NEWPORT (Wales) (AFP) Europe defeated the United States to win the Ryder Cup here on Monday, prevailing in a thrilling contest to finally overcome a gutsy American fightback. US Open champion Graeme McDowell was the hero for the Europeans, holding his nerve to close out a three and one victory over world number 16 Hunter Mahan amid joyous scenes at Celtic Manor. The victory avenged Europes defeat to the Americans at Valhalla two years ago and was witnessed by an estimated 35,000 fans, who turned out in droves to see the first Monday finish in the history of the competition. Im very proud. Its a very proud moment for us all here in Europe, said Europe captain Colin Montgomerie. They all played, to a man magnificently, they all gave 110 percent and thats all you can ask. US captain Corey Pavin was philosophical in defeat. I was very proud of how hard they fought all week, he said. We would win as a team and lose as a team. Thats the way it was and the way it is. The Europeans had started the day with a commanding three-point lead ahead of the 12 singles, a huge advantage that left them needing only five points to regain the famous gold trophy. But the US team revived memories of their famous come-from-behind victory at Brookline in 1999 with a string of victories in the singles matches to put the Europeans under ferocious pressure. On an afternoon of nerve-shredding drama, the contest came down to a shoot-out between McDowell and Mahan. McDowell went two up with two to play after holing a sensational birdie putt on the par-four 16th that left him firmly in the driving seat. And when Mahan fluffed his chip onto the green at 17 and could only bogey, the American conceded and the Ryder Cup was back in European hands. The win was a triumph for the tactics of Montgomerie, who had deliberately chosen McDowell to anchor the host teams singles in order to have an experienced man on the course if it went to the wire. There was a reason Graeme McDowell was at 12 because he is the US Open champion and full of confidence, Montgomerie said. That putt on the 16th was unbelievable. An emotional McDowell paid tribute to Montgomeries captaincy after the win. He was amazing. For the last two years hes been up for this. To be able to do that for him today was special, McDowell said. I can safely say that Ive never felt that nervous on a golf course in my life before, McDowell said, admitting that his nerves had begun jangling when he became aware that his match may be the decisive duel. I was hoping that I wasnt going to be needed. But at that point I got extremely nervous. Coming down the stretch Ive never felt nerves like it in my life. The Americans had hauled themselves back into contention after a breathtaking fightback by youngster Rickie Fowler, the 21-year-old wildcard rookie, who earned an unlikely half point against Edoardo Molinari. Molinari appeared to be cruising to victory and a full point after leading by three holes with three to play. But Fowler conjured up three consecutive birdies to level the match, crowning his comeback with a difficult long birdie putt on the 18th green. Ultimately though, Fowlers half point was not enough to get the Americans over the finishing line in their quest to reach the magic total of 14 points that would have allowed them to retain the trophy. Fowlers heroics had come after the Americans had won six of the earlier singles matches, with Pavins big guns finally delivering when it mattered. World number one Tiger Woods produced a scintillating round to beat Francesco Molinari by four and three, rattling in seven birdies and an eagle. US Masters champion Phil Mickelson also weighed in with a win after a disappointing performance in the foursomes and fourballs, defeating Peter Hanson four and two. The Americans had also signalled their intent early on when Steve Stricker came from behind to beat Europes talisman Lee Westwood in the lead match. But Europe were able to keep the Americans at bay with important wins from Luke Donald, beating Jim Furyk by one up, and Ian Poulter, who trounced world number 11 Matt Kuchar five and four. Ulsterman Rory McIlroy also contributed what ultimately proved to be a vital half point, managing to finish all square in a thrilling battle with Stewart Cink in the second match after trailing by one up to the 15th hole. With Westwood and Europes Martin Kaymer both suffering defeats, victories lower down the order suddenly became crucial for the hosts. Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez delivered a vital win in the seventh match, defeating rookie Bubba Watson four and three to maintain Europes momentum.