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Ryder Cup: Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy join an illustrious list

By Peter Hutcheon

Northern Ireland has provided more than its share of Ryder Cup heroes over the years.

When Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell tee off against the Americans on Friday it will be the first time that two Ulstermen have played on the same side.

But that confirms the trend that Northern Ireland has made more of an impact on the biennial competition ever since it was expanded from just Great Britain and Ireland to include continental Europe in 1979.

Only three men from Northern Ireland played on the team prior to the inclusion of the Europeans.

Portrush’s Fred Daly played on four teams from 1947 to 1953, with three victories to his credit. Belfast’s Norman Drew played in 1959 and halved the only match he played with Doug Ford, while Newcastle’s Eddie Pollard performed at Muirfield in 1973, losing both his matches.

All six cups they played in, though, were lost in the era of total American dominance which led to the inclusion of players from mainland Europe.

Warrenpoint’s Ronan Rafferty played his part in the change of fortunes in the post-1979 era.

He defeated Open champion Mark Calcavecchia in the singles on the Sunday of the 1989 event at the Belfry in a nerve-wracking 14-14 tie which saw the Europeans retain the trophy they had won on American soil for the first time at Muirfield Village two years before.

David Feherty from Bangor, beat the mighty Payne Stewart two and one in the 1991 contest at Kiwah Island, now remembered for the putt which Bernhard Langer missed to halve his match with Hale Irwin and thus handed back the Cup to Americans.

That was the contest dubbed ‘The War on the Shore’ which marked growing hostilities at the event, and culminated in the scenes at Brookline in 1999 when the Americans went prematurely berserk over Justin Leonard’s incredibly long putt trampling all over the line of Jose Maria Olazabal’s putt which he had to halve the match.

Darren Clarke is the most capped Ryder Cup Ulsterman with five appearances and is, of course, currently one of skipper Colin Montgomerie’s vice-captains this week. His run began in the thrilling 1997 encounter at Valderrama under Seve Ballesteros when Europe won another bitterly contest encounter 14 and a half to 13 and a half.

He played at Brookline, the win at the Belfry in 2002 when Paul McGinley holed the winning putt, at Oakland Hills in 2004 and was the hero of the K Club in 2006 just months after the death of wife Heather from cancer.

The crowning moment of that emotional week was his win with Lee Westwood over Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in the Saturday afternoon foursomes.

Clarke was controversially not one of Nick Faldo’s wild card picks two years ago in Valhalla when the cup was lost, but Portrush’s Graeme McDowell made his debut and made his mark as one of the most successful players, albeit in a losing cause.

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