By Tony Jimenez
GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) – Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia looked listless and flat against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker on Friday, but the Europeans did what great champions do in adversity.
The world numbers one and three appeared to be heading for their second defeat of the day, two down with two holes to go in the afternoon foursomes and with a partisan home crowd quietened almost to the point of silence.
Then, suddenly, and out of the European blue, McIlroy drilled in a 25-foot birdie putt at the 17th to bring the fans and the partnership to life.
Cries of ‘Europe, Europe, Europe’ rang around the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course and the pair celebrated with a delighted hug and a high-five.
McIlroy and Garcia still needed another big effort to snatch a precious half-point and again it seemed unlikely as the 25-year-old Northern Irishman produced a wild drive that ended up behind a tree in the right rough.
This time, though, it was Garcia who came to the rescue, bending a glorious five-wood approach from left to right to within 12 feet of the pin.
The two Americans could only find a greenside bunker and, after Fowler failed to convert his birdie attempt from 18 feet, McIlroy safely two-putted to prompt another deafening chorus of approval from the galleries.
“I think that Sergio Garcia’s and Rory McIlroy’s halve was as good as a win,” said Europe captain Paul McGinley with a beaming smile after the holders recovered a one-point deficit from the morning session to finish the day with a 5-3 lead.
“We have seen in Ryder Cups over the years how important momentum is and we showed real strength of character to respond to that American surge and get blue back on the board.”
McIlroy acknowledged that he and Garcia needed seriously to up their game over the closing holes.
“We were making life difficult for ourselves,” said the British Open and U.S. PGA champion. “That was the shot of the day there from Sergio.
“I don’t think we were playing from the fairway very much, but we wanted, at least, to ask them the question and make them play down 18.
“We had two tough matches today and at least we have a half point to show for it,” added McIlroy, referring to their last-hole morning defeat by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
Garcia said his spectacular approach shot at the 18th got him out of jail.
“I felt like I owed Rory a lot today,” said the Spaniard. “We fought hard as we knew we weren’t playing good.
“That half-point is huge for us.”
(Editing by Tim Collings)