Ryder Cup: Leading man McIlroy stands side by side with Garcia to end on high

Europe's Rory McIlroy, right, and Sergio Garcia enjoy a high during the foursomes.
Europe's Rory McIlroy, right, and Sergio Garcia enjoy a high during the foursomes.
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Cometh the hour, cometh golf’s leading man.

On a day when he looked as out of sorts as he has for a long time, Rory McIlroy at least salvaged some pride and helped swing the momentum Europe’s way with a rousing comeback alongside Sergio Garcia in the afternoon foursomes.

Europe’s premier pairing, who had been handsomely beaten in the marquee fourball in the morning at the hands of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, were on the verge of a second defeat of day one as they trailed Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.

Walker had a putt to win the match on the 16th after a miraculous shot with a rescue club by Fowler, but his missed putt left the door ajar for McIlroy and Garcia.

Two down with two to play, and with little having gone right all day, McIlroy and Garcia could have given up.

But the world’s No 1 and No 3 golfers are made of sterner stuff.

McIlroy holed from 35 feet for a birdie on the 17th and Garcia smashed a brilliant approach from the rough onto the par-five 18th to set up another to strike a major psychological blow for the home side.

“We needed it, we really did,” said McIlroy.

“We were making life difficult for ourselves out there. I don’t think either of us was playing from the fairways very much.

“We just wanted to ask them a question and get them going and we were able to do that.

“And Sergio had the shot of the day at the last. It was big, and at least we got something out of the day. We played two really tough matches and we have half a point to show for it.”

Garcia added: “We knew we weren’t playing good. We fought as hard as we could. Half a point is just huge.”

McGinley called the half as good as a win, while his opposite number Tom Watson can at least claim the moral high ground as Europe’s top pair were restricted to just half a point on the day.

Watson had spoken of the importance of beating the opposing team’s “stud”, and when it came to the crunch his crack pair delivered.

The clash of Europe’s McIlroy and Garcia with Mickelson and Bradley of the United States was the heavyweight contest the crowd most wanted to see on the opening morning at picturesque Gleneagles.

It was the mouth-watering early fourballs match-up that had the potential to set the tone for the competition as a whole, and while it would be premature to suggest it did that, it certainly encapsulated all the drama and tension synonymous with the Ryder Cup.

In truth, the standard of the morning match against Mickelson and Bradley did not reach the heights any of the quartet are capable of, but there were no passengers and all four contributed to a captivating contest.

It proved a slow-burner and at first it seemed the drama was elsewhere. Webb Simpson was showing signs of nerves and Rickie Fowler and Ian Poulter were missing short putts.

Even after Garcia produced a moment of magic to chip in from a greenside bunker to win the fourth, the match failed to spark and the crowd briefly thinned out.

But the numbers following the action “inside the ropes” were extraordinary, as hordes of photographers, TV cameramen, commentators, reporters, marshals, police, team officials, relatives and other hangers-on – including footballer Charlie Adam – mingled in pursuit of the players.

It was not without good reason and after the 10th the match ignited as Bradley responded to McIlroy’s good approach with a fearless putt for a win that brought out his Medinah fist-pumping celebration.

Two down, Europe reacted by making a subtle switch at the next tee as McIlroy, winner of the last two majors, played before Garcia. Maybe it made a psychological difference as the mood changed immediately and Bradley missed a simple putt to surrender the hole.

McIlroy put his arm around Garcia’s shoulder, and as McGinley made a fleeting visit wearing the team’s oversized mittens, it seemed the Europeans were warming up on a bitterly cold day.

The 13th was another bad one for Bradley as he had to play off a concrete path, overshot the green and then missed another crucial putt. Mickelson found the trees and a bunker. Moments later the score was all square.

Tension was growing and the crowds were swelling to extraordinary numbers, particularly within the inner sanctum as the likes of Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Stephen Gallacher and Poulter pitched up in buggies. Neither side was prepared to concede putts but while Mickelson made a costly miss at the 15th, Bradley nailed a pressure shot at the next.

There was a nice moment amid the tension at the 17th green as Bradley and McIlroy jokingly pushed and shoved each other as they examined a pitch mark, but a ball still had to be holed. Bradley again delivered to take the drama to the last.

There were multiple errors all round but ultimately it was the short-game brilliance of Mickelson that effectively secured the point for the US after a superb bunker shot after five-and-a-half hours.