Americans come up on short end

NEWPORT, Wales -- Captain Charisma, he wasn't, but Corey Pavin and his USA team almost -- almost -- left here with Moet stains on their shirts and the Ryder Cup in their luggage. Instead, a good-natured chant made in the fog and cold of early Monday morning came true.

It happened on the first tee box, in the rowdy amphitheater inhabited by a couple of thousand nut-job fans, almost all Europeans. As Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer waited to begin their singles match, several American voices shouted from the bleachers, "We've still got the cup!"

The European fans pounced.

"Not for long," they chanted, as if they had cue cards. "Not for long."

And just for good measure, another fan yelled to the Americans, "We hope you polished it."

There will be no Ryder Cup two-peat for the USA. Once again, the modest-sized trophy belongs to the Europeans, who have won six of the past eight meetings. The Cup has been in the States so infrequently that it's going to need a green card to re-enter the country.

Team Monty needed 14½ points to win the thing and, thanks to the same guy who won our Open at Pebble Beach, it got it. Have a year, Graeme McDowell.

McDowell closed out Hunter Mahan on the 17th hole of the 12th and final singles match to win 3 and 1. A chunked Mahan chip shot, followed by a par putt that would have needed a Garmin to find the cup, sealed the match … and the day. Moments later, a relieved and misty-eyed Colin Montgomerie was getting a champagne shampoo from his players.

The Americans tried, you have to give them that. They trailed, 9½-6½ at the beginning of the day, then somehow tied it, 13½-13½, as McDowell held only a hole advantage on Mahan. A halved point would mean the USA could keep the cup.

But McDowell didn't win the U.S. Open by accident. He stepped on Mahan's throat on No. 16 with a birdie and then watched the American self-destruct like one of Mr. Phelps' intelligence reports on "Mission Impossible."

The USA seemingly hasn't won on European soil since D-Day. You have to take the way-back machine to 1993 and The Belfry for the last American Ryder Cup victory on this eastern side of the Atlantic.

Blame Pavin if you want, but it would be a mistake. Yes, he plodded along in his monotone way. And yes, if they made a sweater vest logo of Pavin, it'd be a silhouette of a yawn. In fact, I'm pretty sure he had his emotion gland surgically removed before arriving in Wales.

But Pavin wasn't hired because of his personality (at least, I hope he wasn't). He was hired to make four captain's choices, configure the USA foursome, four-ball and singles lineups and, in his spare time, arrange for his team to wear leaky rain suits and TCU-purple sweaters.

Captains matter. I know the players swing the clubs, but innovative Paul Azinger was worth at least a point when he captained the USA team to a win at Valhalla in 2008. Montgomerie had to be worth at least the same, maybe more, at Celtic Manor.

And robotic Pavin? Eh. As they say in golf, "helpy, hurty."

Montgomerie didn't miss a thing. He emphasized golf passion; Pavin emphasized stiff upper lips. Montgomerie allowed for last-minute alterations in his singles lineup, front-loading the European draw sheet after his team took a big Sunday lead; Pavin picked his singles lineup Saturday night and didn't budge. Montgomerie was relaxed, personable and even entertaining in public settings; Pavin was secretive, smug and occasionally condescending.

Even when it was done, Pavin refused to give a millimeter. Asked whether he would have done anything different, he said, "Not at all. I liked the preparation and everything we did. I'm quite content with everything, except maybe the result."

Geez, maybe the result? But that's Pavin, a bit of a strange agent.

The Americans played hard, but you never got the feeling they were playing hard for Pavin. But who cares, right? If nothing else, they made Montgomerie's antiperspirant have to work. Europe's best player, Lee Westwood, said later that he wondered whether the European team could hold off the USA.

"All credit to you all," said Montgomerie of the Americans. "You played magnificently today."

They did, but the Europeans did everything just a little bit better. Chanted and sang better. Stayed dry better. Captained better. Played better.

The Americans didn't make it easy for Team Europe. At 11:30 a.m. in Wales, the USA trailed in eight of the 12 matches. Three and a half hours later, the Americans were in position to keep the Cup.

What could have been a blowout became as tight as a necktie. Thank-you notes can be sent to Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson.

Stricker put a tourniquet on Westwood in the opening match.

Dustin Johnson had to endure a rare smarmy chant from the first tee crowd -- "He's got your major" -- and still dusted Kaymer, the man who beat DJ in the recent PGA Championship.

Overton stuffed a golf sock in the mouth of annoying Ross Fisher, and Woods pulverized Francesco Molinari like chicken-fried steak.

Mickelson's A-game finally arrived on the Celtic Manor grounds. It must have gotten lost on the trip over. Whatever. He buried Peter Hanson.

Meanwhile, Zach Johnson was 5-up against Padraig Harrington, but couldn't close it out until the 16th hole. Still, a point for the Americans.

And Rickie Fowler, the 21-year-old captain's pick, sent Edoardo Molinari into clinical shock by recovering from 4-down after 12 holes and birdieing the final four holes to halve the match.

In the end it came down to, well, the end: Mahan against McDowell. Mahan cracked, McDowell didn't.

Afterward, in a team news conference, Mahan tried to express his feelings but was repeatedly overcome by emotion. As Mahan fought back tears (and failed), Mickelson, in a classy move, took the microphone from him and partly blamed himself for the USA's loss. After all, Mickelson said, he had lost three of his four matches.

Added Stricker: "It really doesn't come down to Hunter. You hate to see Hunter go through what he's going through."

And this from Jim Furyk: "It falls on all of us."

So it's another one-and-done for the USA. The Pavin purple reign is finished and, presumably, Davis Love III, a vice captain here, will take over. Maybe he can get the Ryder Cup back in American hands.

Polished, preferably.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.