MEDINAH, Ill. • Luke Donald did his part, did exactly what Team Europe needed him to do. The methodical Englishman, who has held the No. 1 ranking in the world, batted leadoff for the visiting team Sunday at the Ryder Cup.
And with his team trailing 10-6, desperately needing fuel, Donald ran the table on American Bubba Watson to provide some. Donald went ahead 1-up with a par on the second hole and never gave up the lead.
Birdieing two of the first three holes on the back side, Donald went ahead 4-up with six holes to play. Watson made a spectacular chip-in on No. 16 to keep the match going, but Donald finally put Watson away with a fabulous bunker shot on No. 17, winning 2 and 1.
"I don't know what I would have done going down 18," Donald, 34, said. "The nerves were starting to build and Bubba was putting some serious pressure on me. He made some great birdies and the chip-in on 16 was unexpected. But in this game, you have to expect that."
Europe needed eight points from the 12 singles matches to overcome a 10-6 deficit and retain the Cup. To that end, they needed a fast start to build momentum and propel their players as the day wore on. Mission accomplished for Donald, who put the first point of the day on the board for Europe.
Moments later Paul Lawrie finished off Brandt Snedeker 5 and 3 to trim the U.S. lead to 10-8. Shortly thereafter, Rory McIlroy — the current world No. 1 — unplugged American lighting rod Keegan Bradley, winning 2 and 1 to make the overall score 10-9 with nine matches in progress.
A few minutes after that, European piston Ian Poulter closed a 2-up win over Webb Simpson, knotting the points standings 10-10. Donald had started a landslide.
"It's a big honor for me," said the subdued Donald. "Ollie had enough trust in me to go out and get that first point for Europe, that means a lot to go out first and lead the team, and I did what I had to do."
The Irishman McIlroy misinterpreted his Sunday tee time to be an hour later, or on Eastern time, and he nearly missed his start. Thanks to a police escort, he arrived at Medinah at 11:14, or 11 minutes before his 11:25 tee time.
"I was just casually walking out of my hotel room and got a phone call saying you've got 25 minutes until you tee off," McIlroy, 23, explained. "I've never been so worried driving to the golf course before. Luckily, there was a state trooper outside who kind of gave me the escort to get here.
"If it wasn't for him, I would not have got here on time. So I just ran into the clubhouse, got my shoes on and picked it up on the first tee."
Things certainly worked out well. McIlroy toppled U.S. poster boy Bradley to keep the European dominoes falling.
"It was probably a really good thing that I didn't have to think about it too much," said McIlroy, who finished the match-play competition 3-2 overall.
For the record, had he missed his time on the first tee altogether, McIlroy would have forfeited the hole. If he also arrived too late to the second tee, he would have been disqualified, forfeiting the match.
rose comes through
One of the more spectacular sequences of the tournament came in the Phil Mickelson-Justin Rose match. It began at No. 16 with Mickelson holding a 1-up lead. Rose made a 12-foot par putt to halve the hole and stay within one.
On 17, Mickelson nearly holed a chip to close out the match, grabbing his head in disbelief when the ball slid past the cup. Before Mickelson had time to calm down, Rose rolled in a 40-foot birdie bomb from the apron to tie the match. Even Mickelson applauded Rose's shot. Finally, on 18, after Mickelson missed the green, Rose drained one more 12-footer for birdie and the win, 1-up.
"One of the wise old vice-captains that we have on our team said this situation can prepare you to win majors," said Rose, who has not won a major yet. "The Ryder Cup is as big as it gets. And to play Phil, I mean he's a gentleman first and foremost, but he always seems to bring out the best in me."