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Rory McIlroy was genuinely going in over the ropes to get at Ryder Cup heckler: Padraig Harrington

By Liam Kelly

Padraig Harrington has revealed the moment he thought he would have to wade into a fight to back up Rory McIlroy in a Ryder Cup confrontation with a loudmouth spectator.

Harrington's GAA roots from his schoolboy days came to the fore when a verbal spat had the potential to get physical in the Saturday afternoon fourballs at Medinah.

The atmosphere was loud and rowdy as McIlroy and Thomas Pieters competed in the fourballs against Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

McIlroy had punched the air dramatically each time he or Pieters holed a crucial putt.

Harrington's problem was whether the European talisman would throw a punch for real in the incident which blew up as the players walked from the seventh green to the eighth tee.

Only McIlroy can say how close he came to taking on the USA fan who heckled him but, from Harrington's perspective, the Northern Ireland star was clearly riled as he eyeballed the offending spectator and headed straight for him.

At that instant, Harrington's GAA roots came to the fore, as in 'one in, all in' when trouble breaks out.

The Dubliner, who accompanied the match in his vice-captaincy role, said: "I was walking with Rory in his matches and I tried to keep a nice distance.

"I wasn't trying to be there (too close), so I was about ten yards behind him when the incident happened with the other guy. Rory was genuinely going in over the ropes.

"We wouldn't be used to this, but it's a team event, so all I was thinking about was 'I'm going to have to wade in with him.'

"That's all I'm thinking about. If there's a second or third fella. . . I wasn't close enough to give him the pull-back.

"I'm trying to catch up from ten yards away. I'm thinking 'oh no, don't go in, I'm going to have to go in too'.

"It just goes to show what a team means. If that was an individual tournament, I think I might have been pulling out my phone and videoing it. But in a team event. . ."

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Meanwhile people closer to McIlroy tried to get him to move on, and the golfer had to be content with making sure the fan was ejected.

Some US supporters chanted 'get him out', showing their own disgust with the spectator.

That moment was one in which a fan crossed the line between justifiably partisan support and nasty abuse.

Harrington has no problem with the former.

He believes that of 55,000 spectators, perhaps 20 at most went beyond the bounds of enthusiasm, and said that the boisterousness of the crowd, even the "little bit of niggle created by the crowd" was part of the fun of the Ryder Cup.

Lively interaction with the fans, including pumping up music as players arrive on the first tee, is part of the new plan to enhance spectator experience at selected European Tour events, and Harrington approves.

He would make an exception for the four Majors and the Ryder Cup, but added: "The rest of the time we are absolutely in the entertainment business."

On the Tiger Woods comeback, he reckons the former World No 1 needs to stay patient.

"From what I saw last week, I certainly would say he's got the ability to go back and win Major tournaments," said Harrington.

Irish Independent


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