The Europeans did their best to convince everyone, themselves included, that they actually had a chance to rally from America's commanding 4-point lead and retain the Ryder Cup.
Needing 8 points out of Sunday's 12 singles matches, the Europeans turned what seemed improbable into reality with a stunning display of golf, winning 14½ to 13½ in the largest comeback on foreign soil.
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"It was hard, but we knew there was a chance," said Europe's Sergio Garcia. "Today, obviously, everything came right."
The week at Medinah Country Club will be remembered for a lot of things, but it will be two critical missed putts that figure to haunt the Americans until the next Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2014.
Jim Furyk, a captain's pick, missed from eight feet on the 18th hole, a putt that would have given the U.S. a key half point in his match with Garcia.
Steve Stricker, another captain's pick, then missed from five feet on the 17th hole for a bogey in his match with Martin Kaymer.
Stricker then watched as Kaymer drilled a 6-foot par putt on 18 to win the Cup and set off a wild celebration.
"I'm disappointed that I let 11 other players down and the captains," Stricker said. "Tiger (Woods) and I were there at the end to get some points, and I didn't."
Europe now has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups.
"It's a feeling I've never had before," said Kaymer, who also won the 2010 PGA Championship.
Furyk was 1 up on Garcia after 16 holes but bogeyed 17 and 18.
"I wouldn't do anything different," American captain Davis Love said. "We put who we thought were our hot players up front and who we thought were our steady players in back.
"They came back and won, give them credit. They played very, very well. We had a couple matches get flipped there at the end that made it a little bit easier for them. We're all kind of stunned. It's a little bit shocking because we were playing so well. We just figured it didn't matter how we sent them out there."
The first four matches were the ones the Europeans felt they had to get points out of with captain Jose Maria Olazabal loading up the top of his lineup with Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.
The strategy worked as all four Europeans won, as did Paul Lawrie in the fifth match against Brandt Snedeker.
"We just felt we had that tiny little chance," said Poulter, unbeaten for the week at 4-0. "And do you know what -- the boys made history today."
It got to 11-11 after wins by Donald (over Bubba Watson), Lawrie, McIlroy (over previously unbeaten Keegan Bradley) and Poulter, who didn't lead his match with Webb Simpson until the 17th hole when Simpson bogeyed after pulling his tee shot left.
It was at that point that Europe's comeback seemed possible.
"The first two days nothing went our way," Olazabal said. "We struggled on the greens and this morning I felt that changed a little. We started to make a few putts and the Americans just started to miss them."
Europe's comeback actually began on Saturday in the afternoon four-ball session when Garcia and Donald beat Woods and Stricker, and Poulter birdied the last five holes to beat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson with partner McIlroy.
"There was a buzz in the team room last night that didn't feel like we had a 4-point deficit," Poulter said.
Donald went out first and took care of business against Watson, holding on for a 2&1 victory in a match he never trailed. Donald went ahead 1-up on the second hole and eventually built a 4-up lead after 12 holes.
"I had a lot of responsibility going out number one to get some blue up on the board early," Donald said. "Bubba put some pressure on me at the end, and I was just glad I held on."
Mickelson lost for the first time all week 1-up to Rose, who made three huge putts on the final three holes, including a 40-foot putt from the fringe on the 17th hole after Mickelson narrowly missed chipping in.
Rose sank a 20-foot putt to clinch the match.
"I wouldn't say I've made three bigger putts back-to-back in my career," Rose said.
"The last three holes, I thought I had the match," Mickelson said. "He played some great golf."