• Ryder Cup

McIlroy succeeds where Tiger couldn't - putting No.1 second

Alex Perry at Gleneagles
September 28, 2014
It might just be "an exhibition", but Rory McIlroy has embraced the Ryder Cup a way Tiger Woods never could © PA Photos

Spot the difference: "The Ryder Cup is a great spectacle but an exhibition at the end of the day and it's not that important to me."

And: "I was probably more up for this than the last day at the two majors I won this year."

Both sentences were muttered by Rory McIlroy; the first some 18 months before his Ryder Cup debut at Celtic Manor in 2010, the second just shy of 3pm on Sunday September 28, 2014, having just trounced season-long rival Rickie Fowler in the singles at Gleneagles.

It was elementary, Watson

Phil Mickelson spoke during an awkward press conference © Getty Images
  • While the champagne flowed for Team Europe, American veteran Phil Mickelson refused to mince his words on captain Tom Watson's performance.

    Click here for the full story

Of course, McIlroy was very quick to laugh off the initial comment, dismissing it as mere naivety. But the world No.1 has embraced the competition like the fans who show up in their tens of thousands where, for one week only, they get to cheer on their golfing heroes as one.

McIlroy makes no secret that, like many of his peers, he grew up idolising Tiger Woods - a man who, at best, seems nonplussed by golf's premier team competition.

But one must assume someone had a word in McIlroy's ear. Perhaps, Rory, don't try and emulate everything about Woods, one would hope they said.

All was forgiven at the 2010 event when, in his debut, McIlroy contributed three points from a possible four as Europe regained the Samuel Ryder trophy they had lost two years previously in car-crash fashion.

Three from five were added during the Miracle at Medinah and, in the past three days, McIlroy's win-loss-halve record reads 2-1-2, taking it to a career total 6-4-4.

Compare that to Woods' record of 13-17-3. Woods has been part of just one Ryder Cup-winning team - back in 1999. (He missed out in 2008.) McIlroy has now won three from three.

McIlroy was in a delicious mood on Sunday, tearing Rickie Fowler apart 5&4.

He started birdie-eagle-birdie to move 3-up inside three holes. Further gains at five and six saw him to 5-up before Fowler started to show a little resistance. But it was too little too late and by the time they reached the 14th green, McIlroy was 8-under par to set up a record-equalling Ryder Cup singles win for a European player.

As Jamie Donaldson's pinpoint iron shot into the par-4 15th confirmed victory for Europe, McIlroy became the first player since this week's US captain, Tom Watson, to win two majors and the Ryder Cup in the same year.

The Ryder Cup has the ability to embellish or tarnish a player's reputation. Just ask Woods, Nick Faldo, Ian Poulter, or Paul Azinger for a start.

McIlroy has made the right choice in embracing the Ryder Cup - something Woods could never do. And that, it seems, puts McIlroy 1-up.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd