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Americans’ time, hopes slip away

– 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 poured it in.

It came at the end of picture-postcard fall 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:

11:07 a.m.

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. 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.

11:14 a.m.

Ian Poulter and Webb Simpson were set to start when an unmarked, black state police car zoomed up to Medinah’s 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.

1:07 p.m.

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 2 up. Paul Lawrie is 2 up en route to the day’s biggest beating, a 5-and-3 win over Brandt Snedeker.

2:23 p.m.

Donald puts Watson away to pull Europe to 10-7.

2:41 p.m.

McIlroy continues to show that practice is overrated – especially when your opponent does your work for you.

Keegan Bradley 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.

3:07 p.m.

Lawrie 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.

3:32 p.m.

Nearly 4 1/2 hours into the matches, the U.S. team finally gets its first point when Dustin Johnson dusts off Graeme McDowell to restore the Americans’ lead at 11-10.

But in short order, Justin Rose dispatches Phil Mickelson.

4:26 p.m.

Lee Westwood has a 1-footer to close out Matt 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 at 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.

4:50 p.m.

Kaymer drives into the right bunker on 18 and his approach shot rolls 20 feet past the flag. Steve Stricker hits his iron 45 feet past the flag.

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 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.

5:14 p.m.

The putt drops, Kaymer lets the handle of the putter collapse against his side and raises both hands in the air.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. His columns appear periodically in The Journal Gazette.

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