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Kentucky and Old Country Traditions Converge in Valhalla

Rory McIlroy’s victory in darkness at the 2014 PGA Championship in Valhalla Golf Club, resisting the rallies of local favorites Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in a rain-delayed final round, was the Northern Irishman’s last win in a major. However, it was not the last time nor the first time someone from the Old Country left an imprint in Valhalla and Kentucky.

LOUISVILLE, KY – AUGUST 10: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with the Wanamaker Trophy during the Award Ceremony for the 96th PGA Championship, at Valhalla Golf Club, on August 10, 2014 in Louisville, KY. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Limestone: Kentucky’s Heritage

“We have exposed limestone throughout the golf course, and we are pretty much in the heart of limestone,” said Jimmy Kirchdorfer, General Chairman of Valhalla Golf Club. “That is the reason the early settlers decided to raise horses and have the whisky industry here. Limestone is the key to our Kentucky heritage. ”Limestone is the foundation of Valhalla and most Kentucky traditions, from bluegrass (both the plant and the music), to horses and bourbon. “It imbues the water with important minerals that are consumed by the yeast during the fermentation process. Then it filters the water and removes iron, which will interact with the components in the oak barrel and discolor the bourbon,” explained Dubliner Conor O’Driscoll, the seventh Master Distiller in Heaven Hill Distillery. “If you look at our portfolio, Henry McKenna, was an Irishman, Evan Williams was a Welshman. It was the Irish and the Scots who brought whiskey to America. Of course, the Irish invented it… or so they affirm,” said for the craic (jokingly in Irish or Scottish) O’Driscoll, the druid also behind the blending of Elijah Craig, a name associated with the invention of bourbon.

Fine Whiskey from Kentucky (Photo by Visit Kentucky)

The Ryder Cup at Valhalla

Coinciding with the anniversary of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, O’Driscoll met his wife around 25 years ago at the Kentucky Derby, another melting pot of international influences in the Bluegrass State, including some winningest riders from Mexico and Puerto Rico. “I went to the Kentucky Derby and that’s when it all kind of came together, the event was very international,” said Englishman Josh Webber, part of the groundcrew during the 2008 Ryder Cup and the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. “The Derby was a fantastic experience. I went to the horse race and never saw a horse. We were in the infield partying,” added Irishman Paul O’Donoghue.

The famous Kentuck Derby (Photo by Visit Kentucky)

Webber and O’Donoghue were the only Europeans under Superintendent Mark Wilson’s orders during the memorable Ryder Cup at Valhalla. “When I was mowing greens, I had the European flag wrapped around my shoulders and I wore a crown”, remembered Webber. “We always had the European flag flying and Mark went and bought 200 American flags for the rest of the team,” O’Donohue recalled.

Webber and O’Donoghue at the Ryder Cup 2008 (Photo by PGA of America)

Both then young men from the Old Country in Kentucky –now superintendents in Southern England and The Netherlands—treasure the memories of their time in Valhalla and the “massive similarities between the soil in the Islands and Kentucky,” even the whiskey, the grass, and the music. “Except for one or two places, Ireland is mainly limestone, which gives you the green”, explained O’Donohue. “The only reason we call it bluegrass in Kentucky is because when it is hot it turns blue”, added the Irish superintendent about the origin of the name of the grass and the Bluegrass genre, derived from traditional Scottish, Irish, and English music. Bluegrass songs about family, horses, bourbon, and even limestone played in the background during the time Webber and O’Donohue spent under the wing of Kentucky Golf Hall of Famer Mark Wilson in Valhalla Golf Club. “Being part of the building of Valhalla put the wind on my back and launched me downhill,” said Wilson, who started his career in the seventies along with the first class of formally educated superintendents in the country.

