Nightmare start ensures a chastening outing for McIlroy and Poulter

Schauffele and Cantlay set a hot pace to leave European pair with too much to do

The man in the USA team jacket had done his best for the guts of an hour and a half, urging on the fans in the horseshoe stand around the first tee, first pointing to one section for a “U”, then to another for an “S”, and finally seeking an “A”.

Put it all together and shouts of “U-S-A!” resonated into the morning air followed by the chant of “I believe we will win, I believe we will win...” apparently borrowed from the US women’s soccer anthem.

Occasionally, a brave European soul sought to disrupt. After the home fans offered self-congratulatory applause for their own efforts, a spanner would be thrown into the works.

“Come on Europe! Yahoo!” came the dissenting voice, which only served to rile the crowd into another chorus of “U-S-A.”


Rory McIlroy's appearance along with Ian Poulter for the fourth of the foursomes matches brought with it another cacophony of boos, which had been the standard practice from match one. No originality at all. Poults responded by waving, McIlroy by accepting the handshake and hug from his captain, Pádraig Harrington, who had seen his men off two by two.

And, in truth, the best came first. Poulter hit a fine drive down the fairway, McIlroy applauded and had his game face on.

Yet, their steps off the first tee complex brought the two Ryder Cup veterans into the sort of uncharted territory against rookies Xander Schauffele, the Olympic gold medalist, and Patrick Cantlay, the FedEx Cup jackpot winner, which had them at sixes and sevens and as if they'd never partnered together before.

Among the entourage following this foursomes were basketball superstar Steph Curry, the three-time NBA winner – who likes nothing better than to break away from his on court role with the Golden State Warriors – and Caitríona Matthew, Europe’s winning Solheim Cup captain.

No sooner had Curry moved to follow the players down the fairway than the first of numerous requests for him to stop and pose with thumb raised were thrown his way.

His focus, though, was on watching the actual golf – and for good reason, as Schauffele and Cantlay put on a master class that had McIlroy puffing out his cheeks and Poulter unable to live up to his nickname of “The Postman”. On this occasion, he would not be able to deliver.

Poor approach

The body blows came thick and fast. On the first, a poor approach shot from McIlroy from the fairway; in contrast, an approach to six feet from Schauffele out of the rough. Bang. Birdie. USA one up.

On the Par 5 second, Schauffele’s drive found a left-hand-side bunker while McIlroy found the fairway. Again, the Americans contrived to find a way. Bang. Par to Europe’s bogey. USA two up. After the third, three up. Following the fourth, four up. The fifth? Five up.

On that stretch of holes, Schauffele and Cantlay combined to be three under. For McIlroy and Poulter, it was a disastrous run where approach shots were poor and play around the greens even poorer.

Five down through five holes, a place they’d never found themselves in before, McIlroy and Poulter were not merely fighting for survival but also to avoid embarrassment. Finally, they stopped the rot on the sixth hole and kept the margin at five holes through the turn.

Any chance of a miracle? Only briefly. On the 10th, finally, McIlroy managed to roll in a six-footer for birdie. Four down. On the 11th, a par was sufficient to win. Three down. And, suddenly, the light glistening out on Lake Michigan seemed to offer hope to the Europeans.

However, it was not to be as the 12th and 13th were halved in birdies and then Cantlay and Schauffele continued their stellar play with further birdies at the 14th – four up – and 15th – five up - to close out the match 5 and 3.

“I don’t know if anyone could have beat Xander and Patrick today. They played really good, four birdies in a row [to finish]. Geez! Yeah, they played great, they were a great pairing and all you can do is praise them for the way they played,” said McIlroy of being on the receiving end of a heavy defeat.

The bond between Schauffele and Cantlay was obvious. They’d spent last week on a break together with their partners in the wine region of the Napa Valley in California and those good vibes were clearly evident as they went about the business of getting a point on the board.

“We feel very comfortable playing with each other. We’re good friends. It was another day for Pat and I. We play every week multiple times . . . we have each other’s back, and Pat and I don’t talk a whole lot. I think everyone who knows us, especially when we play, we don’t talk a whole lot. So he’ll walk ahead or I’ll walk ahead and we just kind of give each other looks, and that’s enough to sort of build on momentum. We are similar in that sense and I think that’s very helpful when competing,” said Schauffele.

According to Cantlay, making birdie on the first was a “dream start.” He added: “A start like that, I’m really glad we kept our nerve and kept out foot down . . . we were excited when we saw that pairing and all the pressure is on them.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times