Rory McIlroy stared at his ball buried deep in the French sand and held out his arms. His body language said: What am I meant to with that?
The finish line, in the shape of the 18th green at Le Golf National, was just up ahead, so close he could see its fluttering flag and the thousands of expectant spectators surrounding it, waiting, praying for the four-time major winner to do something special to edge Europe closer to winning the Ryder Cup.
Not to be.
Instead of getting him out of the bunker, McIlroy’s shot rolled the ball around its lip and back down into the sand. What had been a bad situation was now verging on hopeless. His next shot, out of the sand and into a lake, finished him off altogether.
Moments later, he was conceding to Justin Thomas.
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn sent McIlroy out first on Sunday morning to get the team rolling. That was also the case in 2016, when captain Darren Clarke also used McIlroy as his pathfinder, that time against Patrick Reed.
Both times the result was the same: A McIlroy loss by one hole.
“It was a good battle,” McIlroy said to his dad, Gerry, as they made their way off the course. But the disappointment etched into McIlroy’s face as he knocked back a thick post-match milkshake on his way back to the Europe team-room spoke volumes about how much the loss hurt.
In truth, even before he came undone on the last hole, McIlroy’s round had felt like it was stuck together by glue and rope, ready to come apart at any time, and that he could be punished at the end for not capitalizing on earlier opportunities to put Thomas away.
McIlroy started well enough: He was 1-up after nine holes. But Thomas sank a 10-foot putt to pull level on No. 10 and, after McIlroy went 1-up on No. 13, leveled again on the next hole.
That is how it stayed to the final hole. Thomas put his hand over his mouth, like a horror movie poster, when his 15-foot putt for birdie stopped on the edge of the hole on No. 15.
Another Thomas putt, slightly downhill, kissed the lip of the hole on No. 16.
A 12-foot putt for Thomas to go 1-up on No. 17 stopped a few centimeters short.
But the sense going into No. 18 was that Thomas was getting closer to landing the knockout punch.
Ultimately, McIlroy’s wayward under-pressure tee-shot that landed him in the lunar-like bunker on the final hole didn’t matter: Europe still won the Ryder Cup.
But it did mean that he never got to putt on No. 18 at the Le Golf National, because none of his five matches got that far.
Sounds like a good excuse to come back.
Source: The Associated Press