| 8.3°C Dublin

axed Harrington insists McIlroy is a ‘leader’ but drops him for first time in Ryder Cup career


Captain Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry of Team Europe look on during Friday Afternoon Fourball Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Captain Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry of Team Europe look on during Friday Afternoon Fourball Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Captain Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry of Team Europe look on during Friday Afternoon Fourball Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Pádraig Harrington dropped Rory McIlroy for the first time in his Ryder Cup career but insisted the Holywood star remains a "leader" for Europe despite their crashing to the heaviest first day deficit of the modern era.

Steve Stricker's powerful USA squad won both sessions 3-1 to lead 6-2 and leave Europe with a mountain to climb to retain the trophy.

Europe has never trailed by more than three points after the first day since continental European players were called into the fold in 1979.

But McIlroy, who lost 5&3 with Ian Poulter in the foursomes to Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele and then fell by 4&3 alongside Shane Lowry to Tony Finau and Harris English in the fourballs to lose two matches on the same day for the first time in six Ryder Cup appearances, will not appear on Saturday morning.

The four-time Major winner was clearly out of sorts, and Harrington has done what no European captain has done before and dropped him for a session for the first time after 26 consecutive Ryder Cup matches.

"He's already a leader," said Harrington, who appeared six minutes early for his press conference and more than 30 minutes before the foursomes pairings were released, thus avoiding questions about dropping McIlroy.

"You saw him out there after a tough day, he was out following those matches and supporting his team.

"He is very much a leader amongst his peers and I couldn't have asked more from him during the year; I couldn't have asked more from him today. Yeah, the golf didn't go as well as he would have liked, but I'm not second-guessing him for a second in terms of his leadership and what he does for my team."

Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm, who got Europe's lone foursomes point on Friday morning against Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, will again lead off for Europe against Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.

Harrington also repeats the all-English pairing of Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick in the anchor match against Cantlay and Schauffele but brings in two new pairings at two and three.

Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton will take on Dustin Johnson and Morikawa — 3&2 winners over Casey and Viktor Hovland in Friday's foursomes — with the Norwegian pairing up with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger against Spieth and Thomas.

After winning just one match all day in the morning and gleaning just two halves in the afternoon fourballs, Harrington admitted a 6-2 deficit made it difficult to retain the trophy but not impossible.

"No doubt it was a tough day," he said. "Clearly not what you wanted, 6-2. There's obviously still 20 points to play for. We've only just played for about 25 percent at this stage. It isn't a good start, but there's still a lot to play for.

"My team played well today. You know, just a few times, the momentum, the odd putt didn't go in, and you need a bit of momentum. Things didn't go for us.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

"But hopefully, I just think the last couple of matches there, when it was really, really tight, the boys came through."

Hatton hit a stellar approach to the 18th and made the birdie putt alongside Rahm to give Europe a half against Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler before Tommy Fleetwood and Hovland halved with Thomas and Cantlay, despite having a three-up lead after eight holes and chances to extend it several times.

"Those two halves at the very end were crucial for us, Tyrrell with the birdie on the last, very, very important in those situations," Harrington added.

"As much as we would have liked to have gotten wins on the board, we didn't feel like we could afford to have lost those matches. Maybe a little bit of momentum swing there, and we feel good about that. And coming out tomorrow, obviously, we need a big day.

"We just didn't hole the putts today. You know, part of that, as well, you hole a few putts at the right time, you do create the momentum to move on.

"So it's a sort of Catch 22. Obviously, the U.S. played well, and obviously, they holed the right putts at the right time and fair play to them. We're certainly not second-guessing the way they played. We would like to hole a few more putts ourselves tomorrow and create a little bit more good feeling and vibes for ourselves."

Clearly trying to take the drama out of the situation, he insisted he hadn't yet spoken to the team as a group and didn't expect them to claw back the deficit in one session or even in two.

"You can't just turn around and try to eat into a lead straightaway in one session," he said. "It would be lovely if it happened, but you can't think like that. You've got to do it slowly, one step at a time.

"So yeah, we got 20 points to play for, and we've got to prepare ourselves for ... hopefully for us at this stage a long battle all the way through. If we are going to get this done, it's going to be a very tight one."

Asked what Europe has to do better today, he said: "Clearly, if we have that couple of putts more, that creates that momentum. You know, we're very happy with everybody's play. Ball-striking was there.

"Just hole a few more putts. Plenty of gutsy performances. So I'm comfortable with that. It's just a question of a few things going right for us. Getting the odd break, there's no doubt about that.

"Clearly, the U.S. played very well today, and they did what they needed to do. You know, we need to do that tomorrow."

McIlroy and Lowry felt they deserved more from their match with English and an inspired Finau, who made three birdies in five holes from the ninth to turn a one-up lead into a four-hole advantage.

"We got unlucky today," Lowry said. "We probably didn't play our best, but we hit some good shots and got bad breaks. We probably should have given them a better match than we did, but it is what it is."

McIlroy was out cheering on the final few groups, and he insisted Europe were not done yet.

"We can come back from 6-2," he said as the afternoon session came to a close. "If it's 6-2, we can come back."

Europe led 6-2 after the first day at Brookline in 1999 but lost to Ben Crenshaw's team.

However, they also led 6-2 at Muirfield Village in 1987 and 6.5-1.5 after the first day at Oakland Hills in 2004 and won both matches away.

Their 6-2 deficit is the biggest since Nick Faldo's side trailed 5.5-2.5 at Valhalla and went on to lose

The previous biggest US lead after day one was 7.5-2.5 against Brian Huggett's Great Britain and Ireland at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1977 when there were five foursomes and five fourballs on the first day.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices