James Lawton: McDowell and McIlroy fêted in the morning then bitten after lunch

The Irishmen survive a relentless comeback by Snedeker and Furyk before falling short against Mickelson and Bradley

Medinah

Graeme McDowell was the hero of Europe's last great triumph and for a moment yesterday it seemed that he had started here under a blue and steely American sky pretty much as he had finished in the mist and the chill of a Welsh valley two years ago.

It was an exultant thought when he sank the putt which beat America's hottest new force Brandt Snedeker and his veteran partner Jim Furyk to give his team a victory that stopped an outbreak of American triumphalism at its first appearance. But he couldn't raise even the barest mask of a smile and we knew why soon enough.

The Ryder Cup had made new demands of that kind which leaves you drained to the point when it is enough that you survive all the pressure and that in the end you are still able to do what is expected of you.

He did it once in the celebrated company of his brilliant young countryman Rory McIlroy but he couldn't do it again when Keegan Bradley, one of the the bristling American platoon of major champions, and a Phil Mickelson who had once again re-invented himself as a golfer of unfathomable but extraordinary talent, launched another attack after those muted celebrations of high noon.

The Americans over-ran the Irishmen and brought a reminder of McDowell's comment that the glory in Wales had been an experience of mingled love and hate: "Part of me would love that opportunity but part of me would hate it. I'll just have to take what comes."

What came on a first day when the Americans built a commanding lead with the kind of authority that some of them feared had become part of their past was the draining experience of both hard run victory and defeat.

McDowell's task was, beyond question, the heaviest on the first day of a collision that has been projected as potentially the greatest seen in 85 years. The job description was, no more or less, than to operate again as the protector of the world's most compelling player.

That was the status McIlroy once again claimed for himself in a passage of morning golf which explained so eloquently why so many believe that he has indeed surpassed, in touch and confidence and sheer natural born competitive courage, the once indestructible figure of Tiger Woods.

While McIlroy produced some exquisite shorts to carry himself and McDowell into what began to resemble the most formal triumph over America's lead-off combination of seven-million dollar rookie Bruce Snedeker and Furyk, Woods played like a man alarmed by his own shadow as he and his normally re-assuring partner Steve Stricker struggled desperately against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, and then the surprisingly effective pairing of Lee Westwood and Belgian rookie Nocalas Colsaerts.

Yet this was the day when nothing could be assumed, when no talent was so much on fire that it couldn't be doused and when McDowell came to make his winning putt against Snedeker and Furyk on the 18th green he must have felt the weight of the heaviest sporting history. It was a mere five feet but in the circumstances it might just have felt like the furthest shore of Lake Michigan.

Earlier on the fourth hole, after the brilliant Snedeker had resumed the tempo he displayed so thrillingly in last weekend's Fedex title bonanza, McIlroy chipped in a birdie that was sublime enough to brush against the concept of genius.

There followed four straight birdies, and six in seven holes and by the 11th hole McIlroy and McDowell were three up and enjoying the scenery — a blaze of autumnal russet and red and some very subdued Americans wearing the flag of Old Glory.

Unfortunately, neither Snedeker, the new force from Tennessee nor Furyk, a US Open champion who has longed mourned his poor performances in this great tournament, were prepared to accept this status quo. By the 16th hole they were even.

The necessity was to stand and fight — and maybe rescue the momentum which had seemed likely to carry Europe into a position of imposing domination.

So it came to the 18th all square and for McDowell there was a brutal demand. It was to achieve pure, sweet redemption when the match fell to him to decide. McDowell kept his nerve after McIlroy had produced a superb bunkier shot.

On the fourth the world number one player conjured similar nerveless artistry at the fourth. America's former captain Paul Azinger was somewhat sceptical.

When McIlroy stroked the wedge, 'Zinger' declared that it sounded 'fat' and then, as it snaked down the hole, he added, "Oh, he's got lucky, it's one of those fat rollers." It was maybe not the most generous way of putting it but then, no doubt, the Americans were once again feeling the discouraging weight of the European ability to produce players of outstanding quality.

After the morning survival, both McDowell and McIlroy suggested it was not so much a triumph as an escape and later the former said of the pressure which provoked a hook on the first tee, "It was a very bizarre experience. I was actually feeling very calm and very cool until I stepped over the ball. I couldn't ignore the silence. The silence was deafening and it made by mind go blank. It was very strange." Before receiving arguably the toughest assignment of the second session, the four-ball against Mickelson and Bradley, who had become rampant in the 4 and 3 win over Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia — McIlroy said it one of those times when you just have to keep your head down and do the necessary business.

He declared, "We are going to lunch and to get ready for the afternoon. We are out again together. All I know is that I'm playing with this guy again and I'm looking forward to it."

Certainly they had found a degree of composure in the face of what could so easily have brought the kind of unravelling that does more than lose a single point — the one that might just leave a lingering scar.

McDowell also said, "That match just personifies the Ryder Cup. Rory and me played some great golf to go three up and having a great chance to go four up on 12. In the end we knew we knew we just had to hang in there and try to get something back." Soon enough they were back in precisely the same position after Mickelson, conjuring the richest mix of his career alchemy, and Bradley re-applied the furies that had earlier destroyed Donald and Garcia. The Americans had one point were four up but McIlroy found again some of his most withering and by the 17th there was still the chance of a half point. McIlroy played a beautiful tee shot to the par-3 17th green. Unfortunately, Mickelson produced something even better. It finished two feet from the pin and the Irishman conceded. McDowell gave a sigh that seemed to explain why he hadn't managed to smile over his winning putt. In the Ryder Cup the glory comes and it goes and today it will demand a mighty effort for retrieval.

He said he would take whatever came and here yesterday he had all of it, both the glory and the pain. He had the Ryder Cup. It had gone even deeper into his bones.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam