An angry Rory McIlroy in a car park change after the Ryder Cup lit up on day two
On a scorching hot day in Rome, the scoreboard finally turned red and with it, the Ryder Cup lit up.
The trigger that set off a chain of events that turned America’s Patrick Cantlay into a pantomime speaker was a strange piece of news. First, he was booed hysterically by thousands of fans as he walked down the 16th fairway, then it led to members of both teams exchanging angry words on the 18th green, finishing with Rory McIlroy swearing wildly and having to be restrained by his teammate Shane. Lowry, everyone.
The story broke around lunchtime that Cantlay was not wearing a Team USA cap on the course as a form of silent protest against the lack of pay for Ryder Cup players. Cantlay denied it vehemently afterwards, but not before European fans took the opportunity to grab every hole by shouting: “Where’s your hat, Patty?”
As his delicate chip ran painfully past the cup on the fourth green, a voice called out from up on the hill: “You want money for that?” The fun and snow spread across the Marco Simone Golf Club until, by the time he reached the 16th, a large line of spectators were waving their hats in the air as if they were saying goodbye to the Titanic, singing “hats off, to your bank account” as he walked down the aisle. After keeping a poker face for much of the day, he finally broke into a smile.
But Cantlay was clearly angry, and when he coolly sank a long putt on the 18th green, he was quick to put an imaginary hat on the fans’ side. His caddy, Joe LaCava, took the celebration a step further, waving his hat around wildly to elicit angry boos. McIlroy was trying to stretch his own putt, and he looked at LaCava, who retired. Lowry and other European teammates who were watching were angry, yelling at LaCava to show some respect.
“When Patrick made that putt, Joe was shaking his hat,” said European captain Luke Donald. “Rory politely asked Joe to move aside, he was in his line of sight. He stayed and put the hat on and I think Rory was upset by that.”
McIlroy and teammate Matt Fitzpatrick lost their points to secure the much-needed point for the US, and among the post-match handshakes were words exchanged. First between McIlroy and LaCava, and then between Lowry, Justin Rose and the caddy coming on fire. Caddies are supposed to protect their player at all costs and it was hard to tell if LaCava had taken the heat off Chantlay or just turned it up.
That was not the end. Later, Lowry was filmed blocking McIlroy in an angry exchange outside the clubhouse with another American caddy, Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay. McIlroy was seen pointing and swearing at someone off camera.
Asked about the video of an angry McIlroy, Donald said: “Rory is a passionate player, I’ll talk to him later about it.”
After the match, McIlroy had said that fights on the 18th green would not only add to his desire to succeed on Sunday. “They actually had a good finish and Patrick made three good putts at the end to seal the deal, so hats off to them. They played a good game, yes, a few looks there on 18 and just fuel for the fire tomorrow.”
Cantlay was peppered with questions at an awkward press conference, but declined to comment on his caddy’s behavior. “He’s the best,” he said of LaCava. “That’s all there is to say.”
Unsurprisingly, tensions spilled over into conflict in an ever-present emotional conflict. In 30C heat, on a golf course where some fans had been drinking all day, there were bound to be flashpoints, with McIlroy’s tough contest against Cantlay the most likely sight. ever.
There were four matches going on during the evening, but apparently half the Italian population was walking by this one. Captains and vice-captains, friends and family of players, glamorous wives carrying them around. Marshals with bibs, police officers with guns, photographers and journalists and radio broadcasters whispering into microphones. Niall Horan. Justin Timberlake. Patrick Jones from Dragons’ Den. An endless stream of well-dressed Italians who were apparently friends of fashion designer and course owner Lavinia Biagiotti.
The match featured world No5 Cantlay, US Open champion Wyndham Clark and former US Open champion Fitzpatrick, but this was The Rory Show, a traveling circus that revolved around him doing a few shows single person As on the fourth green, when fans filled the stands and a steep bank created a small amphitheater. Silence descended and the only sound was McIlroy’s legs kicking around his birdie putt. He did, pumping his fist and leaving through a small tunnel to “Deaf Rory!” sing He put Europe one up.
Like his tee shot on the par-four fifth that began a mission to block the sun. “Good lord,” said one of the US vice-captains, not as quietly as he thought. Like on the sixth, where only his head was visible on the lip of the green bunker, and he scythed out and almost holed it.
All around, the atmosphere was spicy, and Cantlay was the main target. He played brilliantly, matching McIlroy stroke for stroke, and the European’s birdie on four was canceled out by Cantlay’s on 11. Then, when Cantlay put himself 15 feet from the 14th hole, McIlroy hit a beautiful shot from belly to six feet; Donald raised his finger in celebration before the ball finished falling from the sky. Chantlay’s putt flew just past the edge of the cup, showing McIlroy the line, and forced the European to put one up again.
But Cantlay’s final three putts were intriguing. He won the 16th with another birdie, despite that powerful thump from the crowd down the fairway, to level the match. He bogeyed another on 17 to halve the hole and put them square down the last. And despite tipping his chip to the back of the green, he went on to knock in his final putt to give the United States the faintest hope of going- into the Sunday singers. Europe was leading 10½ – 5½ with 12 points left to play.
By that time the sun was setting behind the mountains, casting a long shadow over the green. The crowd was getting unruly and the teams were at each other’s throats. It was a long and surreal day and it was clear that it was time for everyone to go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.