STANDING at the edge of the 14th green, Rory McIlroy said he had gone into his singles match well aware of what was expected of him. “Paul [McGinley] wanted me to play up the order. I was very comfortable with that.”
He had just earned Europe’s first point in the singles, whipping up the crowd not as an ego boost to himself, but to ensure the noise resonated around the fairways and greens as a way of galvanising his team-mates and dealing the Americans a psychological blow. He was delivering not just a point but a rallying call.
With the Americans top-loading their line-up, McGinley had countered by sending out several of his big game players to snuff out any concerted US comeback. Denied any kind of momentum in the Saturday foursomes, they wanted to starve them of any encouragement in the few matches off the tee on the final, decisive day.
The World No 1 was comfortable with the responsibility bestowed on him by the European captain. In truth, the man who has dominated the world stage throughout the summer – becoming the first man since Tom Watson in 1977 to back up two major wins with a Ryder Cup triumph in the same year – looked totally at ease with everything this golfing jamboree threw at him. “Yeah, you know, I think that was our whole game plan going out to try and put blue on the board as early as possible and get this thing won as soon as we could,” said the man who had campaigned for McGinley to get the captaincy and was desperate to hand him a win.
“You know, G-Mac [Graeme McDowell] and Henrik [Stenson] before me had a couple of tight battles, and I just went out there and got off to a really, really hot start, and didn’t really give Rickie a chance. It was great to put that blue on the board early and let the boys behind me see, and see that there was a little momentum on the scoreboard for us.”
Not at his best in the first couple of days, McIlroy was still pitched in for every session. He dug deep with both Sergio Garcia and then Ian Poulter to weigh in with half points that kept more red off the scoreboard and helped his side build what turned out to be an unassailable lead. But he is a man well used to the pressures of a final-day lead and he did what he does best – he annihilated the opposition before they could nurture any thoughts of coming back at him.
Six under par by the time he and Rickie Fowler headed towards the 7th tee, McIlroy was also 5 Up on the American, who had no response to the impeccable tee shots, the wedge play and a putting stroke that sent ball after ball, almost effortlessly, into the cup.
From the moment he arrived on the first tee shortly before noon, he looked devoid of self-doubt. His most self-conscious moment was not in play, it was when the boisterous galleries demanded a dance and he obliged with a shy smile and a slightly-awkward little shimmy.
That grin only stretched as he pummelled Fowler into submission from the very start, birdieing the first and then hitting his second shot onto the green and his putt so close to the flag on the second that Fowler conceded the eagle and the hole without even asking him to make the tiny putt.
It was an example of the sportsmanship and friendship shared by two young men who are likely to have many more tussles in the future.
Although the team had talked about the dangers of complacency, insisting they would not fall into that trap, he was not shy in illustrating just how comfortable he was – with the lead, with the environment and with the expectations.
Having taken a comfort break on his way to the sixth, McIlroy then left his opponent squirming as he went on to roll in a lovely putt from about eight feet away. The journey to the hole was almost interminable and despite the thousands packed round one of the most claustrophobic greens on the course, there was a hush until it finally plopped into the cup and the place erupted.
It was the mightiest roar. And McIlroy amped it up, punching the air, his bellows simply articulating the no- nonsense, win-or-die look that was etched all over his face.
Bounding from green to tee, if the matches in front had not slowed the play, this one could have been over in record time, the European talisman desperate to just get the job done and get back out supporting his mates.
As it was, it really didn’t take long and was all over on the 14th.
Having charged up the crowd with a number of fist pumps and conducted their cheers and olés, the mood was changing.
The red that had dominated scoreboards as the players passed by was diluted, but the applause and chanting from the fairways and greens around about signalled that McDowell, who had been 3 down at one stage, was just one of many joining the charge and his countryman arrived at the decisive hole buoyant and bullish.
The final holes were not the masterclass in perfection he had hoped it would be and he slapped his thigh in frustration as he gave his pitch too much welly and it rolled off the back, but having responded with a delightful chip that nestled just inches from the hole, Fowler had one last punt at delaying the inevitable.
But when he couldn’t find the hole, he immediately removed his cap and turned to shake hands with his friend and temporary foe.
That revealed the “USA” lettering which Fowler had shaved into his hair for this week. But everyone watching knew that it was success and class that was written all over McIlroy.