Mark Wilson at the Ryder Cup 2008 (Photo by PGA of America)

Epic finishes in Kentucky

“For 22 years I mowed the bent grass fairways of Valhalla with green mowers and cut the clippings. And every winter we had to extent the site and the venue,” said now-retired Wilson, privileged witness of one Ryder Cup and three PGA Championships in Valhalla. “We were fortunate to have epic and historic finishes. I remember all of them,” said Kirchdorfer. “Tiger beating Bob May in a playoff in 2000 was spectacular,” he remembers about Tiger Woods’ victory, the first time since 1953 (Ben Hogan) that a player had won three major championships in the same calendar year. “The 2008 Ryder Cup, when the US was struggling to win until the end and we had two players from Kentucky, Kenny Perry and JB Holmes, was very special. A lot of people from Kentucky would say it was the best sporting event they have ever been to,” said Kirchdorfer.

“Valhalla is fantastic. It always seems to provide a very exciting finish in these championships. I watched the 2000 PGA here when Tiger won against Bob May, and I was sitting at home watching the Ryder Cup, as well. It seems like it always provides a great finish,” said McIlroy after winning his fourth major in Valhalla at 25 years of age. A decade later, two weeks after the 150 th Kentucky Derby, and on the 25 th Anniversary of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Rory McIlory, from the Old Country, could break the spell and win his fifth major at the 106 th PGA Championship in Valhalla Golf Club. “I had a great time here and hopefully I am going to come back one day to Valhalla and try and win this thing again,” were some of his last words in 2014 before departing Kentucky with the Wannamaker Trophy.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland hits his tee shot on 18 during the Final Round of the 96th PGA Championship, at Valhalla Golf Club, on August 10, 2014 in Louisville, KY. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Emotions, triumphs and tears: The memorable golf year 2023

The year 2023 in golf was characterized by personal stories that went beyond the competition. From the joy of the birth of Brooks Koepka’s first son to the moving success of Camilo Villegas after the tragic loss of his daughter, golf revealed its human and compassionate side this year. Let’s dive into the most emotional moments that shaped the golf year 2023.

Cheers on one side, tears on the other – The Ryder Cup 2023 in Rome

The 2023 Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club just outside Rome was not only the athletic but also the emotional highlight of the year. Hundreds of thousands of fans created a breathtaking atmosphere and cheered the European team on to a magnificent victory. Shane Lowry was infected by the atmosphere and celebrated a chip-in from Viktor Hovland on the first hole of the tournament as emotionally as the victory itself.

The incomparable atmosphere was also palpable with a putt from Justin Rose. The Englishman held his nerve during his fourball match on the first day and converted an important putt on the 18th green to level the match. This goosebump moment is one of the situations for which Rose received the Nicklaus Jacklin for his sportsmanship.

The Europeans had to wait a long time for the decisive point, despite their superiority. In the end, it was Tommy Fleetwood who put up 2 on hole 16 in his match and was thus unable to lose to Rickie Fowler. He secured the decisive half point for his team. It was the USA’s seventh defeat in a row on European soil. The often favored team has not won an away game since 1993. In the end, there was no stopping the fans and players and a night of partying began that would not end until the early hours of the morning.

As good as the victory was for the Europeans, the Ryder Cup experience was a bitter one for the Americans. With the Europeans holding a huge lead on the first day, the pressure was on the American players. When the Scandinavians Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg then demolished the US stars Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka in the third session on Saturday morning, the dams burst. In the highest Foursome victory in the history of the traditional continental tournament, the duel was decided after just eleven holes with a nine-stroke lead. The severe humiliation was particularly hard on superstar Scheffler, who could no longer hold back his tears afterwards and had to be comforted by his wife Meredith.

Even after the Ryder Cup, there were both happy and tragic events. Firstly, Patrick Cantlay took advantage of the trip to the eternal city and married his partner Nikki Guidish after the tournament. Just one day later, a major fire broke out on the grounds of the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, burning down the entire hospitality tent.

New additions to the Koepka family

But let’s get back to more pleasant topics. For example, the birth of little Crew Koepka, the first baby of five-time major winner Brooks Koepka and his wife Jena Sims. The couple welcomed their son on July 27, six weeks before the actual due date. However, both mother and son were well up, so that Brooks Koepka was back on the golf course just one week after the birth.

