Thursday 19 September 2019

Fleetwood flies home for son's birthday after first-day heroics

Team Europe's Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood celebrate during the Fourballs yesterday. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters
Team Europe's Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood celebrate during the Fourballs yesterday. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters

Brian Keogh and Tom Morgan

Tommy Fleetwood was given special dispensation to rush back to his son's first birthday celebrations last night after his heroic display in Europe's stirring Ryder Cup fightback.

Fleetwood, a match rookie, formed a dream team with Francesco Molinari as the pair scored Europe's only point in the fourballs before doubling their tally as the home team produced their first ever foursomes whitewash to give the home team a 5-3 overnight lead.

Europe captain Thomas Bjorn hailed the pair's "special bond" afterwards, and revealed how Fleetwood's reward was to spend an hour with his son, Franklin. "That's a pretty special thing for him and for Clare (Fleetwood's wife)," Bjorn said.

US captain Jim Furyk admitted his side's afternoon slump left a "sour taste", but vowed they would bounce back as he denied claims Tiger Woods was carrying a back injury. Europe lost a tight fourball session 3-1 with Rory McIlroy failing to make a birdie in a 4&2 defeat alongside rookie Thorbjorn Olesen to Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

Europe whitewashed the US in the foursomes to turn the tie on its head, and after watching McIlroy bounce back alongside Ian Poulter to beat Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 4&2, he has total confidence in the Co Down man's ability to reset and "go again" today.

McIlroy will team up with Sergio Garcia in the first fourball against Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, who defeated Justin Rose and Jon Rahm in yesterday's fourballs. Describing the day as "a bit of a roller coaster ride," Bjorn knows the Americans will come out fighting today with Jim Furyk sticking with his fourball pairings.

Bjorn has decided to rest Justin Rose and bring in Poulter to partner Jon Rahm in the anchor match against Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

But with Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton taking on Johnson and Fowler at number two and the brilliant Molinari and Fleetwood looking for another win over Woods and Patrick Reed, he's looking forward to another strong European performance.

He credited the belief of his players for Europe's foursomes rally and pointed to that lone fourball win by Fleetwood and Molinari over Woods and Reed as key to rallying team spirit for the afternoon.

"That two guys stand up in the end and hole the putts on 15, 16, 17 to win the match when it really matters, it gives them belief, but it also gives their team-mates hope," he said.

If Bjorn was cautious heading into day two, Furyk had no option but to sound a note of optimism.

"We got the momentum in the morning, out 3-1," he said. "Europe flipped it quickly and got some unbelievable momentum in the afternoon for 4-0. So two totally different sides in the morning and the afternoon.

Brilliance "You know, you've got to look at it, we played for eight points so far out of 28. The event's still pretty young. We've got one more team format tomorrow and then the singles. Eight out of 28, you know, pretty small percentage of this golf tournament been played."

He took his hat off to Europe for their brilliance in the foursomes, commenting: "We have to shore things up, and I'm guessing we'll switch things up in the afternoon tomorrow."

As for Phil Mickelson who lost 5&4 with Bryson DeChambeau to Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren, he defended the left-hander.

"I have all the confidence in both of those players, and I have so much confidence in Phil in his ability to take a young player like Bryson and help him out," Furyk said.

"And also, it's Phil Mickelson, Major champion. He's got a lot of experience, and I put that confidence in him. And I'll be honest. I'd do it again. I have a lot of confidence in all 12."

Irish Independent

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