Saturday 18 November 2017

Rory McIlroy has dig back at Phil Mickelson over FBI

Europe's Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell during the opening ceremony at Gleneagles
Europe's Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell during the opening ceremony at Gleneagles

James Corrigan

There is no such thing as a quiet start to the Ryder Cup, but this morning's opening session of the 40th biennial dust-up will surely raise the decibels to new levels.

The fourballs do not merely feature the home hero, Stephen Gallacher, making his debut in the company of the event's pre-eminent performer, Ian Poulter, but are closed by the match which everyone wanted. With the exception of the Europe captain, Paul McGinley, perhaps.

Rory McIlroy and Sergio García v Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley is at the top of the bill, even though it is at the bottom of the order, as Tom Watson, the US captain, pointed out in his honest assessment.

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"You have to like all the contests, but the last contest, that's the striking contest," Watson said. "That's the one that is the main event in the first round. This isn't rocket science. You all know that." Indeed, we do, particularly as Mickelson poked fun at McIlroy on Wednesday. After the "joke" will come the serious stuff.

Of course, Mickelson's jibe at McIlroy will pile more intrigue on to the encounter. When the left-hander said that not only did the American pros play well together, "but we also do not litigate against each other" - referring to McIlroy's ongoing court action against Horizon, the sports agency in which Graeme McDowell has a stake - he knew he was spicing up the proceedings.

Well, the fact he is now facing McIlroy adds yet more Tabasco, especially after it emerged that McIlroy and McDowell had gently goaded Mickelson at the gala dinner by saying: "At least we are not wanted by the FBI" - a reference to the American being caught up in a probe into insider trading. He was, though, cleared of any wrongdoing.

 Did McGinley attempt to hide McIlroy? He would not be drawn, but it was known that McIlroy wanted to go first. And, if so, Watson, the US captain, definitely succeeded in "finding" McIlroy. Mickelson and Bradley were America's crack team at Medinah two years ago - playing three and winning three - and Watson will obviously be looking to the duo to take the scalp they covet most to hand them the momentum which can be so crucial to an away side. "If Phil and Keegan win that match right there, just think of the boost it will give our team," he said.

The 65-year-old, who is attempting to become the first US captain to win on foreign soil since he was last in charge in 1993, went on to flip that statement around and deduce that Europe would take just as much from a McIlroy-García victory.

But that must be doubted because on form it should be a formality for McIlroy and García, as Mickelson and Bradley have not enjoyed great seasons. However, this is the Ryder Cup and the chemistry shown by this Starred and Striped double act in 2012 makes it hard to call.

In the top match Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson take on Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, who won both their fourballs 5 & 4 in Medinah. It was an open secret that McGinley was going to split up Rose and Ian Poulter, and Stenson seems a good fit for the Englishman. If the high winds arrive as forecast, then these quality ball-strikers should have the edge. Bubba Watson is no lover of the gusts.

Tom Watson will like his chances in the second match. Few had seen Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer being paired together, and Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker have been extremely impressive in practice.

McGinley could not resist putting out Gallacher to raise the crowd and as he has Poulter - aka Mr Ryder Cup - backing him up, the man who lives less than 40 miles from Gleneagles should have a dream experience.

 In fact, there will be three rookies in this third match as Watson paired Jordan Spieth with Patrick Reed. That was the American captain's surprise package and McGinley will be very hopeful of a point for the blue and gold brigade. "I told them 'I'm going to throw you in the ocean without a life preserver'," Watson said. "'You get out there and you get it done'."

A bold statement for a bold selection. Watson is immediately blooding all three of his rookies and left Jim Furyk, his best-ranked player and his second most experienced campaigner, on the sidelines. Watson promised that the four who were sitting it out - Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar are joining Furyk - would play on the first day and McGinley all but guaranteed the same.

Like Furyk, Lee Westwood is playing in his ninth Ryder Cup, while McDowell is in his fourth. The fact that the pair are not playing this morning highlights the strength of McGinley's hand and he will be distraught if it does not secure Europe their fifth win in sixth attempts.

McGinley has stressed the need for continuity and repeatedly stated that he will keep to the "template" - he has used that word as many times as Watson has mentioned "redemption" - which he believes has led to this sustained spell of domination. But McGinley looked and sounded nervous when he saw the starting sheet. Where there had been certainty now there was a little doubt. It is here today and it is daunting.

"You can't get every decision right. But provided I get more decisions right than wrong, I'll be happy," McGinley said. "This might be a genius move by Tom, might not. I always worry about everything, but like the players, I have to go out tomorrow with no fear."

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