McIlroy on the march to Newport

Youngster leads GB&I to victory over Europe and promises Ryder Cup repeat

By James Corrigan
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:41

Rory McIlroy led Great Britain and Ireland's march to victory in the Vivendi Trophy with Severiano Ballesteros here yesterday and then, with just as much confidence, issued a message to Colin Montgomerie. "If you want me to do the same at next year's Ryder Cup, I'll be ready," he said

Henrik Stenson would certainly testify to the Ulsterman being up to the front-running task, despite his age and despite him being a Ryder rookie. "I played well today but Rory just keeps improving," said the former WGC Match Play champion after being inched out on the 18th. "When Rory rolled in yet another eagle putt I said to him, 'Hey, I wouldn't mind playing with you next year'." The Swede will likely have to join a very long queue.

There were other stars as the Continentals were humbled 161/2-111/2 – most notably, England's Chris Wood, who finished the week as the leading scorer with four and half points out of a possible five – but the headlines were always destined to feature McIlroy. After stunning the many Ryder Cup lovers with his dismissive "just an exhibition" comments back in May, the mission has been on for Europe to convert him into a team player.

His four-point contribution here and, indeed his attitude, suggest that Paul McGinley has achieved this feat in double-quick time. "Paul has been a fantastic captain, truly inspiring," said McIlroy , echoing the many plaudits for the Irishman. He even inspired this young man to break his, and his own generation's habit and leap out of bed in the morning. "The team meetings were set for 7.30am but I was getting there at 7.15am just because I was getting such a buzz out of them. I've forgotten how good the atmosphere can be in team golf. I will now be very, very disappointed if I don't make it to Celtic Manor next year."

The thought of McIlroy, 20, not being there borders on the absurd. Indeed, Captain Montgomerie is so certain of his presence in Newport he confessed on Saturday that he is already considering playing him in the very first group on the very first morning.

"I like taking responsibility and having to put that early point on the board for the boys," said McIlroy, who proved as much by only losing the match in which McGinley chose to pick him down the order. "Henrik was the one I wanted all week. This has been great for my confidence, beating the world No 5. I'd be lying if I said my hands weren't a little shaky over the four-footer to win on the last."

The final day began on an emotional note when a message was screened from Seve Ballesteros from his home in Spain. The Spaniard looked drawn and fatigued after his recent batch of radiotherapy for the brain cancer which struck him down last year. "I hope the Seve Trophy is a great experience for all of the players," said Ballesteros, pointedly making no reference to the sponsors of the match which had solely bore his name since its inception in 2000. "I hope the French people enjoy watching those great champions."

They could have expected a closer match. Continental Europe came in as favourites, but hardly landed a blow against a supposedly inexperienced team who impressively deputised for their six absent senior players.

Their captain Thomas Bjorn was plainly a shattered man and it was a brave/daft television interviewer who asked whether he believed the Ryder Cup should now go back to being just Great Britain and Ireland. "Well, would you like to see a side without Sergio [Garcia] or Henrik in it?" replied the Dane. At least Bjorn won that confrontation.

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