HAVEN, Wis. — Regarding, Rory: you could sort of see this coming, this two-day run of unproductive Ryder Cup golf, but not to this degree.
On Friday morning he and Ian Poulter played together in alternate shot, and were trounced by Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, 5 and 3.
On Friday afternoon, McIlroy played with Shane Lowry, in the better ball session. They share the brogue of their homeland. They both have their names on the Claret Jug. They’re good friends and have been for years. They were trounced, by Harris English and Tony Finau, 4 and 3.
On Saturday morning, he slept. He wasn’t in Padraig Harrington’s lineup for the third session.
On Saturday afternoon, McIlroy and Poulter were reunited, for a better-ball session, against Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa. The Americans were 5 up through eight holes, losing the eighth hole with a better-ball bogey 5. It wouldn’t be sporting, to use the word trounce again. Rory and partner lost, 4 and 3. You’ve seen that score before. Which is something, because it’s not a common one.
The overall score through two days is U.S. 11, Europe 5. The rules require all 24 players to play on Sunday. You could forgive Rory McIlroy, who has made one eagle and no birdies, if he just wanted to get out of this cool wind, return to South Florida and his one-year-old baby girl and never see Whistling Straits again. (McIlroy met his wife, Erica Stoll, a former PGA of America employee, at the 2012 Ryder Cup.) But of course he will be playing. He’s batting leadoff and facing Xander Schauffele on Sunday morning.
McIlroy won this year, at Charlotte, in early May. A win is a win, of course. Who doesn’t like to win? But it came shortly after missing the cut in the Masters, the tournament he needs to complete the career grand slam. He didn’t contend in any of the other majors. He said he was tired, at times, during the three weeks of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He said the season was too long. It is. It’s a slog. It has no beginning and no end. Professional golf has become an endless loop reel. It’s a nice problem to have, for golf and for McIlroy, but it’s still a problem.
McIlroy was famously ambivalent about Ryder Cup golf when he turned pro in 2007. But he was at the emotional and athletic heart of the European team when it won the last Ryder Cup, in France, in 2018, and in 2014, in Scotland, as well. Plus 2012. And 2010.
But the 2018 Ryder Cup was three long years ago. McIlroy has all the money he could possibly need. His father is a member of Seminole and they play often there. He’s fit and healthy and engaged in the world. He’s a husband and a father and he has varied interests. He’s never had the obsessive desire for more and more and more, as Tiger Woods seems to have. For a brief while, a half-decade into his career, he looked like he could maybe — maybe! — be something like a European Tiger Woods. It was a mirage.
Give the man credit. He took a mic after each of his three losses.
The first, Friday morning: “The start wasn’t great.” The Americans won the first five holes. That happens about never.
The second, Friday afternoon: “When you have [opponents] on form, on a difficult golf course, where it’s hard to make birdies, and they go on runs, and if you’re not quite 100 percent on top of your game, it’s tough.”
The third, Saturday afternoon: “Obviously disappointing. Disappointing not to contribute a point for the team yet.”
And now comes Sunday.
No matter what he does on the third and final day, Rory McIlroy is flying home to South Florida Sunday night. It is most likely that the Ryder Cup — the actual trophy — will be in his rear-view mirror.
You can surely bet it will be a while until he plays for keeps again, and answers the inevitable questions about completing the career grand slam. But this is the life he has chosen. He’s good at it, whether his golf is good or not.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@golf.com.