MEDINAH, Ill. — Europeans Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell continued their victorious string in foursomes with a 1-up triumph over the USA team of Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker in the first match of the 39th Ryder Cup.
The match seemed destined for a blowout after the Europeans took a 3-up lead thru 11 holes, but the U.S. fought back and squared it up when Furyk hit a hybrid to 3 feet on the 480-yard 16th hole.
After a halve at the first hole, the first controversy of the 2012 Ryder Cup occurred when McDowell wanted relief from a sprinkler head that was just behind the green on No. 2.
Relief would have allowed McDowell to drop from the rough to on the green, a big advantage early on.
With the Irishman’s ball near enough, the referee with the match, Chip Essig agreed with McDowell, but Furyk didn’t and asked for a second opinion.
David Price, the Chief Referee, appeared after a five-minute wait and determined that relief was not required.
“Furyk asked me to have a second look because he didn’t feel like he should get relief, and so I ruled that he shouldn’t get relief,” Price said afterwards. “I just felt like it was a judgment call. I just felt like he could make the stroke without having any interference, so I didn’t give him relief.”
With a wedge versus a putter, McDowell couldn’t get it inside Furyk’s approach of 5 feet and when McIlroy missed and Snedeker made, the U.S. led for the first time in the morning.
The lead could have easily been two, but Furyk missed a very makeable downhill 5-footer that never hit the hole on the third.
Through three holes, Furyk was lending fuel to the fire of those that questioned why the 42-year-old was a captain’s pick, with a poor drive at the first, a wayward putter at the second and a the missed birdie chance at the third – but Furyk was the reason why the U.S. would take it to 18 holes.
“I definitely had some first-tee jitters; you can tell the way I hit it off the fifth and made a few loose swings,” Furyk said. “But I feel like I got it under control and hit the ball really well on the back nine.”
As the U.S. could not take advantage early, the Europeans made four consecutive birdies from the fourth through the seventh holes to go from 1 down to a 1-up lead, a lead they would not relinquish until the 16th green.
The run was highlighted by the World No. 1’s play starting on the fourth hole. After McDowell caught a flyer on his second shot, he left the young Ulsterman with a chip from behind the green that was downhill and moving from left to right.
As the chip landed just on the fringe it seemed forever for the ball to slowly roll straight then move to the right and fall in the hole for a birdie three and the first of six holes the Europeans would win in the first match.
The European part of the crowd finally had something to cheer about, “RORY! RORY! RORY!” McIlroy turned and made a hand gesture of pumping up the crowd and the momentum was starting to move in the Europeans direction.
After the 5th hole was halved with birdies, McDowell stuck his second shot on the par-4 sixth hole to 3 feet and the momentum swung with the two Europeans clad in yellow sweaters were 1 up and starting smiling as they walked to the seventh tee.
The seventh would be halved, but it was McIlroy that made the difference with a downhill 9-footer, which the Europeans had to have with the U.S. inside 3 feet for birdie.
It was a fist pump and the Europeans were now firmly in control even with the scoreboard at 1 up.
A misstep on the par 3 eighth hole with a bogey only energized the Europeans again with a string of wins on Nos. 9-11, with a combination of good play by the Europeans and poor play by the U.S.
The stretch was highlighted by a bad third shot on the par-5 10th hole by Snedeker from the mulch left of the green. The ball ran across the green and left Furyk with a side-hill lie that was hovering on the lip of the back greenside bunker.
Unfortunately for Furyk at some point the ball moved and the U.S. would hand Europe the hole when Furyk called a penalty on himself.
“I don’t remember what I did, but I think I grounded my club, and I at least hovered on the grass, and he goes, then we have to say deemed ‑‑ I said, I understand,” Furyk recalled after his morning match. “It may or may not have changed the complexion. I had to try to chip that one in then from there. But disappointing. We didn’t play the 10th hole as well as we could have, especially after a perfect drive from Brandt.”
When Europe won the 11th with a par that included a 12-footer from McIlroy, the lead moved to 3 up and the Euros seemed to be in complete control.
“We played really well around the turn to get to 3‑up through 12,” McIlroy said of the match. “And then the boys started to come back at us with three birdies in a row, 14, 15 and 16, and we just tried to hang in there as much as we could.”
In the stretch from the 13th through the 16th, the USA was 3 under and Europe was 2 over, with three bogeys and a single birdie.
That single birdie was 12-footer by McDowell that in the end may have saved the European victory with the USA conceded birdie.
For the USA, it was a driver on the drivable par 4, 15th hole that played only 313 yards downwind. When Furyk hit his tee shot in front of the green and McDowell hit his drive in the water, the game was a foot with only three holes to go.
“Probably 15 I would say,” McIlroy confirmed when the momentum switched.
For Furyk, the tee shot was on his mind in the 14th fairway.
“In my mind after sitting the second shot at 14 I was already looking ahead,” Furyk said. “I had heard that the tee box was up, and I knew where the pin was. I knew it was in a good go position, and I felt like at 2 down we really had no choice, and really that hole, especially with a right‑to‑left wind, looks really good to me.”
Furyk squared the match on the 16th hole when his hybrid from 206 yards found the front of the green and the ball released to 3 feet. With McDowell hitting his shot in the front bunker, Europe saw a three-hole lead evaporate.
“I was a little nervous that I hit it a touch hard,” Furyk said of the second shot. “I hit it really well, and I was thinking maybe too well, and it hit ‑‑ I was trying to land it five on and I landed it four on. I will tell you it came out perfect.”
After the sides squared the par-3 17th hole, it all came down the par-4 18th hole.
With Snedeker standing on the 18th tee, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley arrived. The noise from the crowds in the stands on the 17th hole yelling “KEEGAN!” and “PHIL!”, backed Snedeker off his shot and when he finally pulled the trigger his shot went way right that would put Furyk in a position only to hit back out to the fairway.
“It was just an awful swing at the wrong time,” Snedeker said. “That’s just the way it works out sometimes. Just bad timing. I don’t know what else to say. I was trying to give Jim a chance to do what he’s been doing all day and just didn’t do a good job of it there.”
In the luck that happens in golf, McIlroy’s tee shot also went right, but unlike Snedeker, the Ulsterman’s tee shot hit a tree and jumped forward and toward the fairway, finding the short first cut.
In the end a missed putt by Furyk and a 3-footer by McDowell gave the Europeans a 1-up victory.
“It’s kind of bitter to be 3 down, to get that momentum, to ‑‑ I know we were giving our team a push,” Furyk said. “When you look up at the board and see a team 3 down and all of a sudden they’re even going to the last hole, I know they’re excited, and it’s bitter then to end up losing the last hole. But we fought hard and we’ll live to fight another day.”