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Ryder Cup: Pumped up Rory McIlroy goes down fighting as USA beats Europe in epic duel

By Liam Kelly

Patrick Reed surfed the waves of American pride, prejudice and passion to emerge with a narrow victory over Europe's talisman Rory McIlroy in the opening match of the Ryder Cup singles.

A superb contest ended in disappointment for McIlroy against the new USA hero, who claimed the first home team point with a 1-up result.

McIlroy, the target for some serious abuse from sections of the American support through the opening two days, was left in no doubt he stood in enemy territory on the first tee.

The chorus of ear-splitting chants and songs in support of Reed, who lapped it all up and encouraged the fans to get louder, could have shattered the nerve of an ordinary golfer.

But McIlroy is no ordinary player. He has assumed the mantle of team leader and accepted the responsibility to perform for Darren Clarke's team with single-minded determination.

This is a different McIlroy. He hasn't just worn his heart on his sleeve, he has reached previously unseen levels of raging, boiling passion, and still produced terrific golf.

Some of the stimulus came from the realisation of how much this team, packed with six rookies, needed the likes of him to get on the front foot, and stay there.

Part of it stemmed from rage at the morons who got carried away and actively tried to intimidate the Europeans into making mistakes, and when they did, cheering every errant drive, approach shot, or putt.

The net result was that McIlroy v Reed came loaded with undercurrents, a feeling this represented something more than just a golf match.

The Northern Irishman, Europe's champion, head to head against the heavyweight streetfighter Reed. USA were leading 9.5 to 6.5 going into the singles, desperate for victory, unable and unwilling to countenance a fourth successive defeat.

The downing of McIlroy would send a powerful vibration of positivity through the already pumped up USA players following in their wake.

In boxing parlance, they threw birdies at each other like stinging jabs, but Reed got in a nice body blow with eagle two on the 352-yard fourth where McIlroy could 'only' birdie.

Cue the Reed special. The face contorts, the roars start at his shoelaces and travel at the speed of light through the body until they erupt from his mouth at maximum decibels.

The fists clench. He almost thumps his chest like a gorilla, but the arms just pump in and out like pistons.

It's something Reed's foursomes and fourball partner Jordan Spieth described on Saturday as "his signature whatever-it-was that he's been doing, the let's-go fist-pump."

But, hey, McIlroy's primeval responses to his own birdies and key shots have been equally dramatic and entertaining, not to mention inspiring for European players and fans.

They certainly brought the best out of each other. Between them, they were seven under-par through seven holes, and all square.

Then came the moment that could arguably save the spirit of this Ryder Cup.

McIlroy's birdie on six had him stomping off the green making the finger-to-the-lips gesture to the opposition fans. His birdie on seven brought more of the same.

But on the eighth hole, 186-yards par-three, something special occurred. McIlroy drained a 60ft putt and the emotions poured out again.

As a huge roar came from the fans - mostly shock for the Americans - he strode up the green, a hand cocked to his ear as he shouted: "I can't hear you, I can't hear you." That got some reaction.

Reed, stubborn cuss that he is, holed his own birdie attempt from 18 feet. Again, the cheers blasted to the heavens. And Rory grinned. And Reed grinned back. This is what it is all about.

The late, great Arnold Palmer would approve. Beat the hell out of each other with sublime golf. Best man wins, no surrender. They had a fist-pump, and walked to the ninth tee with arms briefly around each other's shoulders.

Inevitably, having expended so much nervous energy, the tension levels dropped and in reaction they each bogeyed the ninth. All square through 10 and 11, the holes halved in par.

A couple of wayward shots on each side at the 12th obliged both men to play from greenside bunkers.

McIlroy had a 10-footer for par, but the ball slipped by the hole. Advantage Reed if he could slot his own par putt from eight feet. Yes, he could.

One-up for the American with six to play, marking the first change in score for this match in eight holes.

On the 13th, four-time Major champion McIlroy had a good chance to get back on level terms. Again, the ball narrowly failed to find the target. Still one-down, and now five holes left for play.

At the 14th green, a loudmouth shouted 'miss it' but this time at least McIlroy's ball was on the way to the hole before the call came.

Unfortunately it was another miss. He had to settle for par but then came an escape when Reed's putt to go two-up stayed left and away from the cup.

They passed through 15, each with a par four, where once more Reid spurned an opportunity increase his lead. Three left to play, McIlroy badly needed to find a way to get back on level terms.

He laid up with an eight-iron on the par-five 16th, and then came another spectator interruption. Just as he was about to hit, a guy screamed out, causing the golfer to back off. In fairness some fans booed the ignoramus, but the interruption did not help. McIlroy's pitch came out heavy and well short.

Reed played an exquisite shot from a greenside bunker to inside two feet. McIlroy conceded the birdie, before his own 20-foot birdie attempt missed the target.

Two down with two to play. Reed missed the green at the par-three 17th and his chip came out heavy. The ball rolled down into the rough on the other side.

McIlroy putted tentatively, leaving himself four feet short. His opponent chipped again, but had to accept a bogey four. McIlroy holed to win the hole. All to play for on the par-four 18th, 432 yards long.

The Holywood native left nothing behind as he smashed his drive down into the fairway. Reed followed suit, but well behind McIlroy.

Reed rose to the challenge, producing a magnificent second shot, the ball dead on line and dropping over the pin, to inside five feet.

The European No 1 struck his shot pin high, minimally inside Reed's ball, but the American made no mistake. Match over, a vital point gained.

Belfast Telegraph


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