Ryder Cup 2014: Garcia & McIlroy morning struggle

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When Sergio Garcia chipped in from a bunker at the fourth hole to put Europe one up and end a series of halved holes, it was the signal for vice-captain Miguel Anguel Jimenez to spark up a large cigar. A plume of smoke rose above the instantly recognisable pony-tailed figure as he watched two members of his team prepare to drive off at the fifth tee in a bid to extend their lead.

This they could not do, however. As with the the smoke rising from Jimenez’s cigar, it was hard to tell in which direction this match might head. The lead exchanged hands four times in total.

Sergio Garcia celebrates his approach shot to the 18th. Picture: Getty

Sergio Garcia celebrates his approach shot to the 18th. Picture: Getty

The wind had calmed slightly when Garcia’s fine chip from a bunker secured an advantage. Things seemed to be set fair for a European win in a fourballs contest described as the anchor match of the morning clashes. It was also rather excitedly presented as the grudge match following that tongue-in-cheek comment by Phil Mickelson during a press conference on Wednesday.

When asked why it was America seemed to struggle to produce good team performances in these events, he pointed out that at least they refrain from litigating against one another – “which is a plus,” he drawled.

Of course the comment referred to McIlroy’s on-going legal row with Horizon, his former management company, in which compatriot Graeme McDowell also once held a financial stake. But the playful jibe was later laughed off by McIlory, as it should have been. The pair shook hands on the first tee yesterday in a cauldron of noise.

Strangely, things took a while to ignite. It became a cautious tale of tit for tat. But after Garcia’s successful bunker shot at the fourth caused uproar in the galleries, we had a match on our hands. The next hole was halved, after Garcia was successful with a slightly less spectacular stroke into the hole for a par 4.

There was some evidence to suggest that Mickelson’s day was going to prove a taxing one. He missed a very sinkable putt at 7 – one that would have leveled matters. It was becoming clear that the popular American – who was cheered by nearly everyone in the crowd, despite his allegiance to the “other side” – was finding it a struggle to warm up. Mickelson began the day wearing large mittens on both of his hands. He did not remove them even when putting.

But as the sun rose higher in the sky, and the early morning turned to late morning, and then, illustrating how long the match took, merged into early afternoon, the American duo of Mickelson and Bradley Keegan were required to force the issue.

Two holes up after the tenth, they had been pegged back after the 13th hole. After the 15th they were trailing. However, an eagle by Bradley at the 16th hole provided them with renewed impetus. After the 17th was halved – there was a brief delay over whether to hand Bradley a gimme putt (McIlroy decided not to, cue much laughter) – it was all to play for down the 18th, as many suspected would be the case with this high quality match-up.

Mickelson made a short birdie out at the 18th to secure victory by one hole after more than five and a half hours of golf – and even then no one in the quartet could think about returning to the clubhouse to put their feet up.