Inside the Ryder Cup ropes with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood

GolfMagic News Editor Ben Smith went inside the ropes at the 2023 Ryder Cup. This is what he observed in Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood's match. 

Inside the Ryder Cup ropes with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood
Inside the Ryder Cup ropes with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood

ROME - As I overheard Rory McIlroy's father Gerry discuss the strength and depth of Manchester City's midfield with Tommy Fleetwood's wife, I wondered how I got here. 

Was I dreaming? That was a distinct possibility, given I hadn't slept a wink the night before knowing what the following 24 hours would entail. 

'Here' was the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club at the crack of dawn. Chaos ensued at first light. Thousands sprinted, limbs flailing, to be one of the 4,800 in the first tee grandstand. 

Max Homa, an American rookie, was on the putting green due to tee off later in the morning. Even he was taken aback by the spectacle, whipping his phone out to film the moment. 

Minutes later the moment had arrived. Luke Donald' vice-captains walked out to a thunderous applause seconds after a spectator in the crowd was serenaded with a happy birthday song. 

Nicolas Colsaerts, part of the 2012 Medinah miracle, got the crowd going. 

Then came Donald, Europe's calm, measured and meticulous captain. 

The American contingent got a different welcome. Zach Johnson pinched his cap when he was jeered. Scottie Scheffler, the World No.1, received a similar reaction as if to say: 'What gives, man?!'

His morning was to get worse. 

"No pressure, Scottie," one fan yelled as he addressed his ball. Not cool. But as McIlroy has explained this week, if you want to be part of the circus you have to put up with the clowns. 

Rahm hit the first tee shot of the 2023 Ryder Cup and he and Tyrrell Hatton halved the hole. But we were not here for this match. 

We were inside the ropes for one reason and one reason only: to watch three-time major champion Rory McIlroy and England's Tommy Fleetwood. 

The duo have already been dubbed Fleetwood Mac. 'You'll never break the chain,' one fan bellowed after Fleetwood got McIlroy out of trouble at one point in their tussle. 

But let's go right back to the beginning. McIlroy and Fleetwood were playing against Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay. They are a formidable pairing. Steely operators. Ridiculously accurate. Insanely consistent. 

McIlroy sprayed his tee shot right. A little loosener. No dramas. Fleetwood left McIlroy a tricky pitch to a back left pin. As we've mentioned, no dramas. He lobbed the ball high and his TP5x stopped after one bounce. Tight. And tied after one when the American pairing took two to get up and down having missed the green left. 

The teams could not be separated over the first three holes. McIlroy sank a seven-foot birdie putt at No. 4 to take the lead. 

Fifth tee box and U.S. vice captain Fred Couples has joined the group to offer some words of support. First, Couples takes the opportunity to ask a spectator to be quiet just as McIlroy finds the green, guarded by a lake, with his driver. 

Schauffele's partner hit his tee shot long but there was plenty of green to work with. And he used it, Fleetwood and McIlroy conceding the putt. 

We trudge on. Fleetwood smashes a driver straight down the middle at No. 6. "Nice drive," McIlroy says quietly before tucking into a cereal bar. 

There is a high-profile, interested spectator following this group inside the groups. "Hey, look, it's Christian Bale," one fan supporting the red, white and blue said. 

Not quite. 

Gareth Bale was here.

McIlroy studies his putt. A giant screen behind him shows Tyrrell Hatton cussing up a storm in his match. There are laughs. Plenty of them, but McIlroy finds the centre cup to retain the advantage. 

The seventh, par-3, down the hill. An absolute stripe show from McIlroy and Cantlay but again there is nothing in it. 

McIlroy's wife Erica Stoll and Fleetwood's significant other Clare joins us on No. 8, taking advantage of the opportunity ride along in a golf cart for transportation. 

Best let the husbands do the heavy lifting. 

Inside the Ryder Cup ropes with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood

Erica Stoll (L) Clare Fleetwood (R)

McIlroy was in a tough lie at No. 8. The second cut, it appeared. He squirreled one out right, trying to avoid the water. 

Cantlay, in the middle of the fairway, couldn't avoid it. An absolute gift. 

"You'll never break the chain," one fan of Fleetwood Mac yelled. Seconds before, Fleetwood was told he was a golf machine to the tune of Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. 

The U.S. side got themselves back into it at nine after a wayward tee shot from Fleetwood. There was nothing in it at the 10th. 

The 11th is gettable. Up the hill, 329 yards, pin back left. Better be the chief. Both teams were short and Fleetwood nearly chipped in. Cantlay fatted his chip and despite his teammate holing the par putt McIlroy had rolled in the birdie putt. 

Up by two. 

McIlroy's father Gerry emerges. He greets Clare, who has decided to walk now. They discuss Manchester City and who would replace Rodri after he was given a three-match ban for throttling a Nottingham Forest player. 

Tommy Fleetwood's wife discussing football with Rory McIlroy's father. 

I must be dreaming. The alarm didn't go off. 

Again, the hole is tied with par-4s. We are standing at the 13th and McIlroy's father has caught the eye of Cantlay's caddie. 

Joe LaCava is on loan for Patty Ice whilst the big cat Tiger Woods recovers from his latest surgery. 

"Good to see you," he tells Gerry. Two pars see the Europeans' retain their advantage, but it was reduced on the next hole when Schauffele drained gentle left-to-righter. 

Cantlay puts his teammate in trouble on the next green, racing one by. "For once you weren't too slow," a European fan barks from the crowd. Nice. Birdie for Fleetwood and an almighty roar. 

Couples is with us again at the 16th, offering some water. A fan asks if he will be teeing it up in the afternoon, given it was already 3-0. 

Don't choke, Schauffele is told on the tee box. He didn't and the team made birdie. 

McIlroy shut the door with one hole to play, though. 

Novak Djokovic strode past just before McIlroy launched his iron into the stratosphere. 

A woman, part of the American contingent, declared: "I knew he was going to do that."

Didn't we all. 

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