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Toast the Ryder Cup for its team spirit

If you've ever wondered if the Ryder Cup is all that, all you had to see and feel was what happened on a mud-stained Monday in Wales.

Forget that the American team lost this time, and forgive Hunter Mahan the chunked chip shot on the 17th hole that made the defeat official. The Ryder Cup does that.

It's easy sometimes to turn a slightly jaded eye to the Ryder Cup with all the chatter about captains and team uniforms and the various qualifying systems, but then you get a day like Monday when the sun finally shone and it was the best day of golf this year, maybe in a few years.

Rickie Fowler became a certified star. Graeme McDowell was brilliant. Tiger Woods returned.

Ian Poulter proved again what the emotion of the Ryder Cup means. Padraig Harrington showed what the pressure can do to a man who can't trust his game. And Colin Montgomerie got the major he never won.

After all the weather-induced mess that turned the matches into a muddy marathon complete with leaking rain suits and a patched-together format, this Ryder Cup delivered a set of singles that had the Welsh hillsides trembling with noise and transfixed an American audience cradling their coffee cups at dawn.

Competitive golf isn't played with emotion, but the Ryder Cup, like the Masters, is built on faces and feelings. That's why they're the two most engaging events in golf.

Until Monday, this golf season had been largely forgettable. Other than Phil Mickelson's emotional victory at the Masters in April, memorable for his 6-iron shot through the trees on the 13th hole and his tearful hug with his wife, Amy, it's been a flat season.

Tiger was there but it felt like he was missing. Mickelson didn't win again after Augusta. Dustin Johnson had big swings and missed.

There were moments, like Rory McIlroy's 62 at Quail Hollow and Stuart Appleby's 59 at Greenbrier, but it had been a year played at a low hum rather than with a buzz.

That changed with the Ryder Cup.

Golf is a selfish game and, in a sense, celebrates that idea. One of the game's mantras is it's just you against the course. You can't play defense in golf, and nobody can do it for you.

But in the Ryder Cup, it becomes a team game and it changes the dynamic. The Americans have been criticized through the years for being too independent and not buying into the team concept, a tired drumbeat by now.

They didn't get beat in Wales because they weren't a team. They lost because, by the slimmest of margins, Europe hit more good shots, made more putts and found a way to keep breathing when it felt like the world was holding its breath.

It's easy to nitpick every mistake. It was a shock to see Jim Furyk put his third shot in a bunker on the 18th hole with his match hanging in the balance but he did. He was cool enough to win $11 million a week ago, but the Ryder Cup is different.

Some guys thrive in it. Poulter does, Steve Stricker seems to and Fowler may have changed his career with four straight birdies to steal a half-point Monday that almost tipped the Cup back in the Americans' favor.

Maybe the Ryder Cup means a little more to the European side, but it means plenty to the Americans, too. Remember the image of the U.S. team spraying champagne two years ago after winning at Valhalla?

This time, it's the Europeans who are champagne-soaked.

And it was a day for champagne all around.

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