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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - With their big guns delivering, Europe inched closer to retaining the Ryder Cup with an astonishing comeback in Sunday's concluding singles matches at Medinah Country Club.
Needing to claim eight points on the final day to keep the trophy in European hands, Jose Maria Olazabal's players won five of the first six matches to draw level with the United States at 11-11.
Only once before has the Cup been won by a team trailing 10-6 going into the last-day singles, the U.S. having achieved the feat at Brookline in 1999, and Europe faced the same task at Medinah.
Europe, who had top-loaded their singles order with their best players, led in two of the remaining matches and trailed in three on a sunny, breezy afternoon at Medinah.
World number three Luke Donald, who took early control with two birdies in the first four holes, drew first blood in the top match with a 2&1 victory over Masters champion Bubba Watson.
"I had a lot of responsibility going out number 1 to get some blue up on the board early," Englishman Donald told reporters.
"I wish I had done it a few holes earlier. Bubba put some pressure on me at the end, and I was glad I held on."
Scot Paul Lawrie, competing in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999, crushed Cup rookie Brandt Snedeker 5&3 before Northern Irish world number one McIlroy beat Keegan Bradley 2&1.
Englishman Ian Poulter, who had never led in his match until he won the par-three 17th with a par, beat U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson two up after conjuring a miraculous birdie from trees at the last.
FIRST U.S. POINT
The first U.S. point came when long-hitting Dustin Johnson beat Belgian Cup rookie Nicolas Colsaerts 3&2 but England's Justin Rose then came from one down to Phil Mickelson after 16 holes to win one up with a birdie-birdie finish.
Rose drained a 35-footer at the tricky par-three 17th to square the match, then coolly sank a 12-footer at the 18th after Mickelson had over-hit the green with his approach.
"The Ryder Cup is as big as it gets, and to play Phil ... he always seems to bring out the best in me," said Rose, who also beat Mickelson in the singles at Valhalla in 2008.
"I wouldn't say I've made three bigger putts back-to-back in my career ever."
Rock-steady Zach Johnson then added a second point for the U.S. when he triumphed 2&1 over Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, who secured the winning point for Europe at Celtic Manor two years ago.
Cup veteran Jim Furyk was one up on Spaniard Sergio Garcia after 16 holes, and rookie Jason Dufner was two up on Swede Peter Hanson after 15.
Tiger Woods, playing in the anchor match, was one up on Italy's Francesco Molinari after 13 holes with that encounter likely to be decisive.
Woods had been beaten in his three previous encounters this week and faces the prospect of finishing pointless for the first time in seven Ryder Cups.
(Editing by Julian Linden)
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