Ryder Cup: Rory McIlroy helps fire Europe back into contention

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
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A fired-up Rory McIlroy led from the front as Europe's bid for an historic Ryder Cup comeback gathered momentum at Hazeltine.

After being whitewashed in the opening session on Friday, Darren Clarke's side hit back to win three of the afternoon fourballs to trail 5-3 heading into day two.

Europe's Rory McIlroy and Europe's Thomas Pieters celebrate on the 7th green during the Fourballs on day two of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo

Europe's Rory McIlroy and Europe's Thomas Pieters celebrate on the 7th green during the Fourballs on day two of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo

And they maintained that momentum in remarkable fashion on Saturday to win two and a half points from the foursomes and reduce their deficit to a single point.

The United States have never lost a home Ryder Cup after winning the opening session, while Europe are seeking an unprecedented fourth straight victory in the biennial contest.

McIlroy and Thomas Pieters provided the early fireworks with birdies on the first two holes on their way to a 4&2 win over Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler, before Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka enjoyed their second win together, this time over Henrik Stenson and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Justin Rose and Chris Wood held their nerve to beat Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson on the 18th, but there was a late bonus in store as Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello halved with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed after being four down with six to play.

Europe's Danny Willett during the Fourballs on day two of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Europe's Danny Willett during the Fourballs on day two of the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Spieth and Reed were five under par for the first seven holes and moved four up when Garcia missed from two feet on the 11th, but the American pair bogeyed the 13th, 14th and 15th to open the door.

European birdies on the 16th and 17th got the match back to all square for the first time since the opening hole and Garcia held his nerve to hole from two feet for par on the last.

"I felt like we played really good foursomes," Garcia said. "We were so consistent and making birdies but they had an amazing start. We tried to keep at it and keep putting pressure on and hopefully at some point they would slow down a little bit.

"I had to take a lot of breaths on 17 and 18 because emotions were so high when we saw we had a chance of winning the match. All credit to my partner."

McIlroy and Pieters cruised into a three-hole lead and looked certain to go further ahead before Mickelson holed from 50 feet across the eighth green, and when McIlroy missed from three feet on the next and hit a wild drive on the 10th, the momentum was threatening to swing back in the favour of the American pair.

Pieters conjured up a superb escape from deep in the trees only for Mickelson to make birdie anyway and get back to just one down, but a birdie on the 11th settled European nerves and two more on 15 and 16 secured the win.

McIlroy had lost his previous three Ryder Cup matches against Mickelson and admitted: "When I saw the draw last night I was like 'Yes, I get to have a go at him again'. I maybe wanted it a little bit more for that reason.

"Darren put a lot of faith in us in foursomes as we'd not really practised together. We flipped for it on the first tee to see who would hit on which hole."

Stenson and Fitzpatrick had fought back from an early two-hole deficit to get back on level terms after 11, but could only halve the 12th in bogey fives after Koepka's shanked approach hit a tree and stopped short of the water.

The American pair made the most of that stroke of luck and birdied the next four holes to win 3&2, with any faint European hopes ending when Fitzpatrick found water with his approach to the 16th.

With Rose then doing the same in match three and losing to an American birdie, a comfortable three-hole lead had been reduced to one, but rock-solid pars on the 17th and 18th sealed a hard-fought success.

Wood told Sky Sports: "Sleeping overnight there were some nerves but when you know you are playing with such a solid guy alongside you there's nothing to worry about."