SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The American crowd knew where it hurt Europe the most.
“We want Rory! We want Rory!” the fans shouted, mockingly, on the first tee box with the second day of the Ryder Cup about to begin.
But they knew he wasn't coming for that match. Some might say he never showed up at all.
Not even the rest afforded by an unheard-of Ryder Cup benching in the morning could turn things around for the former world No. 1. The cornerstone of so many European victories in the past came back to the course in the afternoon and dropped to 0-3 for the week.
“Obviously disappointing,” McIlroy said.
The four-time major champion was a non-factor in his pairing with Ian Poulter, which led to a 4-and-3 loss to Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa in their best-ball match. McIlroy's three losses are part of a disappointing Ryder Cup for the Europeans, who closed the day trailing 11-5, a deficit no team has ever overcome.
“We’re not in a good position and it’s going to take a beyond-monumental effort,” Poulter said. “So we need a couple of miracles.”
McIlroy, the player who averaged more birdies per round and drove the ball as far as anyone but Bryson DeChambeau in 2021, hasn't even made it to the 16th hole in any of his three losses at Whistling Straits. In his two best-ball matches, he has recorded exactly one under-par score — an eagle Friday on the par-5 fifth — over 30 holes.
McIlroy was paired in the final game Saturday with Poulter, and there was no understating the significance of that partnership.
Back in 2012 at Medinah, McIlroy played wingman for Poulter as he made five straight birdies down the stretch to pull out an improbable win that trimmed Europe's deficit to 10-6. Sparked by that momentum, Europe came back the next day in singles and won 14 1/2-13 1/2.
Nine years later, Poulter gave it his best. He made a 22-footer for birdie on No. 1 and a 28-footer on 5. He hit the stick on his approach on No. 10, and saved birdie from a bunker on No. 14.
But there was no such magic from his partner.
The “highlights” from McIlroy's round included the vision of him pretzeled into an awkward squat in the native area on No. 8, trying to get a club on a ball he had blocked deep off the fairway.
And him scratching his chin after watching his final, futile birdie attempt just miss on the 15th green.
It didn't help that he was going against Morikawa, who made five birdies and knocked shots close all day, even with the wind kicking up at Whistling Straits. Or that he also got paired against Johnson, who is 4-0 heading into the final day, and completely comfortable on a golf course where he nearly won the PGA back in 2010.
Then again, McIlroy was on the losing end to four different U.S. players on the first day, too: Tony Finau, Harris English, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay all got points at his expense.
“Disappointing not to contribute a point for the team yet,” McIlroy said. “So hopefully just go out tomorrow and try my best to get a point.”
His last chance comes Sunday, though as the sun went down Saturday on the latest chapter in the worst of his six trips to the Ryder Cup, it was already feeling too late.
With one match left to go, teammate Sergio Garcia was asked what he said to a team leader who has been struggling like he never has at this event.
“I told him the truth,” said Garcia. “I told him that not only me, but the whole team is proud of him no matter if he goes 5-0 or 0-5.”
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