Rory McIlroy celebrates on 17 (Getty Images)
McIlroy comes alive on 17
If Rory McIlroy hadn’t been bitten by The Ryder Cup bug before, he certainly has now.
By Paul Symes, europeantour.com
After struggling to find any form or rhythm on an opening day which was seriously disrupted by serious amounts of rain, McIlroy came to life on day two at a sun-soaked Celtic Manor Resort.
The pivotal moment of match two between McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and their American counterparts Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, who towered over their more diminutive opponents, came on the 17th green.
With the Europeans one down in the match but one up in The Ryder Cup, courtesy of Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood’s 3&2 defeat of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in the game ahead, the onus was on the Ulstermen to maintain the early momentum.
Having high-fived their triumphant team-mates, who were returning to the clubhouse to recuperate ahead of their foursomes clash with Jim Furyk and Ryder Cup rookie Rickie Fowler, the ‘Super Macs’ vowed to follow their lead.
Speaking before the start of The Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie underlined the important role the 17th was likely to play in determining the outcome of the contest.
Europe’s Captain said: “The 17th is a vital hole in any match that gets this far. You can be one up, one down or all square – but whatever you are, you will know what Ryder Cup pressure is all about when you’re standing on the tee.”
Having captured his first Major at this year’s US PGA Championship, McDowell’s ability to cope under intense pressure is not in doubt.
It was the man from Portrush to tee off first, as is his wont on par threes.
McDowell, who shares his partner’s love of Manchester United, put Europe in pole position with an exquisite five iron to 12 feet.
McIlroy’s contact with his six iron wasn’t quite so clean, the ultra-talented 21 year old shaking his head as his ball came to rest some 35 feet short of the cup.
But not for nothing has the youngster from Holywood with the film star quality climbed into the world’s top ten, and claimed titles on both sides of the Atlantic, at such a precociously young age.
With Kuchar and Cink both hitting their tee shots inside McIlroy’s, it was the youngest member of the quartet – who had traded birdies throughout a match which lasted some 26 hours – to putt first.
Having consulted McDowell on the line of his putt, McIlroy steadied himself, drew his putter back and then swished the blade through the ball with the grace and skill of a master painter.
As the ball snaked its way towards the cup, the murmurings grew louder until, with its final roll, it dropped into the cup to deafening cheers.
Vice Captain Sergio Garcia, never one to hold back his emotions, punched the air with undisguised glee, as did the group clad in Rory wigs standing behind golf nut Chris Evans, one of BBC Radio’s plethora of on-course commentators.
The man at centre stage, who has since revised his opinion of The Ryder Cup as an “exhibition” match, was easily as hyped up as at any stage of his victories at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic or this year’s Quail Hollow Championship on the US PGA Tour.
Whisper it quietly, but there was something of the Seve about his exuberant celebrations.
It was perhaps the first genuine ‘I was there’ moment of The 2010 Ryder. So this is what it’s all about, Rory.
Of course, had either of their opponents sunk their birdie attempts, the Europeans’ bubble would have been well and truly burst.
But Kuchar’s putt slid past, to leave Cink as the Americans’ only hope of maintaining their one hole advantage.
On the opening day, in one of the greatest putting displays in recent Ryder Cup history, the 2009 Open Champion had holed virtually everything in sight.
But pressure can do funny things to a golfer’s psyche, no matter how experienced. Had the Europeans both missed, you can bet your bottom dollar Cink would have closed out the game from 15 feet.
As it was, despite willing it home with a wave of his putter, Cink’s effort never really troubled the hole, meaning the match was all square – which is how it eventually stayed after McDowell and Kuchar halved the last with par fives.
Despite ending his first taste of The Ryder Cup on a low note, with his second and fourth shots both finding the lake at the front of the 18th green, McIlroy had well and truly arrived.