If Rory McIlroy’s significance to Europe was obvious in advance of this Ryder Cup, few could have envisaged his rising status as battle fever gripped Hazeltine. McIlroy might be the most unlikely of pantomime villains given his routine popularity both on and off the course but that is precisely his role as cast by the galleries here.
Whatever degree of momentum the Americans had enjoyed after Friday morning’s dramatic foursomes sweep had long been exhausted when Lee Westwood and Danny Willett teed off Saturday’s fourball match against JB Holmes and Ryan Moore beneath a cloudless sky and baking Minnesota sun.
Darren Clarke insisted Europe’s Ryder Cup team are not without Sunday hope, despite trailing the USA by three points heading into the singles at Hazeltine.
Finding appropriate context or comparison for the behaviour of spectators at a Ryder Cup is not particularly easy.
With four matches of this Ryder Cup complete Europe’s obituary was half-written. The USA, inspired by the legend of Arnold Palmer, claimed the first session of the event with a whitewash not seen since The King was captain in 1975.
Rory McIlroy insisted the European team mood is “buoyant” after an afternoon Ryder Cup recovery took Darren Clarke’s men from a morning deficit of 4-0 to 5-3 by close of play on day one at Hazeltine. McIlroy, who celebrated in emphatic style after converting an eagle putt on the 16th green to seal a third point for Europe, admitted to being inspired in part by a “hostile” home crowd.
The problem with golf’s time in the spotlight is the recent propensity for that focus to be negative. Never before has this sport, apparently in the midst of a scrap for relevance and identity, so needed a scintillating Ryder Cup.
Danny Willett fears he has become a “target” for American fans at his maiden Ryder Cup with the Masters champion also conceding his experience has been tarnished and his focus hard to maintain.
Darren Clarke has expressed anger after the brother of Danny Willett used an online column to attack American fans in a supposedly light-hearted way that has spectacularly backfired.
In what will be portrayed either as a motivational masterstroke or a needless act of compassion, Bubba Watson has been named as a fifth and final vice-captain to the USA Ryder Cup team.
Darren Clarke has revealed Jürgen Klopp will be among those he will approach for advice before the Ryder Cup battle with the United States at Hazeltine later this year.
La Fin. In France, the country where Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won so many hearts as he played out the past few years of his career in his own inimitable style at Paris Saint-Germain, a yellow curtain fell.
Frustration got the better of Rory McIlroy on moving day and by the end of it he had to find time to head over to the Nike truck by the driving range and get the head fixed back on to the fairway wood he crashed into the ground at the 16th causing the club-head to fly off.
The peak television audience for the final round of the Open Championship suffered a drop of around 75% on last year in the first broadcasting by Sky Sports of the oldest major.
Rory McIlroy delivered the most powerful Ryder Cup message to the United States yet with a dramatic success at the Tour Championship which also ensured the Northern Irishman claimed the $10m FedEx Cup prize. At the start of Ryder Cup week Europe are the side with momentum. With the purses added together, McIlroy departed Georgia $11.5m richer than when he arrived.
Shortly before 6pm there was a changing of the guard at St Andrews, with Sir Nick Faldo waving his farewells to the Old Course galleries from the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway while the three-ball of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama were all lining up birdie putts on the 1st green.
The marginalia of US Open lore is scrawled thick with surprise first-round leaders who burst from obscurity only to vanish as quickly as they appeared. The roll of names reads like the answer key to a pub quiz – Lee Mackey Jr, Bob Gadja, Mike Nicolette, Olin Browne, Justin Hicks – improbable opening-round leaders all, each of whom plummeted back into relative anonymity.
Colin Montgomerie, who was part of the successful bid to restore golf to the Olympics, has questioned those opting not to appear at this year’s Games in Rio.
No sooner had Davis Love III issued his strongest Ryder Cup war cry yet than Lee Westwood endorsed his status as Europe’s agent provocateur. If the event matches the preamble, there may be a need to stand back from the Hazeltine fireworks.
Sympathy for Keith Pelley was in short supply last week. No sooner had the European Tour’s chief executive praised strong communication with players with regards to safety at the Turkish Airlines Open than one of the group contradicted him.
For a brief Sunday afternoon spell, Thorbjorn Olesen must have contemplated a horror scenario. The seven-shot lead as held by the Dane before the final round of the Turkish Airlines Open had been whittled down to one by the marauding David Horsey. One of the great golfing capitulations of our time was very much on the cards.
Thorbjorn Olesen’s grip on the Turkish Airlines Open is now so tight he would enter golfing legend for all the wrong reasons should he not win.