PARIS (Reuters) - What a difference a lunch-break can make. As the shadows lengthened on the 16th green, Rory McIlroy high-fived partner Ian Poulter to celebrate their Ryder Cup foursomes win for Europe and banish any lingering demons from a frustrating morning.
The Northern Irishman was still fluffing some putts, but the body language was vintage McIlroy, a bounce in his stride and wide grin on his face as he and Poulter beat their U.S. opponents Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson with two holes in hand.
In the morning McIlroy had looked out of sorts, struggling to master the pace of the greens and hanging his head between some holes. With no birdies on his scorecard, there was little to smile about as he and Dane Thorbjorn Olesen went down 4 and 2 to Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.
At first it appeared McIlroy’s poor morning might continue into the afternoon. A bogey for Europe on the first gave the Americans an early lift and two holes later McIlroy and Poulter were two holes down.
European captain Thomas Bjorn had sent McIlroy back out on the course with an arm around the shoulder but a stronger pick-me-up was needed.
It came on the sixth. McIlroy creamed a drive to reach the green and hand Poulter a 30-foot putt, which he left some seven feet short — the length of putt McIlroy had been missing all morning.
This time McIlroy drained it, and for the first time in the day he pumped his fist. It set off a blistering four-hole winning streak that turned the match.
“They got good vibes off each other and did well on the golf course,” Bjorn told a news conference. “They got off to a bad start and they turned it around.”
Throughout the afternoon the U.S. players struggled with the tough pin positions and blustery conditions. As Europe painted the scoreboard blue, McIlroy’s step lightened and his smile widened.
Poulter was the perfect tonic after a tough first round. With his jaunty walk and badge-beating, he knows just how to work a crowd - especially a Ryder Cup crowd. The galleries loved it and McIlroy thrived.
“It was a little bit of a last-minute thing that Poults and I would go and try to play foursomes together,” McIlroy said.
“We played well together at Medinah (in 2012). We played well together at Gleneagles (in 2014). It was nice to get back out there with him and deliver another point for Europe.”
On the 13th, McIlroy, with the ball below his feet and almost in the water, hit a miracle shot that got Europe back in to a hole that looked to be slipping away. When Poulter sunk the putt for a birdie three, the chest-thumping began, and McIlroy’s day was resurrected.
Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar