They arrived with a swagger. They left humbled, sent packing by Europe’s band of brothers.
This powerful USA team, featuring a resurgent Tiger Woods, were supposed to retain the Ryder Cup. They were supposed to end the 25-year wait to win in Europe.
But despite a late charge on an electric Sunday, Europe held firm to deliver a stunning 17½-10½ victory near Versailles.
Europe’s win was built on a dominant display over the first two days, a unity and excellence in team play that forged a 10-6 lead heading into Sunday’s singles.
INTERACTIVE: Ryder Cup moments
They needed the buffer, too, as the might of American golf hit back hard. The USA won three of the first four matches to close to within a point. For much of a sizzling afternoon there was an undercurrent of nerves among the massed ranks of singing, chanting, cheering European fans at Le Golf National.
But these early skirmishes proved fruitless in the context of the overall battle.
When Woods fell to Spanish rookie Jon Rahm, Europe were three points clear again and closing on the 14½ needed to win.
Europe’s long-time Ryder Cup talisman Ian Poulter took them to the brink with another chest-thumping victory against world No.1 Dustin Johnson.
When Phil Mickelson found the water on the 16th and conceded his match to Italy’s Francesco Molinari, the Cup was back in European hands for the seventh time in nine events.
It gave the unbeaten Molinari, the British Open champion, a record fifth point for the week.
“They’ve been amazing,” European captain Thomas Bjorn told Sky Sports amid deafening scenes of celebration from roaring fans.
“The 12 of them have been unbelievable the way they bonded together, they were determined they set out to do a job for themselves. For me it was an easy job to guide them in that direction. They wanted it desperately. It’s all down to 12 players and them only.”
READ: Why the Ryder Cup is like a drug for Ian Poulter
READ: How the Ryder Cup became rock ‘n’ roll
READ: France falls in love with Tiger Woods
Molinari, who won four points with rookie partner Tommy Fleetwood, said: “It means more than majors, more than anything.
“It’s hard not to get emotional when you think about the other players, the vice captains, the wives. They had the strongest team ever, probably, but we were just so good. Its unreal.”
The USA team were touted as one of the strongest ever, and were determined to build an ongoing dominance in the event following the 17-11 win at Hazeltine two years ago to snap Europe’s three-event winning streak.
Alongside Woods, the recent Tour Championship winner, the US boasted world No.1 Johnson, a double major winner this year in Brooks Koepka, nine major winners in all, six of the world’s top 10 and an average world ranking of just over 11.
But when Europe won eight straight matches, including an historic whitewash in Friday’s afternoon session, the USA superstars were reduced to wide-eyed tourists swept up in a maelstrom of noise and color.
Europe had five major winners, four of the world’s top 10, including world No.2 and recent $10 million Fed Ex Cup winner Justin Rose, and an average of world ranking of 19.
For Bjorn’s side, though, the sum was greater than the individual parts.
All 12 members of the team, which included five Ryder Cup rookies, contributed at least a point to the victory.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, picked as a wildcard for his experience despite a poor season, won his third point of the week with victory against Rickie Fowler. In doing so, he became the leading points scorer in Ryder Cup history, overtaking Nick Faldo with 25½ points overall.
Bjorn added: “This is such a special event and experience, when you come with the right attitude (you) can achieve great things.”
Furyk said he was “proud” of his team for fighting hard in Sunday’s singles, but there was to be no momentous comeback to rival the USA’s 10-6 reverse at Brookline in 1999 or Europe’s “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012.
“There was a time this morning when it looked like we had a chance,” Furyk told Sky Sports. “My hats off to Europe. They played well, they turned it around. Hats off to Thomas, he was a great captain, his 12 team members played very well top to bottom.”
The postmortem for USA will begin now and rumble on until the next Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits, Wisconsin in 2020.
One area of intense debate will be the USA’s perceived lack of readiness for Le Golf National.
In total, the Americans had played only eight competitive rounds at the course before the event, compared with 236 for Europe. Only one American, Justin Thomas, came over to play in this year’s French Open at the venue.
The tight fairways and thick rough also appeared to trip up the Americans, who favor a more open, driver-friendly layout.
Furyk, though, was resolute. “We were prepared, we understood the golf course. We were outplayed,” he said in a sombre team news conference.
The performance of some of his players will also face scrutiny. Despite his heroics in the PGA Tour finale, Woods failed to contribute a single point, as did misfiring veteran Phil Mickelson and rookie Bryson DeChambeau. Patrick Reed, dubbed Captain America for his previous Ryder Cup heroics, was also out of sorts.
“We didn’t execute the things we planned,” said a dejected Woods as the persistent “Ole, ole, ole” chants of jubilant European fans rang out.
“Personally, I went 0-4 so it’s disappointing. To have a Ryder Cup end that way doesn’t feel very good. At the end of the day, we came here as a team to win or lose. Unfortunately we lost this one.”
For Europe, the only thing that will linger is the taste of victory.