Ryder Cup crowd stands up for Ulsterman Rory McIlroy
If Rory McIlroy is the new Tiger Woods, poor Rickie Fowler seems doomed to play the role of the new, young Phil Mickelson – always the bridesmaid.
McIlroy walloped him 5&4 in the third singles match yesterday to put the first blue point on the scoreboard for Europe and send them on the way to victory.
It was billed as the glamour match. Two 25-year-olds with the world at their feet, the poster boys of the new generation of charismatic, flash but likeable golfers. It ended up as an ugly mismatch. Fowler was blitzed.
McIlroy was simply unplayable. He conjured up one of the finest six-hole stretches in Ryder Cup history: four birdies and an eagle and just 17 shots needed to sprint away to a 5up lead.
Three times they faced each other this week and Fowler just could not beat him. They also went out in the final group at the Open Championship in July and McIlroy left him in his slipstream. They vied for victory at the US PGA Championship the following month, too, but the American came off second best again as McIlroy won his second Major of the year.
If Fowler does grow up to be the new Mickelson, he must take some comfort that Major victories will come his way sometime in the future.
But for now, he is walking in McIlroy's shadow. He's not alone.
"Rory's gonna get ya, Rory's gonna get ya," chanted the crowd on the first tee as the two young gunslingers emerged from the tunnel that is adorned with photographs of Ryder Cup legends. Seve Ballesteros is the last one they see before stepping out into the light to a thunderous standing ovation.
Then a rugby chant. "Stand up for the Ulsterman," they sang. Thousands of them crammed into the horseshoe-shaped grandstand stood as one to welcome the best golfer in the world. The Northern Irishman loved it, applauding and giving a thumbs-up.
Earlier in the week, McIlroy spoke in awe of listening to the wise words of Sir Alex Ferguson. The former manager of McIlroy's beloved Manchester United paid a visit to the Europe team room to deliver one of his famous motivational speeches. No need for the hairdryer treatment this week. McIlroy spotted him and they exchanged glances. A nod, a smile. No words. None needed. The talking had already been done.
The crowd revived that Old Trafford chant of "Twelve Eric Cantonas" to the tune of "A Partridge in a Pear Tree". Only this time it was "Twelve Rory McIlroys".
When McIlroy sent that fourth birdie putt into the hole at the sixth at the end of that remarkable start, he turned to the grandstand, held his arms aloft and simply nodded at them as if to say: "Yes, I know, I am a genius, look at me, look what I can do." It was like Cantona turning to the Stretford End after chipping the Sunderland goalkeeper all those years ago.
Back before anyone knew they were about to witness McIlroy at his beautiful, arrogant, awesome best, Fowler must have stood on that first tee expecting to give him a scrap. But from the moment the American hooked his opening shot into the rough then duffed his chip to the green, he was merely dancing around the ring as McIlroy punched his lights out. The fight was stopped at the 14th. Fowler looked dazed and confused.
At the fourth he had become so desperate he made McIlroy putt out from less than two feet. At the fifth he was so befuddled it was left to McIlroy to yell "Fore" as yet another drive from Fowler headed towards the Perthshire shrubbery. "Reel him in, Rickie," shouted an American as a loose drive from McIlroy handed a hole back. But Fowler may as well have hung out the Gone fishin' sign.
Such was the swagger of McIlroy that it was as if he was showing off at the par-five ninth with an exhibition of his genius. Fowler was just short of the green in two while McIlroy was forced to hack out of a fairway bunker and was still 200 yards from the green with his ball in the rough .
McIlroy lashed at it with his iron. Those privileged to be there gasped and stared in awe as it soared to the green coming to rest 20 feet from the pin. For an encore, he holed the birdie putt. McIlroy unleashed a fierce uppercut air punch and yelled in celebration. It was only to halve the hole but, looking at Fowler's body sag, it felt like a knockout blow.
There was a fella dressed as a leprechaun dragging on a cigarette and clutching a pint following the match. It summed up just how easy this victory was for McIlroy and Europe.