McIlroy shows he's a team player
Rory McIlroy grabbed the scalp he had craved all week as underdogs Britain and Ireland sent Continental Europe to their fifth successive defeat today. The 20-year-old, who is expected to make a Ryder Cup debut next year, beat world number five Henrik Stenson on the final green of the Vivendi Trophy in Paris.
And when fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell followed that with a 3&2 victory over last year’s European number one Robert Karlsson — back in action after nearly four months out with an eye problem — Paul McGinley’s side had won with seven games still on the course.
It was just as well the necessary points were gained early, though.
Some of Thomas Bjorn’s men finally burst into life, enabling the final scoreline to be 16.5-11.5 for the third time in a row.
They actually won the singles 6-4, but had been a massive seven down entering them.
Most impressive of all on the day was Dane Anders Hansen, an incredible 10 under par for the 12 holes it took him to demolish Nick Dougherty — three under himself — by a 7&6 margin that was the biggest in the event’s history.
England’s Chris Wood had the chance to become the first player to win all his five games, and might have done it had he not settled for a half by conceding Swede Peter Hanson a six-footer on the last green of the last game.
But, almost inevitably, McIlroy was the centre of attention again with his four out of five contribution — the same as McDowell.
“That was the match I wanted all week,” said a youngster described as “sensational” by Bjorn.
McIlroy, round in a six-under 65, commented: “I’d be lying if I said my hands weren’t a little shaky over the (five-foot) putt on the last, but it’s been a fantastic week and I’ll be very disappointed if I don’t make the Ryder Cup now.”
What a change from May when he said facing the Americans was not a high priority and even described the match as “an exhibition.”
Stenson, who finished with only half a point from five games, came back from two down to one up, fell behind again to a spectacular shot at the 14th and then at all square with two to play hooked into the trees and double-bogeyed.
“I think I proved to be a worthy opponent to Rory — he’s playing fantastic,” said the Swede. “I would expect him to be on the squad next year.”
McDowell, out in a six-under 30 and matching McIlroy’s four points out of five, stated: “We played some phenomenal golf and it’s a very sweet victory.”
Needing only two points from the 10 singles, that margin had become 1.5 before a shot was struck.
Anthony Wall hurt his shoulder winning his second game on Friday and a day’s rest was not enough to get him back into action.
His withdrawal meant a half with a player of Bjorn’s choosing. To the surprise of some that was Alvaro Quiros, who had been drawn to play Wall anyway.
“A coincidence,” said Bjorn.
Wall commented: “I’m feeling a bit better, but couldn’t swing a club. I have to admit I’m doubtful for the Alfred Dunhill Links, but will try to hit a few shots on Tuesday evening.”
McGinley was another star of the show in his first attempt at captaincy.
Ryder Cup skipper Colin Montgomerie described the Dubliner as being “incredible”, adding: “He’s taken to this like a fish to water. His team meetings have been exceptional. He’s worked as a psychologist as well and I’ve been very impressed with him.”
McGinley is hot favourite now to be Europe’s captain at Gleneagles in 2014 on the assumption that Jose Maria Olazabal takes over from Montgomerie for the
2012 match in America.
“I’ve just done what I believe in and what I’ve learned from experience over the years,” he stated. “I’ve acted on instinct and I’ve been very, very fortunate in the captains I’ve played under.”
Sam Torrance, captain for McGinley’s debut at The Belfry in 2002 when he was the match-winner, was given special mention.
“To be honest, most of the stuff I’m doing in captaincy I’m doing from Sam. I’ve learnt more than him than the rest.
“Not that the others were wrong, but the others did what Sam did. He was my first introduction to captaincy.”
There was no forgetting either that the match honoured the career of Seve Ballesteros, too sick to travel after radiotherapy.
“We’ve talked a lot about Seve — I think we really played with his spirit,” added McGinley, who still hopes to play in next year’s Ryder Cup rather than be an assistant to Montgomerie.a