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The most emotional victories of the year

Many different players have managed to win a tournament this year. Some won a professional event for the first time ever, others added more trophies to their collection. However, two victories are particularly memorable as they touched us deeply. At the beginning of November, Erik van Rooyen won only the second tournament in his ten-year professional career and dedicated the victory to his friend Jon Trasamar, who is suffering from cancer. “You imagine being full of euphoria and just ecstatic, but I was just numb,” the AP agency quoted van Rooyen as saying. The South African then decided not to take part in the remaining Fall Series tournaments and spent the time with his sick friend.

Just one week after van Rooyen’s victory, the Colombian Camilo Villegas celebrated a similarly emotional triumph. Villegas lost his daughter Mia in 2020 at the age of just 22 months. Little Mia suffered from a severe brain and spinal tumor. Villegas returned to the tour a month later. “Mia is not here with us physically, but she will remain in our hearts forever,” said the Colombian in an emotional interview that day.

More than three years later, Villegas won again on the PGA Tour for the first time since the death of his daughter. It was the Colombian’s fifth title on the tour. However, his last victory was nine years ago. “It’s hard to put into words right now,” he said during the interview shortly after the last putt. “What a rollercoaster ride! I love this game. This game has given me so many good things and in between it kicks your butt.” Villegas had repeatedly lost his Tour card in recent years and also only got eleven starts on the PGA Tour this season. “I’ve got my little girl up there watching,” he remembered Mia. Villegas and his wife have been parents for the second time since December 2022.

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Luke Donald Named 2025 European Ryder Cup Captain

Luke Donald has been named as the European Captain for the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black in New York.
The 45 year old Englishman returns to the role having led Europe to a 16½ – 11½ victory against the United States in the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy, earlier this year.

Luke Donald takes on second Ryder Cup Captaincy

He will become Europe’s first repeat Captain since Bernard Gallacher performed the role in three consecutive Ryder Cups, in 1991, 1993 and 1995.  
Donald will be aiming to become only the second Captain to lead Europe to victories both home and away, following Tony Jacklin who achieved the double at Muirfield Village in Ohio in 1987, retaining the Ryder Cup following his team’s victory two years previously at The Belfry, in England, in 1985.
Donald said: “I’m delighted and honoured to have been given the chance to lead Team Europe in the Ryder Cup once again. Great opportunities don’t come along very often in life and I’m a great believer that when they do, you need to grab them with both hands – this is one of these moments.
“I’ve been fortunate as a player to have had many amazing times in the Ryder Cup over the years and so to add being a winning Captain to that, to form bonds with the 12 players like we did in Italy and to get the result we did, was very special indeed.
“The Ryder Cup means so much to me, so to be Captain again and have the chance to create more history by becoming only the second European Captain to win back-to-back is exciting.

Luke Donal will be European Ryder Cup Captain at Bethpage Black

“There is no question that being a Captain away from home is a tough task. But I have never shied away from challenges throughout my career and it is precisely the kind of thing that motivates me. I can’t wait to get another 12-strong team to Bethpage in 2025.”
Guy Kinnings, Executive Director – Ryder Cup, said: “Luke was a superb Captain in Rome and we are delighted that he will be returning to the role for the 2025 Ryder Cup in New York.
“He demonstrated clear, calm and meticulous leadership skills in Rome, and all those qualities will be big assets again for Luke and Team Europe as they take on the considerable challenge of trying to retain the Ryder Cup against a strong US Team backed by passionate support in New York.”
Donald featured as a player in the last European Team to win on American soil at Medinah Country Club in 2012 when he led José María Olazábal’s side out in the singles, securing the first blue point on the board in one of the most famous comebacks in the history of the biennial contest.
In total, he represented Europe in the Ryder Cup four times as a player, being part of a winning team on all four occasions, contributing 10½ points from his 15 matches.
He then served as a Vice Captain in 2018, under Thomas Bjørn, and Pádraig Harrington in 2021, before becoming Captain for the first time at the 2023 contest in Rome.
Donald also has an impressive in individual playing career having been World Number One for a total of 56 weeks, while in 2011 he became the first player in history to top the money lists on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour) and the PGA TOUR in the same year.

