THE reign of Ulster golfers at the pinnacle of their sport has continued after they helped Europe clinch the most dramatic of Ryder Cup wins.
Going into the final day’s play on Sunday, the Americans were enjoying a lead of four points which looked unassailable.
However, in one of the competition’s greatest fightbacks, Europe won eight of the 12 singles matches to edge the overall competition by 14.5 to 13.5 points.
The Europeans dedicated their stunning win to the late Ryder Cup legend Seve Ballesteros.
A day of high drama began even before the first ball was hit when Rory McIlroy needed a police escort to get him to the Medinah course near Chicago.
The Holywood golfer had caused a minor panic on the practice putting green when he failed to appear with only minutes to go until tee-off.
Speaking after the thrilling victory, McIlroy’s fellow Northern Ireland golfer Graeme McDowell could afford to laugh at the near miss: “I was on the putting green warming up. It did cross my mind. I thought ‘Where’s Rory?’”
McDowell said: “But then Rory doesn’t need to warm up. He is a Rolls-Royce. Rolls-Royces do not need any warming up.”
Despite his mix-up over the US time zones, McIlroy made it to the course just in time to see off opponent Keegan Bradley with a 2 and 1 victory.
Reflecting on the win, McIlroy said: “This is one of the most perfect days on a golf course. We wanted to lead from the front and get points on the board, and we did that.
“If I let myself down then I can deal with that, but to let down your team-mates, vice-captains and captain would have been unforgiveable. I am happy to get the point and help out the team.”
Stan Short of McDowell’s home club of Rathmore in Co Antrim said the excitement of the Ryder Cup matched that generated when the local hero won the US Open.
“It was just electric,” he said. “Even people who have Sky TV were coming down to the club just to experience the atmosphere. Elation was the only way to describe it.”
The third of Northern Ireland’s Major-winning golfers, Darren Clarke, also played a part in the historic victory in his role as a team vice-captain.
One of the first to congratulate the trio was new Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.
Ms Villiers said: “Victory in the Ryder Cup tops off a hugely successful 2012 for sportsmen and women from Northern Ireland. After Northern Ireland’s athletes played their part in a fabulous Olympics, we now see Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke play a crucial role in the winning of the Ryder Cup by the European team.
“I warmly congratulate them on this brilliant result.”
Stormont Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said our golfers are again “proving their mettle on the international stage”.