear that Europe’s Ryder Cup hopes rested on his shoulders.
Three up with seven holes to play, he lost the 12th to a par and the 15th to Mahan’s sole birdie of the day before producing the goods with an incredible birdie from 18 feet at the 16th.
Rickie Fowler birdied the last four holes to come back from three down to halve his match with fellow rookie Eduardo Molinari and force McDowell to win his match to win back the Ryder Cup.
And he did it in incredible style with a brilliant six iron to 18 feet at the 16th setting up a birdie that left Mahan needing to win the last two holes to give the USA a 14-14 tie that would have been good enough to see them retain the trophy.
His left to right putt tracked perfectly, falling into the hole on the last roll to crush Mahan’s will.
“That was absolutely amazing. That was bananas,” McDowell said. “The putt on the 16th was stuff I have dreamed about all my life.
“The US Open felt like a back nine with my dad at Royal Portrush compared to this. I was really nervous - there was so much pressure.
“The putt on 16 was massive, and these spectators are massive. I had to get the putt going on 16, and it was the biggest one I have hit in my life.”
Mahan was crushed by the defeat and barely capable of speech at the US team’s media conference.
“I’ve played with Graeme before. I don’t even know what day it was. But he didn’t miss a shot. I think it was alternate shot, and he played he played great today. Didn’t miss a shot. Hit a bunch of key putts, probably the last four or five holes, and you know, he … that birdie on 16, after I got it to one down, was huge. He played …. he just beat me today.”
Padraig Harrington, who lost 3 and 2 to Zach Johnson, could have found himself in McDowell’s position as he played at No 11.
But he was delighted to finish on a winning team for the fourth time in six appearances.
“Every Ryder Cup’s the same,” Harrington said. “It’s phenomenal. There’s nothing like it in golf. That’s incredible.”
Montgomerie paid tribute to McDowell, saying: “Graeme McDowell was put there for a very good reason. He’s full of confidence and that showed. That birdie on 16 was quite unbelievable.
“I’m very proud. It’s a very proud moment for us all here in Europe. They all played to a man magnificently, they all gave 110 per cent and that’s all you can ask.
“I want to talk about every player playing how well they did. They did magnificently. I knew I had a great 12. I just had to rely on certain people at certain times.”
McDowell added his name to the list of Irish Ryder Cup immortals at Celtic Manor.
1987 Muirfield Village, Ohio - Eamonn Darcy
Darcy beat Ben Crenshaw one up after a thriller. He was two up after six when Crenshaw snapped his putter in disgust, putting the remainder of the match with a one-iron and the edge of his sand wedge.
Remembering the slick, downhill five footer he holed on the last to clinch victory, Darcy said: “It was a moment in history. We had never won the Ryder Cup in America.
“To have been fortunate enough to have been part of a great team with great players and then suddenly to be in a position to do something great, it doesn’t happen too often in a guy’s career.”
1989 The Belfry - Christy O’Connor Jnr
O’Connor Jnr and Fred Couples came to the 18th tee all square. But the Galwayman hit a two-iron to three feet and didn’t even have to putt after Couples missed the green and conceded.
The Galway legend recalled: “I knew this match really mattered when Tony Jacklin showed up with Bernard Gallacher. I hadn’t seen the captain all day up to then.
“He came over and said, ‘one more swing for Ireland, Christy’, and I can tell you, it didn’t really help. The pressure was already enormous. I sized it up.
“There was water in front of the green, the green was tiered, and swung the two-iron. I watched it all the way, low and straight, and it hit the green and rolled up to three feet. Fantastic.”
1995 Oak Hill, New York - Philip Walton
With the match tied, Walton came to the last one up on Jay Haas having led by three holes with three to play. He gouged his third to 16 feet from heavy rough short of the green and lagged his par putt stone dead to secure the Ryder Cup after Haas failed to chip in for par.
Recalling the last big moment of his career, Walton said: “In some ways Oak Hill 1995 probably wasn’t the best thing that ever happened me. I played okay in 1996, but the real effect began to show in 1997.
“Something went from me. I felt it, but it’s very hard to explain. Definitely that Ryder Cup did take something from me.”
2002 The Belfry - Paul McGinley
Europe needed a half to clinch victory and McGInley got it when he holed a 10 footer for a par at the 18th to finish all square with Jim Furyk.
McGinley said: “”It made the world of difference to me because all of a sudden I was instantly recognisable, not just in Ireland but all over.”