For once, Ian Poulter kept his mouth shut. He might have been tempted to have a quiet word with Rory McIlroy after seeing him suffer a disappointing morning defeat and probably would have if it had been anyone else in that position that he was partnering in the afternoon foursomes. But, according to Poulter, a world-class player like McIlroy doesn’t need to be either encouraged or motivated.
“I didn’t need to say anything,” said the Englishman as he reflected on the pair having joined forces to help Europe record a first foursomes whitewash in the Ryder Cup as they fought back manfully from losing the opening fourballs 3-1 to lead 5-3 at the end of the first day at Le Golf National.
“Rory is Rory. He would have been frustrated enough this morning with that loss. I didn’t need to gee him up at all. I just think getting out on the golf course to get straight back at it was good for him, and it was inspiring for me.”
McIlroy was Poulter’s partner when he reeled off five birdies in a row in the penultimate session to inspire Europe to pull off their “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012. The pair also secured a half point when playing together in one of the sessions in the victory at Gleneagles two years later.
“Every time I’ve played with him, we’ve had success, so it was great to get back on the course and great to get that feeling again and he didn’t need any geeing up at all,” added Poulter. “He needed slowing down, if anything. I could barely keep up with his little legs.”
McIlroy admitted the historic afternoon clean sweep had been “hugely satisfying”, both for him and the team. “Incredible afternoon for Europe,” he declared. “One we haven’t really had since Gleneagles [where Europe won both foursome sessions 3.5-0.5], I guess. You know, there was a couple of times where we threatened to have a great session in Hazeltine that didn’t really materialise, but to see all the blue on the board this afternoon is awesome.
“This morning wasn’t ideal, but it was still a better start than the one we got off to at Hazeltine [where they lost the opening session 4-0]. You have to persist, persist, persist until it turns around for you. We just needed to go out there and just hit good shots.”
The match position could easily have been different if Tommy Fleetwood, one of the five rookies in the home team, and Francesco Molinari hadn’t managed to deliver the home side’s only morning success, reeling off three birdies in a row to get the better of a rejuvenated Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed, the man dubbed “Captain America” in this event. Fleetwood and Molinari gelled brilliantly in the foursomes to deliver their second point of the day.
“That pairing was a very solid pairing from when Thomas agreed to put them out,” said Poulter. “They have done a stellar job, they really did. They played some great golf today and it’s great for them to go 2-0. It’s pretty impressive.”
Fleetwood’s dream start as a Ryder Cupper came on the day his son, Frankie, had his first birthday. He rushed back to the team hotel at the end of play to spend some time with him after enjoying a day to remember with another “Frankie”. “You can’t prepare for it, really,” said the Englishman of playing in this event. “All the preparation you do, nothing gets you ready for this.”
Molinari, the Open champion, had played in two previous events but had never managed to deliver a full point. He’s off and running now, though. “The boys that went out early this afternoon did an unbelievable job,” said the Italian. “Very, very different from this morning, the atmosphere, and we needed it.
“It’s great, but we need to put the hat back on for tomorrow and reset quickly. They are going to come out strongly tomorrow, so there’s no time to celebrate when there’s still a job to be done. We prepared, like Thomas said, to get it done and we will.”
The fightback was led by Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, pictured. They won three games out of three in that match at Gleneagles and, though less successful two years ago at Hazeltine, normal service resumed here.
“It all falls into place pretty easy, and we’ve got a good team there with our caddies as well,” said Stenson of playing with Rose. “We managed to win once again and we’re very pleased with that. [But] as nice as it is to get that advantage in this session, we have to be prepared that they are going to come hard after us tomorrow and we’ve got to be on our toes and try and hold that charge back.”
Sergio Garcia, a controversial pick by Bjorn in the eyes of some, was delighted with his win with Alex Noren, the pair being five-under for the front nine. “On this course with the wind that was blowing, that was spectacular,” said Garcia. “It was something that I will never forget and I’m sure Alex won’t, either.”