Rory McIlroy shudders to think what the reaction would have been if he had missed the Ryder Cup singles in Chicago and Europe had lost by a point – both of which nearly happened.
Instead the world No 1, given a police escort from the team hotel after believing he was teeing off an hour later on the final day than he actually was, was able to celebrate arguably the greatest ever victory in the history of an event that has served up one pulsating contest after another in recent years. “I don’t want to imagine what it would have been like if we’d lost by a point and I’m glad that I’m not – but of course it crossed my mind,” said McIlroy as the magnitude of Europe’s recovery from 10-4 down to win 14½-13½ began to sink in. “The abuse that you guys would have given me in the papers, but I’m just glad I got here, I won my point for the team and we ended up winning.”
The 23-year-old then gave a blow-by-blow account of his pre-round drama.
“I woke up at nine to call Caroline (girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki) in Beijing and after that I was just hanging around. For some reason I had it in my head I was playing at 12.25 instead of 11.25.
“I read the tee times on my phone – they are obviously on Eastern time and it’s Central time here. I got a couple of missed calls from a funny number about half 10 and was thinking ‘who’s that?’, so I didn’t answer. Then I got a call from Conor Ridge, my manager, at 11 asking if I was at the golf course yet.” Their conversation went like this:
McIlroy – “No, I’m not”.
Ridge – “You’re teeing off in 25 minutes”.
McIlroy – “No I’m not, I’m teeing off in an hour and 25”.
Ridge – “No, you’re not. You’re taking the piss, you’re at the golf course”.
McIlroy – “I am NOT at the golf course”.
Ridge – “Well, you’d better get there”.
The Northern Irish superstar, due to play unbeaten Keegan Bradley in the third game, admitted he instantly realised the consequences of not making it in time. Five minutes late and he would have been disqualified, handing America the first point of the day and a five-point lead.
“I was just lucky there was a State Trooper downstairs who could take me, get his lights on and pass all the traffic,” he said. “Once we got off the highway it would have taken ten minutes without him to get through that junction. I’ve never been so worried going to a golf course. I got to the course at 11.14, so I had 11 minutes to get ready and had just enough time to put my shoes on, have a couple of putts and go to the first tee.
“In a way it wasn’t a bad thing because I didn’t have time to think about it – and I played probably the best I played all week. Once I got on the course I calmed down a bit. Keegan asked if everything was okay and I said ‘it’s fine’ – we had a laugh.”
Winning 2010 captain Colin Montgomerie, commentating on television, was not so amused. “That is absolutely ridiculous at this level,” he said. “It’s quite unbelievable for the world number one golfer. How this happened I do not know. Where is the captain, where are the vice-captains, where is his caddie?”
A 2 and 1 victory and the match result enabled McIlroy to joke about it, however. By then, Luke Donald and Paul Lawrie had already beaten Masters champion Bubba Watson and £7million FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker respectively.
When wild card Ian Poulter, with a stunning four wins out of four in the match, and Justin Rose triumphed on the last against US Open champion Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson – Rose with closing birdie putts of 40 and 14 feet – Europe had captured the top five singles.
Lee Westwood then beat Matt Kuchar and Sergio Garcia pounced on a bogey-bogey finish by Jim Furyk to tie the scores at 13-13. As holders, Europe needed one more point to retain the trophy on a tie and Martin Kaymer, left out of three of the first four sessions, rose to the occasion by holing a six-foot putt to beat Steve Stricker.
Cue wild celebrations and as they went on winless Tiger Woods, put out last by Davis Love and finding himself inconsequential, conceded a putt to Francesco Molinari that put the icing on Europe’s cake – a fifth win in six matches.
Nobody on Olazabal’s side had any doubt what the key moment of the week was. It was Poulter’s five closing birdies late on Saturday that brought their deficit down to 10-6. It was the same position America had been in at Brookline in 1999 and they pulled it off, so Europe knew it was possible. “Ian gave us the lift we needed,” McIlroy added. “Ian was the catalyst for this whole thing – he was phenomenal. I was playing with him, but just sort of stood and watched.
“I know all the boys put their heart and soul into this. It’s unbelievable. I know the Americans did it in ’99, but that was on home turf and to do it to them here is just incredible. To win as an individual is great, but when it’s part of a team it doesn’t get better than that.
“To share this moment and to know they gave everything, like you have, and to walk away as the victors is great.”
Ryder Cup in quotes
“To the 12 men of Europe, what you did out there was outstanding. All men die but not all men live and you made me feel alive again this week. I don’t know how heave feels , but it must be close to this”
Jose Maria Olazabal
“I’m proud of every person in the team and pretty proud of myself to go out and perform like that under the utmost pressure against a tough crowd”
“We have revised the qualification for next time. It’s nine (qualifying) spots, two picks and Poults (Ian Poulter). It’s the Poults clause”
“Friday night we were down, we got the hairdryer treatment from Jose (Maria Olazabal). On Saturday night there was a sense of relief. We knew something had to come”
“I have no doubt in my mind that he (Seve) was with me all day because there was no chance I would have won my match if he wasn’t there”
“This is history right here. This is unbelievable. I am going to enjoy it with the best team I have seen and best captain I have seen”
“I keep wondering how this Ryder Cup team can keep improving but they do and it was just amazing. That will be remembered for many years.”
”Ask yourself this: ‘How good are the Germans at penalty shoot-outs?’ When it comes to the crunch, they hold their nerve. He rolled it right down the middle”
Martin Kaymer’s Scottish caddie, Craig Connolly
“The plan worked the first two days, it just didn’t work on Sunday”
Davis Love III