MEDINAH, Illinois (AP) -The debt was outstanding for 21 years. It took less than 10 seconds to erase.
Martin Kaymer stood 6 feet below the hole on No. 18 at Medinah Country Club with a par putt to keep the Ryder Cup in European hands, much like his countryman, Bernhard Langer, faced at Kiawah Island in 1991. This time, the German player poured it in.
It came at the end of picture-postcard autumn afternoon featuring more twists and turns over the course of nearly 6 1/2 hours Sunday than a season-long sitcom. Here is how it unfolded:
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal's strategy to front-load his singles lineup with his hottest players looked better and better as the day stretched on. But it paid immediate dividends, too. Luke Donald teed off first in the opening match against Bubba Watson, and although the Englishman was born in Hertfordshire, he has called Chicago home since arriving at Northwestern University on a golf scholarship more than a dozen years ago. What sounded like a scattering of "boos" when he stepped onto the first tee were actually cries of "Luuuuke!" for a guy the hometown galleries have always treated like a local hero.
Donald cracked his drive down the middle of the fairway. Watson, who worked the grandstands into a frenzy the two previous days and then hit his tee shot to the crowd's full-throated roar, turned the trick a third time. The left-hander hooked his drive into the gallery on the right. The two players were finally reunited on the green, where both made pars.
Fellow Englishman Ian Poulter and Webb Simpson were set to start when an unmarked, black state police car zoomed up to Medinah's ornate, Byzantine-styled clubhouse and Rory McIlroy jumped out. The European star's match was scheduled to go off in 11 minutes. Back at the team hotel, McIlroy had been watching The Golf Channel, which showed his 11:25 tee time as 12:25 EASTERN.
McIlroy is not one for warm-ups, but this was ridiculous, even for him.
"Put my shoes on, a couple of putts, just your average sort of warm-up," he would chuckle after winning his match against Keegan Bradley, the breakout star on the U.S. side, 2 and 1. "It was probably a really good thing I didn't have to think about it too much."
Easy for him to say.
McIlroy hits his opening drive into a tangle of TV cable well off the right side of the No. 1 fairway.
Tiger Woods tees off against Italian Francesco Molinari, with most golf fans viewers still waiting for an answer to the question they slept on overnight: "What was U.S. captain Davis Love III thinking when he put the once-(and sometimes-still) best golfer on the planet out in the 12th and final match?"
Exactly an hour into the matches, Europe gets a nose in front, leading 4-2, with five matches even. In many ways, the die is already cast.
Donald, who never trailed after the first hole en route to his 2-and-1 win over Watson, is already 2 up. Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who trailed from the start against Zach Johnson, is already 3 down. The four Europeans who contributed no points in the first two days - Kaymer and Swede Peter Hanson played only once - are more holding their own. Scot Paul Lawrie is already 2 up en route to the day's biggest beating, a 5-and-3 win over Brandt Snedeker.
Even Lee Westwood, whose meager contributions the first two days left him looking on several occasions like he wanted to hide in the trees, is more than a match for Matt Kuchar.
The same galleries that screamed themselves hoarse Friday and Saturday as the Americans rolled out to a 10-6 lead are doing a lot of nervous whispering.
Europe 4, U.S. 3, with five matches even.
Love turns up for an on-camera interview and it's clear he feels the same sense of foreboding that is blanketing the place. He reveals he advised Watson, still 2 down to Donald at the 16th, to do the same thing he told Justin Leonard in the middle of America's improbable comeback at Brookline in 1999: "Drag him out as far as you could."
Not quite on par with "Win One for The Gipper."
Soon after, Watson hits his tee shot at the par-3 17th into the gallery behind the green.
Donald puts Watson away to pull Europe ton 10-7.
More "Luuuukes!" as he stops for an interview.
"I feel a lot of love from the crowd," Donald said, "and just a lot of relief that that game is over."
McIlroy continues to show that practice is overrated - especially when your opponent does your work for you.
Bradley, who's been the emotional engine for the Americans, tries to drive the reachable 15th green. He winds up just in front of a grandstand and makes a nice recovery shot to set up a par. McIlroy takes the easier route. He lays up with his drive, knocks his approach to a couple of feet and slides in an easy birdie to go 2-up. After he finishes off Bradley two holes later, an interviewer asks, "Extra special to take out what is their talisman really?"
"When I got the match up," concedes McIlroy, who isn't ranked No. 1 in the world for nothing, "I liked it."
Lawrie mercifully closes out Snedeker at No. 15, the earliest any match would end. Good thing, too, because the Americans manage to take only 1 1/2 points from the six matches that reach the 18th. Europe climbs to 10-8.
At the 17th, meanwhile, Poulter gets his hands on the lead for the first time in his match against Simpson. Despite falling temperatures, Poulter, a noted clotheshound, is still playing in shirt sleeves. Embroidered on his left shoulder is a silhouette of the late Seve Ballesteros, one of Europe's best and most beloved Ryder Cup players and their captain in 1997.
"Seve is trying hard," he would say after making par at 17 and a birdie at 18 to finish off Simpson. "It's incredible."
It IS incredible. Nearly 4 1/2 hours into the matches, the U.S. team finally gets its first point when Dustin Johnson dusts off McDowell to restore the Americans' lead at 11-10.
But in short order, Rose dispatches Mickelson with three clutch putts in a row, the last two for birdies, to turn a 1-down deficit into a 1-up win.
"Now I know how Ian Poulter feels. I had a glance down and looked at my left sleeve," he says, referring to the Ballesteros silhouette. "That's the kind of stuff he would have done today."
Even announcer Johnny Miller is picking up on the vibe: "The impossible is thinking about happening," he says.
Westwood has a 1-footer to close out Kuchar, 3-up on the 16th green. As he looks over the putt, he looks back at Kuchar to see if the American will concede. Kuchar doesn't twitch. Westwood taps it in to even the match once again at 12-12. Moments later, Sergio Garcia decides not to concede the 8-footer Jim Furyk needs to halve the match. Furyk misses and Europe pulls in front at 13-12.
Kaymer drives into the right bunker on 18 and his approach shot rolls 20 feet past the flag. Waiting for Stricker to play, his caddy begins massaging his shoulders. Stricker hits his iron 45 feet past the flag and the crowd makes one final, feeble attempt to pump up the U.S. team.
"USA! USA! USA!" rings across the ground.
In short order, Stricker misreads his putt and runs it down the left side of the green, still a good 8 feet from the hole. Kaymer's nervous jab at a birdie is only slightly better, sliding 6 feet past.
Stricker misses and all that stands between Kaymer and the "Miracle at Medinah" is that measly half-dozen yards.
The putt drops, Kaymer lets the handle of the putter collapse against his side and raises both hands in the air.
"Now I know," he says, "how it really feels to win the Ryder Cup."
Somewhere, thousands of miles away, a smile creases Langer's face.