(Text: Ryder Cup Europe)

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Ryder Cup 2023: Bunker Magic from Tommy Fleetwood

Tommy Fleetwood once again proves to be a chipping master. In the singles matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup, the Englishman turned the match against Rickie Fowler, which had been tied until then, into a lead for Europe on hole 9. He holed out of the bunker on the par 4 for a birdie and won the hole.

Ryder Cup 2023: Video of Tommy Fleetwood’s bunker shot

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Ryder Cup 2023: Cantlay uses the rough crowd as fuel

Patrick Cantlay and Wyndham Clark decide the last match of the day against Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick on the 18th hole for themselves. With strong nerves Cantlay putted the American team to victory in this match. The day was accompanied by rumors about his missing hat and possible money demands in Team USA. Cantlay now said, “the hat just doesn’t fit me, it’s as simple as that”.

Patrick Cantlay at the Ryder Cup 2023: “We use the rough crowd as fuel”

Q. How clutch was that for you?

PATRICK CANTLAY: Hopefully have a ray of light and we can build on this session and try and pull off a big victory tomorrow.

Q. What was it like playing with this guy in this atmosphere?

WYNDHAM CLARK: Well, I told him, I said, I lose my money games all the time so I hope he can go out and make birdies and beat me like a money game. Coming down the stretch, he showed why he’s the best in the world.

Q. Hat gate has stormed into Italy from the United States. First of all why aren’t you wearing a hat?

PATRICK CANTLAY: It just doesn’t fit. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t wear it at Whistling Straits because the hat just doesn’t fit, so that’s really all it is?

Q. We talked to Sam Burns a little bit earlier about the crowd roughing him up a little bit about his mullet and got on you about the hat as well. Does that feed positive energy from your way when you’re getting it from a road crowd and giving it back to them, just a little bit, how much fun are you actually having?

PATRICK CANTLAY: I was smiling every day. I told him walking to the first tee, use it as fuel and we did all day.

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Ryder Cup 2023: MacIntyre and Rose with impressive points win

Robert MacIntyre and Justin Rose won their match against the veteran team of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth on Saturday afternoon. They were certainly considered the underdogs. But they did not let that show for a second. Rose proved that he was made for the Ryder Cup and MacIntyre shone towards the end of the match. The next point win for Team Europe at the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome.

See the full leaderboard of the Ryder Cup 2023

Saturday afternoon in the 2023 Ryder Cup for Rose and MacIntyre

You put your heart and soul trying to make this Ryder Cup, and half a point alongside this fellow yesterday and a full point today, describe your emotions?

Robert MacIntyre: It’s been brilliant. Today is everything I’ve dreamed of. I worked hard for it. Yesterday felt like I let Justin down a little bit but he stood up to the challenge and today he was brilliant again and thankfully I helped him out.

That match was tidy into the back nine. I’m sure you should have been using your experience to give him a pep talk. What were you saying?

Justin Rose: I just knew there was a huge opportunity today. I feel like we got our nose just in front there, obviously 9 and 10, we went 1 up and I just felt like when they both missed the fairway at 12, I felt like it was 20 minutes — I said to Bobby, the next 20 minutes, we have to putt our foot down and get out and get a stranglehold on this match. That’s exactly what happened. We both let them off the hook there at No. 12 which I kind of — at that point, because these two are slippery, do you know what I mean; they are very tough to beat. Bobby made that great birdie on the par 3, and the up-and-down at 15, I was barking at him all the way the last few holes, we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that. We absolutely did exactly what we needed to do and we were the strong pairing.

Two or three clutch moments there. Describe what goes through your mind and what through your body when you’re standing over a putt to halve a hole that’s absolutely crucial?

Robert MacIntyre: Well, there’s a lot of nerves. But you’ve got to embrace them. I’ve had it before, never in this magnitude but I just knew what to do. I was actually happy when I got to that bunker shot and it was plugged because I knew I could get an 8 on it. A lot of people would have been worried about it but I just said to Greg, you know what, it’s better than being plugged in that bunker. You’ve just got to trust what you do, and to have a guy like Justin beside to you kind of guide you is massive

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Ryder Cup 2023: Max Homa and Brian Harman Win First Match for Team USA

Max Homa and Brian Harman secured the first full point for Team USA in their 2023 Ryder Cup match against Sepp Straka and Shane Lowry. While both Teams were on equal footing on the front nine, Harman and Homa gained the upper hand on the back nine with two birdies and an eagle in a row.

