With the best of the European players sent out early in the day by Captain Sam Torrance, his team gained points from five of the first six singles matches Sunday and took back the Ryder Cup from the United States when Irishman Paul McGinley made an eight-foot putt to halve a thriller with Jim Furyk.
One pairing after Paul Azinger's amazing bunker shot kept the United States alive, McGinley gave the Europeans their third victory in the last four Ryder Cups, bringing about a celebration from the partisan crowd at The Belfry.
"I knew how important it was, it was for the Ryder Cup," said McGinley, one of four first-timers on the European team. "I said I'd love to have the opportunity, and fortunately, I did."
The Americans, who are 24-8-2 in the all-time series, lost the Cup they won three years ago at Brookline, where they erased a four-point lead on the last day.
This time, the teams were tied after two days for the first time since 1991 and the United States was considered a favorite after losing the singles session just five times in the history of the event.
Facing a squad with six of the world's top 12 players, Torrance sent out his big guns early and watched them win four of the first six matches and halve another to get within two points of victory.
"We decided to do something different and get the points up there," said Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, who improved his Ryder Cup singles mark to 4
Fist-pumping Swede Niclas Fasth later earned a half point against a valiant Azinger and McGinley did the same with Furyk in one of the day's upsets.
Before the decisive half points, unheralded Welchman Phillip Price recorded the day's biggest surprise, cruising to a 3 & 2 victory over world No. 2 Phil Mickelson. Price is 118th in the World Golf Rankings.
"I think I got thrown to the wolves today," Price said. "I'm glad I won today. Unbelievable, just to get it over with."
While Torrance sent his best players out early, U.S. Captain Curtis Strange saved his for last. The move ended up backfiring as the series of upsets rendered Woods' match meaningless.
"Sam, I think he gambled at the start, but it paid off," Strange said. "They did what they had to do."
Woods was all square with Jesper Parnevik of Sweden through 16 holes when McGinley clinched the victory. Woods won the 17th and lost the 18th for an inconsequential half point, leaving the Europeans with a 15 1/2-12 1/2 triumph.
It was the most decisive win in a Ryder Cup since Europe took the 1985 event, 16 1/2-11 1/2.
Standing over a potential winning putt at the 18th, Woods backed off when he heard something from the gallery off the green. It was the cork of Torrance's champagne bottle.
"I will be honest with you," said Torrance, who called the win the capper to a career that includes more than 30 victories worldwide and three as a player in the Ryder Cup. "Only the birth of my children and the marriage to my wife has been more special than this."
Parnevik's surprising half point was indicative of the Europeans' day. They took 7 1/2 of 12 points available and went seven matches without trailing.
"We got a European butt-whipping today," Strange said.
Europe's four Ryder Cup rookies - McGinley, Fasth, Price and Pierre Fulke of Sweden - went a combined 0-6-1 in four-ball and foursomes but were 2
"Myself and Pierre Fulke and Phillip Price talked about it at breakfast," McGinley said. "One of us is going to be here, is going to finish it."
"Heroes come out of that," Torrance added. "Paul McGinley, Phillip Price - fantastic."
Long before the celebration, Europe put itself in position by taking 4 1/2 of the first six points, winning three matches convincingly.
Montgomerie got things started with a 5 & 4 rout of Scott Hoch; Padraig Harrington of Ireland posted the same score against Mark Calcavecchia; and Bernhard Langer of Germany defeated Hal Sutton, 4 & 3.
Toms won a battle between the sixth- and fifth-ranked players in the world, downing Spanish star Sergio Garcia, 1-up. Toms had four birdies on the back nine and made key par putts at Nos. 16 and 17.
"Those last few holes were awfully tough, just to get it to the house," said Toms, who went 3-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut.
Duval halved his match with Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland thanks to three birdies on the closing seven holes.
The first six featured arguably the best players on the European squad.
Montgomerie and Langer have combined for nearly 100 wins worldwide. Garcia and Harrington both are ranked no worse than ninth and Bjorn is fully recovered from a shoulder injury that bumped him from the top 10.
"We looked at the draw last night in the team room," Langer said. "We saw it could really work out well for us. Obviously, we needed to play well."
Price earned Europe's next point in a surprisingly easy win over Mickelson. The Welchman had five birdies during 16 bogey-free holes, often looking like he was the second-ranked player in the world.
"I feel like I made a contribution when it was possible that I wouldn't before the week came along," he said. "So I'm pretty proud of myself."
Mickelson went 3
"I'm not feeling great," the lefthander said. "I didn't play well enough to win."
Just a point from defeat, the U.S. found new life when Azinger holed a 50-foot bunker shot at the closing hole. His ball splashed out to the fringe, hopped twice and rolled into the cup for an incredible birdie.
"I was in trouble and I knew the team was in trouble and we need to get this point right here," said Azinger, who made a similar shot to win the 1993 Memorial.
"I knew I needed to make a birdie. My only hope if it didn't go in was that he would three-putt. I just got lucky."
When Azinger halved his match, the Americans needed to win the last three to retain the Cup with a tie. Furyk had the event in his hands, going to the 18th hole all square with McGinley.
Sixty-one spots ahead of McGinley in the world rankings at No. 10, Furyk ended up in the same bunker as Azinger and amazingly grazed the right side of the hole with a shot that could have won the match.
McGinley had knocked his approach way left of the green and hit his delicate chip seven feet right of the pin before making the winning putt.
"I knew the line," said Price, who has two career wins on the European Tour. "It was the matter of having the nerve to hit it on the line. And fortunately, I did."
Both teams waited for the last two two pairs to finish, although the match between Davis Love III and Fulke was halved prematurely when Garcia rushed to the 18th fairway to celebrate with his teammate.
"I said, 'Look, we don't need to play with a celebration going on and people on the green,'" Love said. "We agreed to take a halve.
"It's over and it's hard to not celebrate. But it wasn't the way to finish the match."
Woods then lost his 1-up lead with a three-putt at the 18th hole and picked up Parnevik's marker, prompting a champagne-spraying celebration by the Europeans.
"I wish it would have come down to our match," said Woods, who went 2-2-1 this weekend. "But unfortunately, it didn't."