Ryder Cup 2023: Rory McIlroy the emperor of a dream team of Roman centurions

Ryder Cup 2023: Rory McIlroy the emperor of a dream team of Roman centurions

It’s coming Rome, said a single banner hanging over the grandstands at the first tee two hours before the final day singles of the Ryder Cup got under way.

In the end, it did comfortably but not without some nervy moments where an ever-reddening scoreboard looked in danger of extinguishing all the good work Europe had done in the previous two days.

Rory McIlroy turned from a car park brawler to Europe’s talisman, apparently inspired by the musings of the former Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius he declared afterwards.

McIlroy did not deliver the eventual knockout blow to the United States, instead that was reserved for his playing partner, the other half of Fleetwood Mac. On 16, Tommy Fleetwood ensured the Ryder Cup was Europe’s with at least a half point guaranteed from his match with Rickie Fowler. Others came into contention to be the player to make the result official before Fleetwood sealed it at 17.

In the aftermath, he declared his undying love in an embrace to Francesco Molinari, the other half of the Molliwood partnership who had won Europe their last cup in Paris five years earlier.

This time, the Molinari effect was still huge, but arguably from his lesser-known brother Edoardo, the stats man European captain Luke Donald had leant on so heavily in deciding his approach to the foursome and fourball pairings, Fleetwood Mac included. It was a masterstroke and Donald deserves credit for being the latest European captain fantastic. His captains’ picks paid off, his rookies held their own and his pairings made a star-studded American line-up look distinctly ordinary.

He even seemed to get the tone just right in response to McIlroy getting embroiled in his Saturday night spat, which briefly threatened to derail all the work already done. Instead, it had a galvanising effect.

In contrast, Zach Johnson’s men, Max Homa and Patrick Cantlay aside, failed to spark into life until the singles which proved too late, and there will surely be recriminations despite the positive take from the Stars and Stripes in the aftermath.

It once again highlighted the difficultly of winning a Ryder Cup away from home, meaning Europe will have won every home tie from 1993 until their next home event in 2027.

It was apt that the standout players over the weekend — Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm, McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Fleetwood — were among those who gave them the singles points required to win.

The day began to the backdrop of drama after a row on the 18th the previous night when McIlroy’s clash with Cantlay’s caddie, Joe LaCava, spilled out into a car park.

Following his singles win over Sam Burns, McIlroy said the issue had not just inspired him but also his 11 team-mates. “I needed that to fuel me today,” he said. “I felt like I used it to my advantage. I came out here with a different level of focus and determination. I think in a way it… lit fire for the team.”

McIlroy broke down in tears on the 17th, as did Donald in an emotional finale. Donald said: “The US put up a fight today. We kept looking at the board and thinking where are we going to find 14-and-a-half points?”

McIlroy broke down in tears on the 17th on a dramatic weekend of Ryder Cup action (REUTERS)
McIlroy broke down in tears on the 17th on a dramatic weekend of Ryder Cup action (REUTERS)

In the end, it came from a litany of places. From the stars but also some of the lesser lights, too, such as Robert MacIntyre and Shane Lowry, who had not always necessarily been at the forefront of the earlier dominance.

Donald had insisted winning the Ryder Cup was about the sum of a team’s parts and all 12 of his players duly delivered at different points.

Despite that, McIlroy was immense in winning against Burns 3&1 with a round of eight-under par, during which he did not drop a shot. Hovland’s six-under in dismantling Collin Morikawa 4&3 was only marginally less impressive.

The US had needed something beyond the Miracle of Medinah of 2012 to pull off the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history. It never quite materialised.

The trophy presentation ceremony ended with Donald’s players chanting “two more years”, and tellingly he did not dismiss the idea.

Europe have been loath to take that approach in more recent times but many of the candidates are still termed persona non grata — Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson among the LIV rebels.

Whether it is Donald or someone else who has the unenviable challenge of silencing a crowd of New Yorkers in 2025 remains to be seen.

For all the acrimony of Saturday night, the players from both sides were akin to boxers having battered each other relentlessly, now hugging one and other as though lifetime friends.

As Cantlay passed the It’s Coming Rome sign on his way out, spectators doffed their caps to him once more. He returned the favour, with that the theatre of the past few days at an end.