Max Homa and Brian Harman at the Ryder Cup 2023

Q. Many congratulations, the first full point for Team USA. How big, how special does this moment feel?

MAX HOMA: It’s good. We needed something to go our way. I felt like we were ready this morning. We were ready to come out and play some great golf which we did. Somebody had to start a spark, so I’m just glad it was us.

Q. How fired up were you?

BRIAN HARMAN: Yeah, Ludvig has been playing so well, making so many putts, chipping in, so it was good to come out and at least put red up on the board.

Q. Describe the vibe in the U.S. camp? What was the intensity level heading out?

MAX HOMA: Great. We know how good we are. Everybody knows how good the man to my left is. We obviously are in a big hole but we have the right guys to dig ourselves out of it.

Q. Can this give the team the spark you need?

BRIAN HARMAN: Hope so. We are going to rest up and get ready for this afternoon.

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Ryder Cup 2023: How Seve Inspired Jon Rahm’s Two Eagles

Jon Rahm and Nicolai Hojgaard battled Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Kopeka in the fourballs at the 2023 Ryder Cup. Despite eight birdies and two eagles, the Europeans only got half a point out of the incredible match, that had more than one highlight.

Jon Rahm and Nicolai Hojgaard at the 2023 Ryder Cup

Q. Many, many congratulations on an incredible match. You chipped in at 16 to make eagle at the last. How is it possible for you guys to produce these kind of things under this sort of pressure?

JON RAHM: I don’t know. I don’t know. You know, it’s the intention of the moment, right, and then the fact that something happens is truly unique. I’ve got to give Nicolai props because over here on 18, he gave me the freedom to basically go at it, and he told me to hit a putt, try to make it. And he said, “What would Seve do,” right, “do it for Seve.” I don’t know if he would have quite made it like that, but I’m sure glad that it went in.

Q. Your first experience at Ryder Cup, just describe that experience from your point of view, obviously playing with the world No. 3 in a match that was incredibly thrilling?

NICOLAI HØJGAARD: Yeah, it was a good match out there today. We hung in there on the front nine, played some good golf, Rahmbo took over the last few holes. Yeah, it’s pretty cool to share the stage with Rahmbo. He’s a great player, great person, and yeah, it’s a special week so far.

Q. How I am interprets pressed with your rookie Ryder Cup here, different type of pressure and you’ve handled it so beautifully?

JON RAHM: We wouldn’t have had a chance if it wasn’t for him on the front nine. I got that up-and-down on 5, which he might have made it himself and kind of road his back the rest of the front nine, his four birdies, and the chances I had, I didn’t really take advantage of.

I mean, he says I took over, but he did his part, right. He made the crucial shots when he needed to and to give us a chance. It’s a partnership and he did 50 per cent and I tried to do my part on the last 50 per cent.

Q. What’s it like to be part of that team room? The atmosphere is incredible, I’m sure?

NICOLAI HØJGAARD: Yeah, it is. I love team golf. I’ve played it my whole life, and to be part of this, the best golf event, being part of Team Europe, being part of these great players and great guys, it’s very special. I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.

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Ryder Cup 2023: Viktor Hovland and Tyrrel Hatton Deliver Incredible Finish

In a tight match at the 2023 Ryder Cup against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland and Tyrrell Hatton secured half a point, after going 2 Down on the back nine. They were paired together on Friday afternoon in the fourballs.

Tyrrell Hatton and Viktor Hovland at the 2023 Ryder Cup

Q. Try to describe for us what goes through your mind and your body when you hole such a crucial putt on the 18th in front of this enormous crowd?

VIKTOR HOVLAND: It was about time the ball went in. I felt like we played some really good golf today, and the Americans played some great golf as well and they kept pushing us and yeah, — to make a putt like that on the last hole that was huge for the team.

Q. 2 DOWN and five to play; Tyrrell, how deep did you have to dig against such a formidable pairing? They have never been beaten in four-ball.

