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Planning and teamwork keys to victory

In the end, Europe's crushing Ryder Cup victory over the U.S. was all about better teamwork, hungrier players, putts made when they mattered most and astute captaincy by Bernhard Langer.

On paper, Europe had no right to win and arrived at Oakland Hills as underdogs, despite holding the trophy after their emotional triumph at The Belfry in 2002.

They were heavily outgunned by an American lineup containing 10 players ranked in the world's top 25. With Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III leading the way, Hal Sutton's U.S. team also boasted five major winners.

Europe, for the first time since 1981, were without a single major champion. Irishman Padraig Harrington, Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez and Briton Darren Clarke were their only representatives in the world's top 25 at the start of the week.

All of that is meaningless, though, in the context of the Ryder Cup.

World rankings and major victories are all about stroke-play prowess, whereas the biennial team competition focuses on match-play grit, team cohesiveness and the knack of making the telling putt on cue.

Europe outgunned the Americans in all three categories as they romped to a record victory by 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2 on a sun-drenched afternoon at Oakland Hills, their fourth triumph in the last five matches.

"When it comes right down to it, if you look at the highlights of the whole Ryder Cup in general, you'll see the Europeans making just a boatload of putts," said Woods, after finishing the week with two wins and three losses.

"I think we hit the ball just as good, if about the same, but you've got to make putts.

"They have just gotten the job done," he added. "I don't know why. If I knew the reason, obviously we would be doing something similar, if not a little bit better than that."

Germany's Langer, making his debut as European captain, could do no wrong all week.

Renowned for his meticulous preparation and attention to detail, he won the first psychological skirmish with his opposite number Sutton by telling his team to make every effort to sign autographs and interact with the galleries in the days of build-up to the event.

The ploy succeeded. While outgoing characters like Frenchman Thomas Levet and Briton Ian Poulter wowed the crowds with their friendliness on the first official practice day, the U.S. team lost ground by adopting a cooler approach.

It was also obvious to outsiders that the Europeans were far more comfortable as a 12-man team, relaxed in their approach and making sure they had fun whenever possible.

While most of the Europeans travel together on their tour and frequently socialise with each other, the Americans tend to travel independently on the PGA Tour.

"We're a closer-knit team," said Colin Montgomerie, who holed the winning putt for Europe when he secured a one-up victory over David Toms. "We are one of the closest teams in international sport, we must be.

"It's amazing how well we play for each other, and that's huge."

Although unquestionably the Americans get fired up for the Ryder Cup, it is doubtful if the team event means as much to them as any of the four majors. For most of the Europeans, the Ryder Cup is their major.

Eight-times major winner Woods hinted at this during the event's build-up.

Asked how motivated he was to match the Ryder Cup record of golfing great Jack Nicklaus, he replied: "I'm sure all of you guys probably know what Jack's record is in the Ryder Cup, right?

"Anybody?" he added, after being met by deafening silence. "No? How many majors did he win? Oh, really?" he laughed as the answer came of '18'. "Okay."

While the deliberate Langer appeared to be on top of everything during the week, the passionate Sutton frequently struggled.

From the outset, Sutton had said decisiveness would characterise his captaincy but twice he allowed himself to be overruled by his players.

Mickelson opted not to practice with the team on the Wednesday and rookie Chris Riley, who had dovetailed well with good friend Woods as they beat Britons Clarke and Poulter 4 & 3 in the Saturday fourballs, stood down for the afternoon foursomes.

Perhaps Sutton's biggest mistake of the week was the high-risk pairing of his big guns Woods and Mickelson twice on the opening day. The heavyweight duo, hardly the best of friends, lost both matches to give Europe a massive boost.

Sutton said he had made the decision two years earlier because "history needed it and the fans needed it". With the benefit of hindsight, the U.S. team most certainly did not.

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