PARIS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - American rookie Justin Thomas prevailed in a ding-dong battle with Rory McIlroy as his opponent capitulated on the final hole to give the United States a glimmer of hope on the final day of the Ryder Cup on Sunday.
The 25-year-old often trailed against the four-times major champion but secured victory on the 18th as McIlroy suffered a calamitous end to his round — taking two shots to get out of a bunker then finding water.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy offered his hand with Thomas safely on the green in two — conceding the first of the eight points the U.S. need to retain the trophy having won in Hazeltine two years ago.
It was Thomas’s fourth point of the weekend — the best haul for an American rookie since Larry Nelson in 1979.
The first of the 12 singles matches that will decide the Ryder Cup was a classic matchplay affair played out in an electric atmosphere on a sun-kissed Le Golf National Course.
Seeking to overturn a 10-6 deficit on the final day — something that has been achieved only twice in Ryder Cup history — the Americans needed an early boost.
Thomas provided it as he battled McIlroy and most of a huge crowd packed along the fairways and perched on the banks around the amphitheatre-like greens.
He trailed by a hole at the midway point but tickled in a slippery birdie putt at the 10th.
Both players suffered a frustrating day with the putter with birdies few and far between, despite some fantastic iron play.
Thomas chipped in from the fringe of the 12th to stay level but missed a short par putt to lose the 13th before hitting back again at the par-five 14th with a birdie after a magnificent approach to the green.
McIlroy looked in trouble when he found rough at 17 but made a magical recovery to stay level and take the match down the last — only the third match to reach the 18th so far this week.
The 18th turned into a house of horrors for McIlroy as his tee shot found a bunker and the ball plugged in the sand. His attempt to extricate it merely left it back in the sand and then his second escape attempt flew into water.
Meanwhile Thomas played two superb shots to the green and was soon celebrating his fourth point of a superb debut. (Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Toby Davis)