TYRRELL HATTON: Yeah, it was always going to be a tough task. But we both played great today. And like he said, it was nice to finally see a putt go in there on the last. It was a tough match but we just kept plugging away, gave ourselves opportunities and yeah, ultimately by the end we’re happy with half a point.

VIKTOR HOVLAND: I thought one of us needed to make the putt and to make that one was really cool. Put a little bit more pressure on J.T. there.

Q. Both of you won your matches this morning. How much does it mean to still contribute something this afternoon?

TYRRELL HATTON: Yeah, the team went out this afternoon in a good mood. Although we found ourselves 2 DOWN through, what is it, 13? We feel like we played decent and putts weren’t really dropping for us.

So yeah, obviously Viktor to hole the putt on the last was amazing. I think I almost corkscrewed into the ground fist-pumping. Yeah, they might need to prepare that one before anyone has that putt.

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Ryder Cup 2023: Tommy Fleetwood: “Playing with Rory McIlroy is a dream for anybody”

Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood kept the momentum going and completed the European clean sweep in the Friday Foursomes at the 2023 Ryder Cup. The finished their match against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay 2&1, after the Americans gave them a fight on the final holes.

Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood at the Ryder Cup 2023

Q. Rory, you’ve just beaten a pair that were previously 5-0 in foursomes play to complete a clean sweep for Europe. How special is this moment?

RORY McILROY: It’s been an unbelievable session. We switched the format this year to go foursomes first because statistically that’s our better session. And all week, all we’ve been talking about is getting off to fast starts. Playing three-hole matches in practise, three holes, go again, three holes, go again, something that Luke’s drilled into us. We were ready to go from the first tee shot as obviously as you can see in how everyone played.

I’m so proud of this man alongside me. He can play with anyone. I’m just so happy that he’s my partner this week and so happy to get a point on the board for Europe.

Q. There are always turning points and you’re playing 15, looked like you were going to lose it. You turned it into a victory. The adrenaline rush when the putt went in?

TOMMY FLEETWOOD: Waiting for a moment like that all today to be honest. Especially the start of the back nine where we were playing so well, I felt like I had two or three chances that I let go by. So I kept them in it, really. You’re not going to hole more unless you have a really good day.

Was due one. Felt really good over it. It’s just one of those Ryder Cup moments, really, and that’s what we’re playing for. It’s really cool. Rory is an unbelievable golfer.

Q. Talk us through that shot, the match was very tense, 1 up, two holes to play. Magnificent shot you hit. Tell us about your point of view?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, if anything, my poor shot recently has been a right shot. So I kept it simple: Keep a strong clubface going back, and fully release it on the way through, aim at the target and it never left the flag.

Q. That was the closest of four, you just pulled out the fourth straight blue point. You spoke about how determined you are to play differently and perform differently as a team as you did at Whistling Straits. How satisfying is this morning’s performance?

RORY McILROY: Amazing to sweep a session. I can’t remember the last time Europe has done that. We can’t get complacent at all. This is an unbelievably long American Team. Last week the American girls went up 4-0 in the first session there and Europe were able to come back, so we are not taking anything for granted here. It’s a great start but we need to keep our foot on the pedal and keep winning points.

Q. You’re undefeated in foursomes the in the Ryder Cup. How does Fleetwood Mac compare to Mollywood?

TOMMY FLEETWOOD: Just keep picking your partners, that’s the secret. Obviously playing with Rory is a dream for anybody, and I was the one that got to do that this morning.

Yeah, we’ve known we are going to play together for a while and just getting out there, felt like we actually played very, very good and felt like we were in control all the way. Obviously there are turning points and we needed one towards the end but yeah, just pleased to play with another great partner.

Q. Xander and Patrick were doing everything they could to get a halve, how clutch was your response on the tee at 17?

RORY McILROY: I have hit a lot of good shots in my time. That’s right up there. I didn’t know how close Patrick had hit his but I just wanted to give Tommy a chance to at least stay 1 UP going down the last. I was pretty certain we weren’t going to go down the last, but if I keep hitting iron shots like that, then I’m going to have a pretty good week.