Did European golf witness the birth of a Ryder Cup player here yesterday, even that of a great Ryder Cup partnership? It was easy to watch a young Ulsterman star on the opening day of the Vivendi Trophy and become carried away about the future. But then, that has always been the case with Rory McIlroy.
Graeme McDowell's contribution to the 4&3 fourball victory over Alvaro Quiros and Soren Kjeldsen should not and was not being underestimated. McDowell actually made more birdies than his fellow countryman as they gave Great Britain and Ireland the impetus to take a 3-2 first-day lead over Continental Europe. Yet even he nodded towards the outrageous talent of McIlroy, the 20-year-old making his professional team debut.
"I would certainly like this to be a Ryder Cup pairing," said McDowell. "As far as I'm concerned there would be nothing better than to play with this man next to me."
McIlroy hailed a hearty "and vice versa..." and there was a sense of something special and very inevitable having just been put on display. "I do feel we're at the start of a Ryder Cup partnership for years to come," said Paul McGinley, their captain. "The potential for the pairing is obviously there. But there's a long way to go – they're no Ollie and Seve, yet. Though they were pretty impressive today."
Yet no matter how comfortable the victory turns out there is always a key moment. Yesterday, McDowell saw it as occurring on the par-three third when they appeared destined to be pegged back to all square with McIlroy wedged under the back-lip of a greenside bunker and their opponents both in close. Seve Ballesteros, himself, would not have fancied the up and down. But McIlroy flipped it up, ran it past the flag and cannoned into Kjeldsen's ball. Instead of being 20 feet away, he was just five and was able to force the half.
"I couldn't believe Soren didn't mark it – I thanked him," said McIlroy. Surely he didn't aim for the ball? McIlroy flashed his eyes and laughed. He had been doing so all day. "It was the most fun I've had on a golf course in a while," said McIlroy.
That was a particularly pertinent quote from the lad who just a few months ago dared to write off the Ryder Cup as "an exhibition". The team-room camaraderie has clearly inspired him and Europe will surely one day praise McGinley for persuading him to play. Said McGinley: "This was just what I expected of them. I told them they were going to lead our charge towards the trophy."
His exuberance was understandable, even though the Continentals fought back in the last two matches. Not only did McGinley's top boys perform, but if anything his second group was even better. Chris Wood, just 18 months McIlroy's senior, and Anthony Wall were an incredible nine-under through the 13 holes they needed to hammer Thomas Bjorn's crack Swedish pairing of Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson 6&5.
"I wanted Stenson," revealed Wood, the Bristolian who since finishing fifth as an amateur in last year's Open has made such an impression on the pro circuit. "Henrik was on the range at the start of the week, chucking balls at me and giving me a bit of stick. Yeah, it was good to get one over on him."
Miguel Angel Jimenez is the only player to feature in all six stagings of the Vivendi Trophy.
Vivendi Trophy: Today's schedule
Draw and tee-off times (Continental Europe names first, Britain and Ireland lead 3-2 overnight, all times BST):
10.35 Henrik Stenson & Alvaro Quiros v Simon Dyson & Oliver Wilson
10.50 Peter Hanson & Soren Hansen v Nick Dougherty & Ross Fisher
11.05 Anders Hansen & Francesco Molinari v Graeme McDowell & Rory McIlroy
11.20 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano & Robert Karlsson v Robert Rock & Steve Webster
11.35 Miguel Angel Jimenez & Soren Kjeldsen v Anthony Wall & Chris Wood.