MEDINAH, Ill. – Draped in his country’s flag and clutching an enormous bottle of champagne, Rory McIlroy had a large timepiece dangling from his neck, and an even bigger smile on his face.
He could laugh about it hours later, but McIlroy’s morning turned into a harrowing minute-by-minute ride that featured a police car, confusion, and the world’s top-ranked golfer literally sprinting to the first tee, making it just in time to play his Ryder Cup singles match against Keegan Bradley.
McIlroy thought he was playing at 12:25 p.m., forgetting to account for the one-hour difference between the Eastern and Central time zones.
He received a phone call 25 minutes before his tee time, as he was leaving the team hotel.
He jumped into an Illinois State Police car and got an escort to Medinah Country Club, arriving 11 minutes before his scheduled start time. Then he went out and beat Bradley, 2 and 1, without benefit of a warm-up shot on the range.
“I’ve never been so worried driving to the golf course before,’’ McIlroy said. “Got here as fast as we could. Ran into the clubhouse, got my shoes on, and picked it up on the first tee. It was probably a really good thing I didn’t have to think about it too much.’’
McIlroy was greeted by chants of “Central time zone!’’ when he reached the first tee, and heard comments from spectators throughout the day about setting an alarm and being late. But he ended up having the last laugh, and was the only player all week to beat Bradley. McIlroy never trailed in the match.
US captain Davis Love said one of the reasons he put Tiger Woods last in singles was because he’s accustomed to playing on the weekend at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. – huh? – and the last tee time on Sunday was 2:03 p.m. EDT.
Woods’s match ended up not meaning anything for Team USA, because Europe already had clinched the Ryder Cup by the time Woods and Francesco Molinari reached No. 18.
“It’s the second time it’s happened to me being in the fairway. Happened at the Belfry [in 2002], playing Jesper [Parnevik] and our match was inconsequential. Same thing here,’’ said Woods, who still has only been a member of one victorious Ryder Cup team, in 1999.
Like 2002, Woods halved his singles match.
The only difference this time is that the halve allowed Europe to win, instead of the matches ending in a 14-14 tie, which would have been just the third tie in Ryder Cup history.
At home on road
Sunday couldn’t have gone much better for Luke Donald. He beat Bubba Watson in the day’s first match, 2 and 1, his team matched the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, and even his beloved Northwestern Wildcats cracked the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Donald had a different experience than the rest of the visitors, at least with the fans. That’s because he’s lived in Chicago for 15 years.
“I felt very much at home this week,’’ Donald said.
“It’s always tough to play away from home in a Ryder Cup, but I actually felt somewhat loved, even though I’m playing for the Euros. It was nice to hear all the cheers.’’
A Mickelson mark
Phil Mickelson played in his 38th Ryder Cup match, a US record. Billy Casper played in 37, and had a record of 20-10-7. Mickelson’s record is 14-18-6 . . . Bradley was trying to become the first Ryder Cup rookie to win all his matches since Mickelson went 3-0-0 in 1995 . . . As he’s done almost all week, Watson hit his tee shot on No. 1 with noise from the crowd ringing his ears. The cheering actually subsided for a few seconds as he was approaching his ball, causing Watson to take a step back and look up at the grandstands, as if to say, “Where’s the volume?’’ They turned it back up, and Watson then hit his drive . . . Sunday singles brought out some heavy hitters in attendance, including Jack Nicklaus on the first tee, and Lee Trevino and Michael Jordan walking with some of the matches. A cigar-chomping Jordan, a US team ambassador, had a stock answer when asked by spectators for a picture or an autograph. “I’m busy working,’’ he said . . . The Ryder Cup also encourages spectators to dress up with patriotic gear, wigs, face paint, and flags all popular choices. An Austin Powers lookalike, complete with bad teeth and a shagadelic red velvet suit, was also out rooting for the Europeans . . . The 2014 Ryder Cup will be played at Gleneagles in Scotland.