Ryder Cup: Rory McIlroy finds his magic touch in time to help claw back vital point
The bromance is back on. Just as it looked as if the wedding invitations would have to be recalled and the cake chucked in the bin, Rory McIlroy and Sergio found the love again.
They hugged and giggled on the 18th after fighting back to halve their match with Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker here yesterday.
Having been two holes down with three to play, it felt like a victory. "That half a point is huge," Garcia said.
"We really needed it," added McIlroy. "I don't think any one of us was playing from the fairway much," he said. "He [Sergio] saved the best shot of the day until the last. At least we got something out of the day."
That shot was a 5-wood over 200 yards to the green by Garcia after yet another awful drive into the rough from McIlroy. It set up their third consecutive birdie. The Ulsterman holed a 40-foot bomb on the 17th to give them a chance to end the day on a positive note after a dozy morning defeat to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
Chance duly taken. That's what world-class players do. They find a way to release their genius.
But they didn't look or sound quite so chipper as they stumbled into a grab-and-go lunch that would have tasted sour after that defeat in the morning fourballs.
But Europe's captain, Paul McGinley, stuck to his big guns and sent them out again in the afternoon alternate-shot foursomes to play against Fowler and Walker who earlier had clawed back Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer to claim half a point. The question was: which McIlroy would show up? The lad who won the Open and the US PGA Championship, or the tired-looking one from the morning? Turns out it was the latter but for a long time they looked as if they were on a blind date that just wasn't working out.
Garcia hooked his tee shot out of bounds at the fifth, which ultimately allowed the Americans to win the hole with a bogey. Unforgivable. "That's the worst shot I've ever seen Sergio hit," said Colin Montgomerie. He went further. "That's the worst shot I have ever seen by a professional golfer." Next hole Garcia rolled in a curling birdie putt. How's that, Monty?
Fist pumped, teeth gritted. Birdie. Europe back in the lead. On to the seventh. So determined was Garcia not to hook it left again, he pushed it into the thick, overcooked asparagus on the right. Garcia and McIlroy were hoping to be the perfect ham-and-egg combo. But they were hamming it on one hole and having egg on their faces the next. They made a right meal of their first day together as a Ryder Cup pairing. Some might say they made a right dog's dinner. The best they could do at the seventh was a bogey. Dreadful. Match all square again. And then came the banquet and the fireworks and the grandstand finish to a long day.
That's just how they had envisaged it when they arrived for their opening match 10 hours earlier. Each time Garcia and McIlroy unleashed practice swings on the first tee yesterday morning, the fans yelled "Ole". When Mickelson and Bradley took turns, they were teased with cries of "Fore". The Americans saw the funny side of it.
The joke, however, would backlashfire on the Europeans. It was the Americans who laughed last. Mickelson rolled in a birdie at the 18th to win the match and a point for his team. The Europeans lost two of the last three holes thanks – or no thanks – to an eagle at the 16th by Bradley. "That was huge momentum," Mickelson said. "We fought hard and hung in there."
His partner had that crazy, madman in the corner of the pub gaze going again like he had in Chicago in 2010 when these two won all three of their matches in defeat at Medinah. They are only the third American pairing to have won four or more matches without losing. They join Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, and Garner Dickinson and Arnold Palmer. Exalted company indeed. "It was just a blast," said Bradley, who coverts points like mad men in pubs covert pints. Bradley is hyper enough without beer. On the adrenalin rush he felt of hitting his approach shot at the 16th to set up that eagle, he said: "It's like you're drinking 500 cups of coffee at once."
A couple of mugs of what Bradley was drinking would have done McIlroy and Garcia a world of good – with two sugars as well. They looked like they were sleepwalking through their morning fourball. Energy levels seemed drained. Garcia did his best to wipe the sleep from under his eyes by chipping in from a greenside bunker at the fourth. McIlroy perked up like his alarm clock had just exploded. He ran around screaming and clenching his fists and staring wildly at the crowd. It turned out he was just dreaming. He and his partner soon turned over and fell back to sleep.
Mickelson put his arm around McIlroy on the way to the ninth tee. They were all smiles for the cameras. Wonder what they were muttering under their breath? Early in the week, Mickelson had a dig at McIlroy's court case that involves his mate Graeme McDowell. The Europeans had worked it so that the monster-hitting machine McIlroy would tee off at the par five 16th and 18th. But something about his shots there says they won't be making it into any Nike adverts for his new driver. They couldn't bag a closing birdie between them and all-but handed the match to the Americans. Silence. And then bedlam and grabbing that half a point at the end of the day.
The Americans were dressed in their Savile Row look of dandy striped trousers. McIlroy and Garcia at lunch looked like they may volunteer for Death Row.
They would have needed little coaxing to plead guilty to playing criminally poor golf. Guilty could have been the only verdict. Still, there was that late appeal, parole granted, get-out-of-jail cards approved.