Rory McIlroy was the last to arrive at the opening tee Saturday morning for his Ryder Cup match, prompting the pro-USA crowd in the grandstand to get the first “Snory Rory” chant going.
But this wasn’t the Northern Irishman’s delayed entrance of 2012 at Medinah golf course, the last time the Ryder Cup was held on US soil.
Four years after he slept in and needed a police escort to get to the tee box in Chicago on a Sunday, the four-time major winner has taken on a leadership role for Team Europe, which boasts six rookies on its roster this year.
The 27-year-old McIlroy — making his fourth Ryder Cup start after helping Europe to wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — blamed the time zone change between Europe and North America for his late arrival.
McIlroy and playing partner Thomas Pieters gave the US duo of Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson an early wake up call in alternate shot foursomes Saturday with back-to-back birdies on the first two holes.
American and European fans traded friendly barbs at the first tee ahead of the opening heavyweight foursome.
A big roar went up when assistant captain Bubba Watson made an early arrival by hopping up onto the raised tee box and boos echoed through the grandstand for the entrance of European assistant captain Ian Poulter.
Everybody was on the same page though with a hearty chant of “Arnold Palmer”, the golfing legend who died on Sunday.
The marquee group lived up to its billing early Saturday as both teams birdied the par-four opening hole.
Fowler stepped up first, draining a 30-foot birdie putt from almost the exact same spot on the first green that Europe’s Danny Willett made birdie on Friday.
Pieters answered with a 20-foot putt for birdie before putting a finger over his mouth to hush the crowd.
On the par-four second hole, McIlroy conceded a three-foot putt for par to the Americans then rolled in a 10-foot putt for birdie to give the Europeans their first lead of the day.
It was another indication that McIlroy has showed up at Hazeltine National in form as his game has carried over from last weekend’s US PGA Tour Championship in Georgia.
The world number three is coming off a victory at the Tour Championship that also earned him a $10 million playoff bonus.
Fowler sailed his approach on the third hole over the green leaving Mickelson with a tricky shot off the tee box on the fourth hole. Mickelson was up to the task though, chipping the ball to the edge of the green then rolling it close enough to the cup so they could save par.
Fowler and Mickelson ran into more trouble on the fourth when their ball landed in a greenside bunker. Fowler flubbed his sand shot missing the green entirely and then sheepishly blamed a photographer for distracting him during his swing.
© 2016 AFP
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