Rory McIlroy and Sergio García turn round disappointing defeat
The is like a bar-room brawl: a fellow minding his own business can get knocked down yet have several opportunities, if he so chooses, to get back into the fray in another part of the entertainment, which pretty much describes Rory McIlroy’s Friday.
Knocked cold in their morning fourball, the best golfer in the world and , ranked No3, saved the last two holes in the early evening to rescue half a point in the foursomes. They were wildly cheered but they anticipated more for their labours when play began. It was a tough day all round for McIlroy.
“We played two really tough matches and at least we have half a point to show for it,” McIlroy said. García said: “We knew we weren’t playing good, but we fought hard.”
However, a little after 8am, moments before they stepped up in the anchor match of the first session, the fourball against and Keegan Bradley, McIlroy had to field the inevitable question about Mickelson’s little dig that, unlike Rory and his Irish compatriot, Graeme McDowell, the American players “don’t litigate against each other”.
Asked if this ham-fisted reference to the tangled legal bun fight involving himself, his former Dublin agents and McDowell “added spice” to their match, he replied in mock horror: “Of course it does, of course.”
While both insisted the banter was good-natured, the American, a veteran of years of mind games with Tiger Woods, had one more ace up his sleeve. As they left the 8th, he put his arm around McIlroy and they shared a laugh – for show, perhaps, or was he trying to dilute the Irishman’s energy?
Anyway, the real business of their contest did not go smoothly for McIlroy. He played a few fine shots here and there and too many ordinary ones. Neither he nor García could find the magic to close out the deal after regaining the lead on the back nine, and Mickelson had the satisfaction of delivering the final dagger, a neat little putt on the 18th.
So, more than five hours after the first awkward question, McIlroy found the microphone thrust under his nose again. This time he had even less to smile about.
“Very disappointed,” he said, opting to ignore the pronouns. “The wind was a little tricky. Felt like we played decent golf.”
But that bar-room brawl was still in full swing and, within half an hour, they were back in the thick of it, this time in foursomes against Jimmy Walker, who looked in sensational form around the greens in the morning, and Rory’s mate .
Again it was tortuous. McIlroy and García led three times on the front nine, only to see Fowler’s four birdies wipe out their advantage, and they trailed by two with six to play.
As the temperature dropped and the wind got up, a third McIlroy birdie briefly lightened the mood on 14, but he got García into trouble on the next hole and the Americans led by two with three holes left.
Fowler then hit the shot of the day, a bazooka of 218 yards out of the rough that all but dislodged the flag on the 16th green. Walker’s 12-footer for eagle and the match slid by – and McIlroy found a 40-footer, his best putt by far, to keep the match alive.
He teed off first on the 18th with his new driver, which had not behaved itself all day and again it pushed the ball right, bouncing it off a tree into a so-so lie. García obliged, thrashing hard with the wood – “Just get it up there!” implored his partner – and he gave McIlroy a 25-foot eagle putt. He went for it, settled for a four and Fowler, faced with a 15-footer up the hill, right to left, missed – and Europe had pick-pocketed half a point.
So a day that started in rich expectation then faded to disappointment finished like a feelgood movie. There was early hope in the fourball when García had the gallery buzzing with a bunker shot into the hole to break the stalemate at the 4th. But his recent excellent putting form deserted him on the 7th to let the Americans back in the game, and the struggle swayed like this all the way to the finish line.
The 350-yard par-4 11th is regarded as a solid chance for birdie but Mickelson and Bradley bogeyed, and Europe were gifted a reprieve seven holes from the clubhouse. Mickelson missed an easy putt on the 15th, and Europe, one up, again were allowed breathing space.
However, as Mickelson faltered, Bradley flowered, drilling the ball from the middle of the fairway to within eagle distance on Lochan Loup. When it dropped, he punched the air, and they were level.
Twelve of the matches in Medinah went to the 18th, Europe gaining nine-and-a-half points – but Mickelson and Bradley were supreme there. As they were here. Mickelson had a three-and-a-half footer up the hill for the point and, at 1.47pm, he secured it comfortably without any fuss.