Europe needs historic comeback to win Ryder Cup

Associated Press
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Europe's Rory McIlroy reacts to chants from the crowd on the first tee before a singles match at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) — With a big deficit to make up, Europe's day is going according to plan.

Except that part about Rory McIlroy showing up 10 minutes before his tee time.

With all 12 matches now on the course, Europe has the lead in four and has quieted the rowdy U.S. fans. One of those leads is courtesy of McIlroy, who made three straight birdies to go 2 up on Keegan Bradley through seven holes.

Not bad for a guy who didn't even have a chance to warm up.

The world's No. 1 player needed a police escort to the first tee Sunday morning after mixing up his time zones. Watching TV, he saw and heard that his tee time for his singles match against Keegan Bradley was 12:25 p.m.

One problem: That was Eastern time. Medinah Country Club, outside Chicago, is in the Central time zone.

"We didn't have that in mind," Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. "All of the sudden we realized Rory was not here, and we started to look for him. Nobody knew. We finally got a hold of him."

Riding in the passenger seat of an unmarked squad car, McIlroy pulled up at the clubhouse 10 minutes before he and Bradley went off. That gave him just enough time to scarf down an energy bar, spend a minute on the putting green and get to the first tee.

He came down the stairs — at 11:22 a.m. — with a sheepish grin. In this day of smartphones and social media, fans were well aware of McIlroy's gaffe, and they serenaded him with chants of "Central time zone" and "What's your tee time?"

McIlroy did a few quick twists and was up, and he promptly launched his opening drive well right of the fairway, the ball coming to rest in a nest of TV cables. McIlroy recovered quickly, however. When he chipped in from behind the green on No. 6, he roared and pumped his fists, and the American fans had no clever response.

It's exactly what Europe needs after coming into the day in a 10-6 hole. Yes, the U.S. delivered the largest comeback in Ryder Cup history after trailing by the same deficit at Brookline back in 1999. That was at home, though, and Bradley did his part to make sure the U.S. crowd was similarly amped up before the first ball was hit Sunday.

The Ryder Cup rookie, who's had more energy this week than a 4-year-old hopped on Pixy Stix, sprinted out to the first hole 45 minutes before his tee time, raising his arms and wiggling his fingers in a call for the fans to get even louder. They responded with a deafening roar that could be heard all over Medinah's No. 3.

But the Europeans had the momentum after Saturday's frenzied finish, and they quickly added to it Sunday. Just as the Americans did at Brookline, Olazabal front-loaded the lineup with his hottest players, sending Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, McIlroy and Justin Rose out first in hopes of building a lead.

Wearing the navy slacks and sweater and white polo shirt that were the trademark of their most beloved Ryder Cup player, the late Seve Ballesteros, they didn't disappoint. Poulter was the only one not leading, and no will ever count him out.

Called "The Postman" because he always delivers, Poulter reinforced that reputation by making five birdies to steal the last point from the Americans on Saturday. It was the only match Europe won when it trailed on the back nine.