EUROPE'S Ryder Cup hero Graeme McDowell tonight revealed how he had to battle with the worst nerves of his golfing career before clinching a classic win at Celtic Manor.
The US Open champion's 3&1 success against Hunter Mahan ended a fearless United States fightback.
Not since 1991 at Kiawah Island had the Ryder Cup been decided by the final singles match.
But that was the scenario McDowell faced, knowing he had to beat Mahan or Europe's victory hopes would lie in tatters.
"I can safely say I have never felt that nervous on a golf course before,’’ claimed the 31-year-old Northern Irishman, following Europe's 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 triumph.
"We said we wouldn't check out leaderboards around the course, but the screens at every green were very big and it was tough not to notice them.
"I hoped I wasn't going to be needed, and at that point I got extremely nervous. I've never felt nerves like it coming down the stretch.
"It was a different level to Pebble Beach (scene of his US Open win) completely. This is the greatest golf event on the planet.’’ A distraught Mahan could barely speak to reporters afterwards, but
McDowell added: "Hunter played great today.
"It was very flat for 12 or 13 holes, then all of a sudden it was obvious our match was going to count. He shouldn't feel too disappointed.
"I am sure he felt like he had a chance to do it for the USA. It just so happened it came down to me. I didn't want it to come down to me.
"I had a massive lot of emotions going through my head. That was the most difficult nine holes of golf I have ever played in my life.
"I was really nervous on every shot. The second shot at 16 was the greatest second shot of my career, and the putt on 16 was the greatest putt of my career.
"I imagined winning and losing in the same breath. That's just the way golf is - there are good times and bad times, great shots and bad shots. That is what makes this game so great.’’ European
talisman Lee Westwood, newly-installed as world number two behind Tiger Woods, offered an insight into what McDowell had gone through.
"I don't know how people watch - it's awful watching,’’ Westwood said, as he witnessed every moment of McDowell's battle from the sidelines.
"You can't do anything about it. It is much easier playing, because you are in control. It was horrible.
"When you are a player you understand what someone like Graeme was going through today. You know how nervous he is going to be, but you can't do anything about it.
"At that moment in time, Graeme had the team's whole success or failure in his hands - and that's a lot of pressure.’’ The United States took the singles battle 7-5, but Europe's four winners -
McDowell, Ian Poulter, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Luke Donald - held their nerve, and there were also critical halves gained by Ryder Cup rookies Rory McIlroy and Edoardo Molinari.
Poulter added: "I said this morning on the range I would deliver a point.
"I am pretty passionate about this format, I love the Ryder Cup. I've watched so many matches over the years.
"I love it from the first tee, the songs, and being with all 11 team-mates. It truly is the best tournament in the world, and it always will be.’’ And McIlroy, who once described the Ryder Cup as
being an exhibition match, said: "This experience has been so much better than any experience I have felt at a golf tournament.
"This isn't about me or the development of my career. It was just fantastic.’’