It might get even harder, but it can't get any better than this
00:26 GMT, 1 October 2012
In the end, it came down to four losers. One imagines, at times like this, that in a room on some celestial plane somewhere, there is a scriptwriter convulsed with laughter.
The 39th Ryder Cup, three days of sweat and tears, if not blood, tied at 13-13, would be decided by a shoot-out between four players who had not won a single point between them all week.
Steve Stricker versus Martin Kaymer, Tiger Woods versus Francesco Molinari. Spot the odd man out. Yet Woods in a match-play format is like a replicant.
It won't get better: Europe's Ryder Cup team snatched victory on the final day at Medinah
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Some said Davis Love sent him out as the guaranteed anchor man; others because, with the United States leading 10-6 going into the final day, what harm could he do in 12th position Plenty, as it transpired.
Woods, ticked off, led for one hole at the 13th and Molinari buckled slightly on the 17th, but the singular failure to master a player so completely in his shadow, put incredible pressure on those ahead. Stricker missed a vital putt on 17 to put Kaymer in the box seat.
His putt on the 18th was pitiful; a 24-handicapper would have been disappointed with the read. Kaymer, a former world No 1 and PGA champion, claimed the Ryder Cup for Europe.
Poor Stricker. The captain's pick, he ended the competition without a point, having formed a consistently losing partnership with Woods.
Then again, had Woods been safely back in the hutch, where he should have been, Stricker would not have been landed with such a burden.
Has 2012 been the best year for sport in Great Britain After this, there can surely be no doubt. The Olympics and Paralympics, the title decided with the last kick of the domestic football season, Chelsea the Champions of Europe, Bradley Wiggins the first Briton to win the Tour de France, Andy Murray the first tennis Grand Slam winner in 76 years.
And now this: Europe's Brookline, but without the boorish conclusion. How did they do it
Stand-out: Ian Poulter was in exceptional form all week
Stand-out: Ian Poulter was in exceptional form all week
RYDER CUP 2012
Read Derek Lawrenson's report from the final day at Medinah here
How did they beat an American team that had at last seemed to have mastered the concept of Ryder Cup unity Make no mistake: this is America's harshest defeat.
Worse than the annihilation at Oakland Hills; worse than any of the modern era Ryder Cups decided in Europe's favour. They thought they had it won.
We all did. They thought they were a good team. So did we. The reversal of fortune was quite stunning.
Just before 11am central time, Bubba Watson came bounding over the elevated walkway to the first tee. Not walking, as golfers commonly do. Bouncing.
There was no measure in his stride, no restraint, no casual saunter. He came down the stairs like a rock star, or one of those American quiz show contestants, plucked out of the audience and going obligingly crazy on their way down to the stage to meet the Price Is Right host.
As Watson leapt on to the tee, the noise level went up another decibel.
Planes may have been travelling over en route to Chicago O'Hare, train whistles might have sounded from the Metra Milwaukee District West Line.
Wake up Rory! Rory McIlroy (right) almost missed his tee slot, but still managed to beat Keegan Bradley (left)
Impressive: Bradley put in a brilliant shift at Medinah
Medinah is not a quiet course. Yet nobody would have heard a cannon roar above the sheer wall of raucous nationalism. Watson milked every last drop of emotion from it.
He shook hands, he handed over his cap to a boy in the front row. He posed for the official photograph and puffed his chest out.
This was going to be America's time. 'Remember, everything they invented, we perfected,' Tom Watson told his team when captaining the United States at The Belfry in 1993.
He was talking about the game of golf. America believed they was about to update that message here in Illinois.
The Americans had seen what it took to win a Ryder Cup, and sought to refine it.
After two days they had all but overwhelmed what many believed to be Europe's strongest team.
It took one of the greatest rearguard actions in the history of sport to tame them, and to send this tournament to a quite astonishing conclusion.
The Europeans wore Seve blue. He would have loved this, the stuff of life itself. In an uncommon reverse, America, having won the pairs events, lost the singles badly, 8 to 3.
It was a Herculean effort from Europe to unpick so much damage from the pairs events on Friday and Saturday. America looked to be a team on fire. Europe has the best golfers, but America played better in tandem this week.
How strange is that Indeed, early in the day, it seemed Europe were close to falling apart.
Rory McIlroy got his central and eastern time zones mixed up and almost missed his slot on the tee to great hilarity from the Chicago crowd.
He took it all in good part – he even won his match, bless him – yet it raised the question: how was he left to travel to the match alone
Come here you! Jose Maria Olazabal (right) embraced Luke Donald after he blitzed Bubba Watson in the singles
Not today: Tiger Woods (right) and Phil Mickelson (left) both failed to win their singles matches
Where was the logistical back-up, the gofers, the assistance
No sporting event takes place with as many sundry members of humanity as the average Ryder Cup game. Where were they all Didn't anyone think it strange that there was no sign of the world No 1, 30 minutes before he was due on parade
'Wakey-wakey, Rory,' the locals taunted. Unfortunately for Keegan Bradley, he did just that. And so did Europe's big beasts.
Webb Simpson, an impressive presence in the first two days, lost to Ian Poulter, the stand-out performer on this European team.
Luke Donald trounced Watson. In the most surprising win of the day, Paul Lawrie beat America's form golfer Brandt Snedeker 5&3.
Suddenly, mission impossible was on. Yet spare a thought for the Americans. Nobody can claim they lost because they did not care this time.
There is a new generation of American golfers that have shown the old timers the way this week.
They were not raised on childhood memories of American domination, or the idea that Sam Ryder's trophy was no big whoop.
Nerves of steel: Martin Kaymer held firm and putted on the 18th to ensure Europe retained the Ryder Cup
They grew up on the good old US of A getting a hiding; and they did not like it. They haven't always won, those boys like Watson, Bradley and Jason Dufner, but they came here with the game face that said 'not on my watch' and it has dragged others along.
Even in defeat, America have embraced the team ethic, Woods' petulance on the last day aside.
Get a few old soldiers in or wear a big hat: that used to be the limit of American team sophistication.
So it needed a quite stunning display of singles matchplay from Europe to produce this win, plus a last chance saloon tactic from Jose Maria Olazabal that royally paid off.
Trailing 10-6 he had no option but to frontload the team and hope for an early hit. Yet the drama was created by America's young generation taking on the old continent at its own game.
In doing so, they demanded new levels of energy and excellence from some of the greatest golfers and inspired them to new heights.
It was quite breathtaking to watch, impossible to predict almost to the last. Europe beware, though, from here as American resolve stiffens, it may get even harder. It is hard to imagine, though, that it will get better.
Time for champagne: Sergio Garcia (left) and Graeme McDowell celebrate with a drop of Moet