MARTIN SAMUEL: Rory McIlroy had a day to forget, the four-time Major winner looked timeworn on day one of the Ryder Cup… he had no spark as Europe failed to find any momentum
- Rory McIlroy lost two matches on the same day for the first time at the Ryder Cup
- Ian Poulter and McIlroy were unable to conjure up their old magic in the morning
- McIlroy and Shane Lowry then lost control between the eighth and tenth hole
- Both Poulter and McIlroy looked timeworn against the younger generation
- McIlroy and Lowry were the third pair out and the first to lose in the afternoon
No Ryder Cup captain has ever resisted the temptation to select Rory McIlroy for any session, morning or afternoon, since his debut in 2010. It will be interesting to see if that survives this weekend at Whistling Straits.
Matchplay golf is all about momentum, we are often told. On Friday, it went against Europe and, rather specifically, McIlroy. Twice he suffered losing streaks leading to significant losses.
In the morning foursomes, he and Ian Poulter were five down after the first five holes, a setback that was always going to prove impossible to reverse. Then, paired with Shane Lowry in the afternoon, the Irish pair lost control of what had been a tight game, losing holes eight, nine and ten and again surrendering all hope of victory. It was the first time McIlroy had lost twice on the same day in a Ryder Cup.
Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy never recovered from a bad start during the opening session
Things didn’t improve for McIlroy in the afternoon session alongside Shane Lowry
It was the first time that McIlroy had lost twice on the same day at the Ryder Cup
This was, in many ways, like watching one of those Thursday’s at a major tournament when McIlroy puts himself out of contention, before spending the next three days showing the world what might have been.
It could be like that here, too, of course. McIlroy has the game to make the positive impact that was missing on Friday. Yet is it already too late? This was a fabulous day for America. The first time since 2010 that they won both the opening foursome and fourball sessions.
America did not win that year, it can be argued. Yet, back then, the gap between the teams after eight games stood at two points. This was different. This was more substantial.
A 6-2 deficit is the worst opening day performance since the European team began. Significant damage was done to European pride and some important European egos.
Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay shake hands after beating Europe’s dream team
Poulter, the postman, did not deliver. Lowry, so keen to make an impression as a captain’s pick for his friend Padraig Harrington was trounced. And McIlroy, considered such an important player, suffered two of the heaviest reverses: 5&3 in the morning, 4&3 in the afternoon. He hasn’t made it past the 15th hole yet. It was a thoroughly miserable day.
And, of course, it wasn’t just about Europe’s failings. McIlroy ran into two very good American pairings, too. In the morning, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay were already five under par playing alternate shots, when the match was curtailed with three holes to play.
In the afternoon, Tony Finau’s putter suddenly caught fire in a way it singularly fails to do at major tournaments and neither McIlroy nor Lowry had an answer.
McIlroy and Poulter faced the dreaded possibility of a 10&8 following a poor start
Finau took single putts to close out three consecutive holes – nine, ten and 11 – and almost nothing within 15 feet of the hole was staying up as America’s lead increased down the back nine. When Finau finally missed a putt of that distance on 14, it was for the match.
The inevitable briefly delayed, McIlroy reached the 15th tee in exactly the same position as in the morning, with the Americans dormie four. McIlroy’s body language by this stage was familiar to those who have followed, with mounting sadness and frustration, his recent showings at major tournaments.
Shoulders sagging, cheeks puffed out as another putt went awry. The crowd wasn’t ugly, or greatly hostile, but it still wasn’t pleasant out there. A lot of crowing, a lot of U-S-A, and a lot of noise from elsewhere that would have suggested this wasn’t Europe’s day.
Earlier, Poulter and McIlroy – a dream team reunited from the Miracle of Medinah – had been ominously bested by a pair of rookies. A Ryder Cup legend and a four-time Major winner. Padraig Harrington had hoped that, together, they could get some of the old magic going. The key word in that sentence, sadly, is old.
Lowry and McIlroy collapsed between the eighth and tenth hole to throw the match away
Poulter’s age and experience is well-known, but at Whistling Straits McIlroy looked timeworn, too. Older than this generation of young Americans intent on taking their vibrant matchplay game to Europe.
McIlroy played 30 holes of matchplay and his team led for one of them, after he eagled the fifth in the afternoon session. He missed a short putt at the sixth to give that lead back immediately and it was never reclaimed.
At half-time on day one, America led 3-1 but it was the point conceded by the game four pairing that hurt the most. Some of Europe’s losers went down fighting. Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland briefly led; so did Jon Rahm and Tyrell Hatton.
Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick were level coming down the back nine. Yet McIlroy and his partners were drowning by the shoes of Lake Michigan, from the first hole. That was when McIlroy played a desperately poor chip which immediately handed the advantage to America.
From there, his partnership with Poulter never recovered. One down at the first to five down at the fifth. As the margins grew, so the record books were consulted. Europe’s biggest ever foursomes loss? It was 7&6. Poulter and McIlroy were on a dismal trot that raised the dread possibility of 10&8.
Harris English (left) and Tony Finau celebrate on the 15th after beating McIlroy and Lowry
That did not happen. The bleeding was stemmed by a succession of halved holes and then on the back nine there was a revival of sorts. McIlroy and Poulter stood on the 13th, trailing by just three.
The problem, however, with going so drastically behind is that as the holes get eaten up the end is just one lousy shot away. On the 14th tee, that duly arrived. Poulter was taking on board liquids and snacks to ready for the battle ahead. McIlroy was above him, on a greatly elevated tee.
The cry of ‘Fore, right’ signalled impending doom. Poulter arrived at the ball, in the rough, on a fiendishly difficult downward slope. He had a little joke with the crowd, adjusted his stance several times. It looked an impossible shot.
Poulter pulled it off, got his ball, not just on the green, but with a genuine chance of birdie. McIlroy missed that. Schauffele drained the equivalent. Dormie four. It was time to plot a route back to the clubhouse.
And there will be many who will claim to have seen this coming with the selection of Poulter. He was his captain’s pick and always a gamble. Poulter may be capable of extraordinary feats in matchplay golf, he may be the postman, the daddy, the guv’nor when it comes to this competition.
But no athlete can outrun the passing of time. Off the tee he is shorter than any American, and young opponents will not be bowed by reputation. He does not intimidate them, no matter how bold his demeanour. They know him from the PGA Tour not the Ryder Cup. They do not acknowledge his threat.
Poulter was dragged down almost at times by his partner McIlroy in the morning session
What should worry here, however, is that Poulter wasn’t really the problem. He was dragged down by McIlroy. His energy was supposed to be underpinned by McIlroy’s brilliance, but there was no spark.
The pairing with Lowry was another designed to fire on shared nationality, like Rahm and Sergio Garcia. Nothing again. Despite being the third pair out, McIlroy and Lowry were first to lose in the afternoon.
It was always going to be hard here with so much pressure from the gallery, but talk of a bear pit was rather overplayed. Yes, this was a partisan arena, but largely genial. Sure they cheer if a European shot goes astray, but only because this usually means their team is winning.
They like McIlroy, and if he, or Europe, hit a good shot they are appreciative and encouraging. There simply weren’t enough of them to make this generosity noticeable.
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