Rory McIlroy insists persistence was the key to his – and Europe’s – Ryder Cup turnaround on the opening day at Le Golf National.
The four-time major winner, playing alongside rookie Thorbjorn Olesen, was the only player in the morning fourballs not to register a birdie as the hosts slipped to a 3-1 deficit.
But the turnaround was remarkable in the afternoon with Europe taking an early advantage in three of the fourball matches with McIlroy and new partner Ian Poulter finally getting going six holes in when the Northern Irishman found a birdie.
They went on to beat Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 4&2 as Europe closed 5-3 up.
“I think a big thing for us this week is resilience, but also persistence,” said McIlroy.
“You have to persist. Persist, persist, persist, until it turns around for you and this morning wasn’t ideal but it was still a better start than the one we got off to at Hazeltine (losing the morning session 4-0).
“It was an incredible afternoon for Europe, one we haven’t really had since Gleneagles I guess.
“There was a couple of times where we threatened to have a great session in Hazeltine that didn’t really materialise so to see all the blue on the board in the afternoon is awesome.”
McIlroy revealed captain Thomas Bjorn made a late call to pair the two Ryder Cup veterans together for the foursomes but his decision paid off.
“The guys had a discussion earlier in the week and it was sort of a little bit of a last-minute thing that Poults and I would go together,” the 29-year-old added.
“You know, we played well together at Medinah. We played well together at Gleneagles.
“It was nice to get back out there with them and deliver another point for Europe.”
It was a rallying call from McIlroy during the brief interval which set the tone, with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson first out and racing to five up through 11 holes.
“He said to me ‘Come on, put some blue on the board, give me something to chase or give me and Poulter something to chase’,” said Rose, who lost his morning fourballs alongside Jon Rahm to Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka.
Stars of the day were Open champion Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, who beat the USA’s premier pairing in both sessions.
They dispatched Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed 3&1 before returning to smash Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas 5&4.
“We enjoy playing together and obviously spending time together. He’s played amazing this morning and this afternoon,” said the Italian.
“I think we just combine really well.”
Woods looked a long way from replicating the form which saw him record his first victory in five years at Sunday’s Tour Championship amid suggestions he was struggling with back problems.
The 14-time major winner has battled back to fitness following spinal fusion surgery but the 42-year-old dismissed concerns about his health.
“I’ll be ready come tomorrow whenever the captain puts me out,” said the former world number one, who will in fact be playing fourballs with Reed against Molinari and Fleetwood again.
“I’m not going to work on anything. My game is fine. I was hammering it, the ball was going far, it was going straight, but it was not cutting.
“I can accept that, that’s really no big deal. My putting feels solid.”
America’s other veteran Phil Mickelson was surprisingly put out in foursomes alongside Bryson DeChambeau despite the 48-year-old struggling for form recently and they were thrashed 5&4 by Sergio Garcia and rookie Alex Noren, who at one point were seven up through nine holes.
“We played poorly on the front nine but they shot four-under. It was just some very impressive golf, and we just didn’t keep up,” said the left-hander.
“Even if we had played really well, it would have been tough to hang with them.
“But we’ve just got to regroup and come out sharp. We’ve got to come out and bring our best stuff.
“We know it’s going to be a fight until the end, and we’ve got a lot of points left.
“We’ve only played eight points so far, and we just need to bring our best stuff and we will.”