NEWPORT, Wales – After removing any doubt whether the first pairing of golfers from Northern Ireland would notch a full point in Ryder Cup play, the next matter of business for Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy was sorting out nicknames.
Less than an hour after knocking off the U.S. duo of Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan in foursomes, McDowell was asked whether he preferred to be called “G Mac” or “Big Mac.”
“I know I could do with shedding a few pounds,” he laughed, “but I’ll definitely stick with G Mac.”
“I guess,” McIlroy said, anticipating the next question, “that makes me Wee Mac.”
Their win in the second foursomes (alternate-shot) match completed by mid-afternoon Sunday brought Europe even at 6-6. The two ham-and-egged so well en route to the 3-and-1 victory that when McIlroy’s microphone in the interview room cut out, he simply reached over and pulled McDowell’s closer.
“Sharing everything else this week,” the 21-year-old rising star quipped. “May as well share a microphone.”
Thanks to birdie putts by McIlroy at the 13th and 17th holes, the Northern Ireland pair made a late comeback to halve their opening fourball (better-ball) match against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar. In the following foursomes match against the same U.S. pair, they were beaten 1 up when Cink rolled in a 30-foot birdie at the 17th and McIlroy failed to convert his from just 8 feet.
They faced another crucial juncture on Sunday at the 15th, a short par-4 reachable with driver off the tee. The Americans had already cobbled together a birdie and McDowell needed to match it from 12 feet to retain the momentum.
“This guy,” said McDowell, the U.S. Open champion, with a nod toward his partner, “hit a fabulous pitch shot to even give me that opportunity.
“I wasn’t supposed to miss that flag left but I did,” he added, sheepishly. “So, yeah, it was a big putt.”
Even so, the Americans made one more run at the 16th, when Johnson rolled in an improbable 30-footer for birdie to climb back to within 2 up. For a moment, both McDowell and McIlroy flashed back to the late charges by the Yanks that kept them from claiming a full point.
“Stewart Cink beat us up with the putter in the first two matches, and it looked like Zach Johnson was trying to do the same,” McDowell said.
But he poured cold water on any chance of a third comeback by sticking his tee shot at the 211-yard, par 3 17th just 20 feet past the flag. When Johnson’s pitch for birdie slid by the flag, all the European duo needed was a two-putt to lock up a tie. Instead, McIlroy closed with a flourish by making the birdie.
“To get that first win under my belt in The Ryder Cup is fantastic, and to do it alongside this guy is even more special,” McIlroy said. “He’s been great for me this week. He’s made my life a lot easier.”
McDowell said the two friends have been talking about forming a Ryder Cup partnership for “a couple of years now. We have spent a lot of time together and we have been joking around about winning Ryder Cup points. I think we both realize now – I certainly found out two years ago – how difficult winning a point is in this tournament and we certainly experienced that the last couple of days.
“I’m going to miss him tomorrow,” McDowell said, referring to Monday’s singles matches, “but I know he’ll be doing his job and I’ll be doing mine. It’s been great. It’s been everything we imagined it could be.”