If Rory McIlroy appeared a tad more amped up than usual during his and Thomas Pieters’ 4&2 drubbing of Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, that’s because Saturday morning’s foursomes outing was "personal" for the four-time major champion.
"When I saw the draw last night i was like, ‘Yes, I get to have a go at him again’ because my record against him in the Ryder Cup isn’t what I would like it to be," McIlroy said about taking on Mickelson, who had won three straight points against him entering Saturday.
"So, personally, I maybe wanted it a little bit more just for that reason," added McIlroy, who, partnered with Andy Sullivan, fell to Mickelson and Fowler, 1-down, in Friday’s foursomes.
This is the first time Rory McIlroy has defeated Phil Mickelson in a Ryder Cup match (1-3).— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) October 1, 2016
Rory and Pieters, who have emerged as Europe’s dream team after a 3&2 beatdown of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar in Friday’s fourball, put their FootJoys on the Americans’ throats early, going 3-up after five holes. Despite a U.S. mini-rally midway through the round, the duo never let Phil and Rickie off the mat.
The Ulsterman and Ryder Cup rookie Pieters finished them off with three straight birdies, as the Europeans took 2.5 of the four morning matches to trail the U.S. by just one point heading into the afternoon fourballs.
Those are the raw numbers, but they tell little of the emotion and fire that fueled McIlroy and Pieters’ impressive play
For sure, the anti-Europe fireworks that on Friday motivated McIlroy to take a bow after quieting the "hostile" gallery with a walk-off eagle putt in the afternoon session seemed more like a flickering candle compared to what went down on Saturday.
Finishing your match Rory McIlroy-style. #TeamEurope pic.twitter.com/hpUCT227Ja— Ryder Cup Team EUR (@RyderCupEurope) September 30, 2016
The crowd — which Jack Nicklaus on Saturday called "more nationalistic" than he ever experienced in eight stints as a Ryder Cup player and captain — was in full throat from the start, with one moron urging Pieters to hit his opening birdie putt "in the water." Instead, he drained it and went all Patrick Reed on the fans.
Wow stone cold, pieters goes with the Patrick Reed shush #RyderCup pic.twitter.com/fpoc7qfkKI— the fried egg (@the_fried_egg) October 1, 2016
McIlroy, cheered for each mishit, let the partisans know he heard them as well.
Fist pump. https://t.co/XEk7ECGXt8— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 1, 2016
And when Pieters buried a lengthy putt to make the outcome a formality, McIlroy could barely contain his enthusiasm.
Rory's kinda pumped about that putt #RyderCup https://t.co/x5ezQXSXlr— Emily Kay (@golfexaminer) October 1, 2016
The McIlroy-Mickelson grudge match was not the only one to spark eruptions across Hazeltine. Brandt Snedeker celebrated his and Brooks Koepka’s 3&2 win over Henrik Stenson and Matt Fitzpatrick.
Pure emotion from Brandt Snedeker. https://t.co/jLVSo93XmF— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 1, 2016
And, of course, there was Sergio Garcia, always a target of U.S. golf enthusiasts, who, with Rafa Cabrera Bello, rebounded from 4-down to Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed with seven to play to halve the match. After cutting the lead to one with a birdie at the 16th, he was serenaded with a "You have no major" ditty from the Minnesota faithful.
Big putt for Sergio.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 1, 2016
They've cut the deficit from 4 to just 1.https://t.co/JBpu1F7M1i
All that, and we’re only halfway through Saturday’s session.
NBC’s David Feherty summed it up succinctly.
"Six and a half to five and a half, and a day and half to go," he said after Garcia sank a knee-knocker to complete his team’s comeback.