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Europeans make their move at Ryder Cup

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Birdie putts kept falling, one on top of the other, until the Americans finally secured a Saturday lead in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1995 to set up a final day that finally matters.

The last hour defined the pressure and passion of the Ryder Cup, so intense that players on both teams were emotionally exhausted.

All that's left now are 12 singles matches today to determine the winner.

Robert Karlsson concluded a gripping afternoon at Valhalla with his seventh birdie in 10 holes as he and fellow Swede Henrik Stenson scratched out a halve against Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan.

The Americans hung on for two key halves to split the afternoon fourballs session, taking a 9-7 lead to finally give them a fighting chance to wrest the 17-inch gold chalice away from Europe.

'The golf has been incredible,' U.S. captain Paul Azinger said. 'My stomach is just churning.'

Ian Poulter's eyes nearly popped out of his sockets after making a 30-inch birdie putt that looked like 30 feet. Poulter arrived as a controversial captain's pick, but he was the only European to play all four matches and he delivered three vital points.

Steve Stricker showed why his selection for his first Ryder Cup was a no-brainer. His match looked like a lost cause until Stricker escaped from the weeds and sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a halve.

One minute the Americans looked as if they might build their largest lead in nearly 30 years. The next minute, it looked as though they might not have the lead at all.

'It's a bumpy road at times, isn't it, to get to a victory,' European captain Nick Faldo said. 'So you come off the road a bit, and we're back on the road again now.'

Europe has built overwhelming leads the last two times, practically icing the champagne on Saturday night.

Hold onto your tops.

The entire American and European teams huddled on the grassy slopes surrounding the 18th green at Valhalla as the final match trudged up the fairway, the ninth time in two days that a match came down to the final hole.

Hunter Mahan, unbeaten in all four matches in his Ryder Cup debut, hit his approach to the collar of the green for an eagle attempt from 20 feet. Karlsson followed with a second shot in the par 5 that settled 12 feet behind the hole.

Both narrowly missed. Both teams exhaled.

'That's an unbelieveable two days,' Poulter said. 'I think we got a huge piece of momentum today, and the guys are pumped - proper, proper pumped. This is what the Ryder Cup is all about.'

Some of the American rookies found that out.

Boo Weekley toned down his celebration until after his great shots, and there were plenty. Kentucky native J.B. Holmes delivered a putt that put the U.S. team up over Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen, but Weekley stole the show.

He holed a 25-foot putt off the back of the 14th green green for a 2-up lead, then hit a bunker shot to 2 feet on the next hole. Asked where he would rank that shot among the top 10 of his career, Weekley replied, 'I reckon No. 9. I done had eight holes-in-one.'

They won on the 17th hole when Westwood failed to extend the match with a 15-foot birdie.

It was the first time in six years the Englishman lost a Ryder Cup match, an unbeaten streak of 12 matches that left him tied with Arnold Palmer and more disappointed for the team than himself.