Rory McIlroy sounded a defiantly confident tone for Team Europe on Friday night despite slumping to another heavy defeat on the opening day of the 43rd Ryder Cup matches.
McIlroy and fellow Irishman Shane Lowry came up against the red-hot American putter of Tony Finau as the European pair were beaten with three holes still to play at Whistling Straits.
It was the first time in six appearances for Europe that McIlroy had lost two matches in one day as the dream Irish pairing of the firm friends and Olympic team-mates failed to keep pace with the in-form Finau and his rookie better-ball playing partner Harris English.
The 4&3 reverse on Friday night followed an opening-session 5&3 loss for McIlroy and foursomes partner Ian Poulter to Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele reflecting the broader picture of the day as Padraig Harrington’s Europeans struggled against the strongest USA Ryder Cup team ever assembled.
Steve Stricker’s side had won the opening session of foursomes matches 3-1 and American red was once again squeezing European blue off the scoreboard in the evening fourballs as the irish pair were defeated in match three but McIlroy said: “We can come back from 6-2. If it's 6-2, we can come back.” It made for a deeply disappointing debut for 2019 Open champion Lowry, one of Harrington’s three captain’s picks, despite the Offaly golfer had made much of the running for the European pair, with a birdie three at the opening hole as the teams halved the opening four holes.
It was McIlroy, though, who drew first blood at the par-5 fifth, sinking a 30-foot eagle putt to go 1Up. It would be the last time Europe broke par but their American rivals were only just getting started.
Finau provided an instant reply with a birdie at the par-four 6th to level the match and Harris sent the USA into a lead they would not relinquish with his birdie at the par-4 eighth. Then came Finau’s turn to take control, his confidence buoyed by last month’s FedEx Cup play-off series win at the Northern Trust in New Jersey and transferred seamlessly into a team setting in Wisconsin.
Birdies at nine, 10 and 13 sucked the life out of the European challenge and sent Team USA into a 4Up lead with the Irish duo unable to find a response. Holes were halved at 11, 12 and 14 but it was wins Europe needed and holes were running out. The end came at the 15th, Finau’s nerveless putting sealing the deal from nine feet to halve the hole and put the match beyond Europe.
“We got unlucky today,” Lowry said. “We probably didn't play our best but we hit some good shots and got bad breaks. I feel like, 80 yards in the middle of the fairway on the last (15th) and they made an easy par. We probably should have given them a better match than we did but it is what it is.
“Now try to get a couple points in the last few matches, go out tomorrow and give it our best and see if we can get a lead going into the singles.”