Monday 25 September 2017

G-Mac and Rory the rocks of Europe's Ryder Cup victory

Irish aces come up trumps as mastermind McGinley plots runaway victory over in-fighting Americans

Europe's Graeme McDowell celebrates wining his singles match. Harry How/Getty Images
Europe's Graeme McDowell celebrates wining his singles match. Harry How/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy points the way with the first point of the day. Harry Engels/Getty Images
Paul McGinley gets his hands on the Ryder Cup. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Conceived in Ireland, executed in Scotland and celebrated across a continent. The performance of Paul McGinley's team of heroes in winning the Ryder Cup by 16.5 points to 11.5 yesterday surely melted the heart of the most ardent Eurosceptic.

So comprehensive was the battle campaign planned by Field Marshal McGinley, hailed by many of his players as the best Ryder Cup skipper for whom they played, this victory was nowhere near as nerve-wracking as the Miracle of Medinah two years ago in Chicago.

But it was dramatic nonetheless and, over three days, featured many astonishing acts of fortitude, resilience and fellowship by the home team . . . and acrimony within the American camp, with Phil Mickelson taking an extraordinary post-match side-swipe at their veteran captain Tom Watson.

It was a chastening end to a fraught week for the 65-year-old icon, whose team effectively lost this Ryder Cup because of their performance on Friday and Saturday afternoons, when they were roundly thumped 7-1 by Europe at foursomes, which had been a strong-point for the US in recent Ryder Cups.

At the core of American problems in those sessions were a series of questionable calls by the veteran captain, who last attended a Ryder Cup in 1993, when he led America to their most recent victory on European soil.

Friendship

Yet if captains can lose Ryder Cups, players most certainly win them. How fitting it was after enduring tiresome speculation about their friendship and even a poison dart from Mickelson in midweek when he 'joked' American teams at least "don't litigate against each other", Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy led Europe's charge to victory with utterly different but equally astounding victories.

Nobody in golf is braver or more resolute than G-Mac (35). The 2010 match-clincher at Celtic Manor needed to draw on every ounce of his trademark grit and defiance to come back from three down through five holes of the opening singles match against marauding Texas ranger Jordan Spieth to lead Europe from the front with a spirited 2&1 win.

Trailing by four points overnight, the same deficit Europe faced in 2012 but, crucially, denied any spark of hope like the one rampant Ian Poulter gave the visitors at Medinah, Watson sent out rookies Spieth (21), and fellow Texan Patrick Reed (24) first, followed by Rickie Fowler (25) in the hope that America's 'New Wave' might make the top of the leaderboard run blood red.

Yet McDowell and McIlroy ensured there would be no Lazarus-like US revival at Gleneagles.

Doughty Jamie Donaldson, who won the first of his three Tour titles at the 2012 Irish Open in Royal Portrush, applied the coup de grace by rounding off a 4&3 win over Keegan Bradley in the 10th singles game with a stroke of brilliance.

The Welsh 'rookie' (38) set up a conceded birdie from 154 yards with a pitching-wedge, a classic effort that capped off McGinley's Ryder Cup campaign with a flourish it deserved.

While Spieth and Reed, Hunter Mahan and Mickelson daubed enough red on the leaderboard early on to give false promise of an anxious afternoon, McIlroy was having none of it.

The 25-year-old blinded Fowler with a dazzling array of four birdies and an eagle as he surged five clear through the first six holes on his way to a crushing 5&4 win that was in full keeping with his status as the world's hottest golfer.

McIlroy had been instrumental in getting McGinley elected captain 20 months ago when he nailed his colours as World No 1 to the mast for the Dubliner on the eve of the vote in Abu Dhabi. He then pledged his intent ever since to be a team leader in his third Ryder Cup for the skipper and lived up to that promise at Gleneagles, even if his haul of three points from five games at this Ryder Cup fell shy of the four picked up by top-scorer Justin Rose.

After he and Sergio Garcia were beaten in the opening fourballs by Medinah matadors Mickelson and Bradley, Europe's top-ranked duo finished with three straight birdies on Friday afternoon, the Spaniard hitting a miracle five-wood onto the 18th green that clinched the half-point which set both their campaigns alight.

When they beat Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan in foursomes on Saturday, Garcia caught McIlroy in a long-lasting bear hug that perfectly illustrated his regard for the Ulsterman. A one-hole win over Jim Furyk yesterday ensured that Gleneagles will be a watershed in the 34-year-old's roller-coaster career.

McIlroy was delighted to play "my best golf today and yesterday when it was expected of me. Winning the Ryder Cup really is the icing on top of a great season. If anything, I feel more happy right now than when I won the two Majors," said the Holywood star, ironically, the first man since Watson in 1977 to win two Majors and the Ryder Cup in the same year.

He rated McGinley's captaincy as "wonderful. I can't speak highly enough of him. From the first day we got here, the speeches that he gave, the videos he showed us, the people that he got in to talk us, the imagery in the team room, it all tied in together. He was meticulous in his planning. Paul left no stone unturned. He was just amazing.

"I think I speak on behalf of all the 12 players up here and just say that, you know, he couldn't have done anything else. He was absolutely fantastic."

"Incredibly proud" that his players "enjoyed the week", McGinley, unbeaten in six Ryder Cups including three as player, two as vice-captain and, finally, as skipper, said he'd "quietly move very much into the background" and did not expect to be in the European team room again.

The European captaincy is a one-stop shop and Darren Clarke is bookies' favourite to lead the team to Hazeltine in 2016.

"I've got a role now in deciding who the next captain will be and we'll see where that goes in the next few months," explained McGinley, a member of the new five-man committee which will appoint the European captain for the next Ryder Cup.

Nobody in their right mind would dispute McGinley's 'management', an all-embracing approach that brought Alex Ferguson into the team room to illustrated the ways in which his Manchester United teams dealt with favouritism and eliminated the threat of complacency.

McGinley also made use of the unique talents of Westwood and McDowell as mentors to help Donaldson and gifted but introverted French rookie Victor Dubuisson perform at a peak on their first visit to golf's most demanding arena.

G-Mac not only succeeded on that front but, after winning two points with Dubuisson in foursomes, maintained his own composure brilliantly to come from three behind after nine to overhaul Spieth as the American dropped four shots under pressure down the stretch.

"I got off to a really slow start, perhaps I didn't have enough course time in just two foursomes games and didn't see the ball go into the hole often enough," said McDowell. "But I felt something switch on inside myself after eight holes and I'm delighted I was able to deliver after the captain put me in such a big role.

"Wow, what a rush this is," concluded McDowell, like McIlroy, a rock as Europe made it eight out of 10 at the Ryder Cup.

Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport