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Thomas Pieters in action at Hazeltine
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Europe

Europe find a new star in Pieters

Europe may be flying back across the Atlantic without the Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years but they do return home with a new star in the biennial showpiece.

Thomas Pieters would have been regarded by many as a long shot for a Captain's pick just two months ago before a fourth-placed finish at the Olympics, a runners-up spot at the D+D REAL Czech Masters and a win at the Made in Denmark earned him his place on the team.

Darren Clarke showed faith in the big-hitting Belgian to put him out on the first morning and while he, like the rest of the Europeans, tasted defeat in the Friday foursomes - a defeat for which playing partner Lee Westwood claimed responsibility - after that he did not look back.

He was paired with Rory McIlroy in the fourballs and they took down Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar 3 and 2 before coming together again to beat Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler 4 and 2 in the Saturday foursomes.

By that point they were Europe's go-to pair and another victory - this time 3 and 1 against Johnson and Brooks Koepka in the fourballs - meant Pieters was just half a point away from the European record for a rookie, held jointly by Paul Lawrie and Sergo Garcia from 1999 and Paul Way in 1983.

With Europe trailing the hosts by 3½ points, Clarke again put his faith in Pieters, sending him out third against JB Holmes. The 24 year old delivered, coming back from two down to claim a 3 and 2 victory.

With that Pieters not only became the best rookie in European history, he also became the first since Larry Nelson in 1979 to be the outright top points scorer on either side.

The three-time European Tour winner may show plenty of passion on the course but he has a calm demeanour away from it, and has taken all the adulation in his stride.

"It's a team effort," he said. "We all win and we all lose. I did play good this week but  unfortunately we lost. Hopefully we'll be back with the same team in two years' time.

"I'm glad I had the full experience of playing five games. Hopefully I can take that experience into the next Ryder Cup.

"I didn't feel like a rookie, so I think that's good. Especially playing with Rory, it was smooth sailing for us. He gave me all the confidence going into today."

With McIlroy only three years older than Pieters at 27, the duo could now form a Ryder Cup partnership for Europe for years to come. McIlroy certainly hopes so.

"I've got a partner beside me for the next 20 years, I'm not letting anyone else have him," he said.

The European Ryder Cup team is certainly in safe hands.