Sept. 22-28, 2025 Bethpage Black Course, Farmingdale, NY
Rory McIlroy
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Rory McIlroy went from tears of despair at Whistling Straits to tears of joy at Marco Simone Golf & Country as he produced his best Ryder Cup performance to lead Europe to a 16½-11½ triumph over the United States in Rome.

The Northern Irishman's Ryder Cup journey has been a remarkable one, from early controversy to three wins in a row during his personal journey to super-stardom and then the crushing impact of that 19-9 defeat two years ago.

He arrived in Rome this week as Europe's most experienced player and with some pressure - from outside the teamroom at least - to take a leading role, a challenge which he grabbed with both hands.

He won four points from five, his only loss coming alongside Matt Fitzpatrick in the Saturday evening four-balls as Patrick Cantlay finished birdie-birdie-birdie to snatch a victory.

Much has been made of the American celebrations after that win and while McIlroy himself admitted they provided "fuel", the journey from superstar team member to talisman may well have started in Wisconsin.

Two years ago, McIlroy endured a torrid first two days, failing to get past the 15th in three defeats and missing a session for the first time in his Ryder Cup career after not being selected for the Saturday foursomes.

With Europe 11-5 down heading into the singles, Pádraig Harrington sent him out first - as had his two predecessors - and after a 3&2 win over Xander Schauffle, the emotions came pouring out.

"I've been extremely disappointed that I haven't contributed more for the team," he said in a tearful greenside interview.

"It's been a tough week and the more and more I play in this event, the more I realise that it's the best event in golf bar none.

"I love being a part of it, I can't wait to be part of many more. It's the best.

"I don't think there's any greater privilege than to be a part of one of these teams, European or American."

That was all a long way from 12 years previously when McIlroy, then a rising star on the DP World Tour, branded the Ryder Cup an "exhibition", comments he has since taken back several times.

"I think in 2009, I was just so focused on myself and trying to get my career off the ground," he said this week.

Practice Rounds-2010 Ryder Cup
NEWPORT, WALES - SEPTEMBER 30: Rory McIlroy of Europe looks on during a practice round prior to the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort on September 30, 2010 in Newport, Wales. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Photo Credit: Getty Images

"I felt like I had bigger and better things to achieve for my individual goals and stuff like that that I just didn't put any emphasis on making a Ryder Cup Team until you make one, and then you never want to be off one again."

He has not been and each time he has played, he has held a different role: the rising Rookie in 2010, the superstar in the making in 2012 and the bona fide best in the world in 2014.

He was the beating heart of a losing side in 2016, winning three points alongside Thomas Pieters and then losing 1 UP in an all-time classic singles match with Patrick Reed, with his ear-cupping and shouts of "I can't hear you!" to the American crowd an iconic Ryder Cup moment.

He won two points as Thomas Bjørn's underdogs prevailed in 2018 and then came the nadir of 2021 which led to many predicting a period of American dominance.

"The score line, 19-9, that hurt, it really did," he said following Sunday's victory.

We're caretakers of this European jersey right now and we're hopefully going to pass it on in the future in a better spot than where we found it
— Rory McIlroy

"There's a few of us up here that were on that team that wanted to come back and everyone at the start of the week was talking about, 'oh, do you want to get revenge, do you want to get revenge on the U.S. Team?'.

"This wasn't about revenge. This was about redemption and showing what we could do."

McIlroy and partner Tommy Fleetwood were handed a tough test in the Friday foursomes against the undefeated Cantlay and Schauffele but prevailed 2&1 before McIlroy's four-balls partner Matt Fitzpatrick won five holes in a row in a 5&3 win over Schauffele and Collin Morikawa.

McIlroy and Fleetwood faced another powerhouse pair in Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas on Saturday morning but survived an impressive comeback in a 2&1 win before that late drama in the afternoon.

European Captain Luke Donald sent McIlroy out fourth in the singles as he looked to press home a five-point advantage and the four-time Major champion never trailed in a 3&1 win over a battling Sam Burns.

2016 Ryder Cup - Singles Matches
CHASKA, MN - OCTOBER 02: Rory McIlroy of Europe reacts on the eighth green during singles matches of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club on October 2, 2016 in Chaska, Minnesota. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The four points won this week take McIlroy's total to 18 from 33 matches in seven Ryder Cups and at just 34, there are surely plenty more left to win, but McIlroy was already looking to the next generation.

"This is my seventh Ryder Cup - am I going to play in another seven? I don't know," he said.

"I'm probably on the back nine of my Ryder Cup career and every one that I get to play in from now on is very, very meaningful. I've made the turn.

"I think just spending time with these guys is becoming more meaningful because I know I don't have that many left.

"To see guys like Ludvig (Åberg) come in here and be an absolute stud and take everything in stride, I wish I was in his position again, looking forward to playing in 15 or 20 Ryder Cups or whatever it is he's going to play in."

Europe's Northern Irish golfer, Rory McIlroy (C) holds The Ryder Cup as he celebrates with teammates after victory after the singles matches on the final day of play in the 44th Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome on October 1, 2023. Tommy Fleetwood clinched the crucial half-point as Europe regained the Ryder Cup from a battling United States taking an unassailable lead despite a blistering American singles charge. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo Credit: AFP via Getty Images

McIlroy is four appearances shy of Sir Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood's European record and 10½ points short of Sergio Garcia's leading tally as he continues to build his own Ryder Cup legacy.

Whether he reaches or passes either of those marks remains to be seen but McIlroy is certainly aware of the significance of those that have gone before him.

"Seve (Ballesteros), Ollie (José María Olazábal), the legends of the Ryder Cup that have came before us... we're caretakers of this European jersey right now and we're hopefully going to pass it on in the future in a better spot than where we found it.

"I think that's really what we are right now."

Ballesteros' place as Europe's all-time Ryder Cup figurehead is untouchable but McIlroy is now his continent's golfing leader - and history is his to make.

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