Graeme McDowell admitted to being surprised at the silence that greeted him as he struck the first shot of the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah yesterday.
The Northern Irishman, who played the last shot at the 2010 Ryder Cup when he won the trophy for Europe, had the honour of getting proceedings underway yesterday.
But the atmosphere that greeted the nerve-racking shot affected his rhythm as his tee-shot clipped a tree barely 100 yards off the tee. Opponent Jim Furyk also went badly left to emphasise what stage fright can do to even the most experienced players.
McDowell said: “It was a bizarre experience. The silence was deafening and it made my mind go blank.
“It was a very strange experience.”
There was a lengthy rules dispute in their match with Furyk and FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker over whether McDowell could take relief from a sprinkler head by the second green.
It would have meant McIlroy putting rather than chipping, but with Furyk stepping in and believing it should not be given a second opinion was called for.
“We’ve been friends a long time,” Furyk said at one point to McDowell, but the American also then called for calm when a few boos rang out.
McIlroy was eventually told to chip, the Northern Irish pair lost the hole, but they then had four birdies in a row, the first of them the result of a stroke of genius by the 23-year-old, chipping in from over the fourth green.
From three down with six to go – Furyk had incurred a penalty on the long 10th when his ball moved as he prepared to chip – the Americans fought back to level, only for Snedeker to hit a simply dreadful drive down the last.
There was still work to be done when McDowell hit into the bunker short of the green, but his partner splashed out to five feet and the 2010 match-winner made no mistake.
McDowell told his American girlfriend Kristin, attending her first match: “Welcome to the Ryder Cup – hope you enjoyed yourself.”
He added: “That match to me just personifies it. You’re playing against two very gutsy players who clawed their way back.
“But we had stacked our team with this finish in mind. I wanted Rory hitting the tee shots on 16 and 18 and our strategy paid off.”
McIlroy added: “Fortunately for us, Brandt didn’t hit the best tee shot on the last.”