Graeme McDowell hailed Victor Dubuisson as the next European superstar as Rory McIlroy produced a late late show to keep Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup show on the road at Gleneagles
As McDowell gelled brilliantly with the Frenchmen and holed a 15 footer at the 16th to hand Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson their first defeat, star pair McIlroy and Garcia salvaged a half at the death.
Two down with three to play to Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, McIlroy did his bit with a brilliant chip at the 16th and a monster 45-foot birdie putt at the 17th sending them to the par-five 18th just one down.
And even though McIlroy hit yet another bad tee shot with the new Nike Vapor driver he put in the bag this week, Garcia saved the day with a sensational 229-yard five wood to 25 feet setting up a birdie the Americans couldn’t match.
It was a massive half point for McGinley’s European army and when McDowell and Dubuisson beat Mickelson and Bradley 3 and 2, Europe walked away from day one with a precious 5-3 lead.
“We needed it, we really did,” McIlroy said after an afternoon match in which they hit just three fairways and were two over par before they finished with three sensational birdies to clinch a halved match.
“We were making life difficult for ourselves out there. I don't think either of us was playing from the fairways very much. We were three-under for the last three holes.”
On Garcia’s shot to the last that set up the birdie that allowed them to gain some revenge for their 18th hole fourball defeat to Mickelson and Bradley in the morning, McIlroy said: “We just wanted to ask them a question and get them going and we were able to do that.
“It was a long day for both of us, and we’re just glad that we were able to contribute something to the cause today.”
One up with three to go in the morning, McIlroy and Garcia looked on as Bradley eagled the 16th to level the match and then Mickelson snatched victory with a birdie at the 18th.
“We had a close match this morning with Phil and Keegan, and didn't quite go our way,” McIlroy said. “ We didn't feel like we should have lost the match, but at the same time, we did.
“Then the half against Jimmy and Rickie there this afternoon, it felt a little bit like a mini-victory to us, and it was definitely is a huge half in terms of momentum for the European Team going into tomorrow.
“I think personally for Sergio and I, it was just nice to be able to walk away from today with at least something.”
McDowell and Dubuisson sat out the fourballs but they proved to be a dream foursomes pairing, racing into a three up lead after five holes and then surviving a wobble in mid-round to close out the match strongly.
“I was really nervous, really stressed this morning,” Dubuisson said. “When I got on the tee with Graeme, it was just a dream, it was fantastic.
“The fact that I spent a lot of time with Graeme these last few days, it really helped me. This morning when I was walking with him to the tee, he was next to me, and then the stress completely disappeared.”
McDowell was quick to repay the compliment, haling the outstanding Frenchman as a future superstar.
G-Mac said: “I’ve played with Rory McIlroy the last couple of Ryder Cups and I get a chance to play today with a young rookie who I firmly believe is Europe's next superstar and a lot of fun to be alongside of him.
“This kid right here, I'm telling you right now, folks, this kid is the next superstar in Europe. This kid is really, really good.
“I told Victor to go and enjoy himself today and use the crowd. The crowd are phenomenal and use them any time he needed them.
“The way he's been playing in practice and again today, he didn't need much advice. I just had to just kind of wind him up and let him go.”
One suspects that McDowell will be as loyal to McGinley was he was to Garcia, following remarks attributed to Nick Faldo on NBC
The 2008 skipper claimed that Europe lost heavily to Paul Azinger's team because Garcia was "useless" and had "a bad attitude" in winning just one of four matches at Valhalla.
Q. Nick Faldo has caused a storm today with comments about Sergio Garcia and the 2008 Ryder Cup. He described Sergio as being useless in Valhalla and also of having a bad attitude. I just want to know what Sergio's response to that is, and also if some of his teammates can defend him and how he is with the team (laughter)?
LEE WESTWOOD: That's a great question. Okay. We'll take the euphoria we all have from today and just crush it --
SERGIO GARCÍA: Sorry, who asked? Sorry. Are you sure you didn't misquote him? That's unfortunate (laughter). I guess he doesn't feel European. That's the only thing I can think of. You know, there's a lot of things I could say about Nick Faldo, but I'm not going to put myself down to his level.
GRAEME McDOWELL: I'll make a comment on that. When I'm playing -- I'm a rookie playing The Ryder Cup in 2008, and was it Saturday afternoon or Saturday morning you guys got sat down?
LEE WESTWOOD: Afternoon.
GRAEME McDOWELL: Yeah, you've got one of the best Ryder Cup pairings of all time being sat down on a Saturday afternoon of a Ryder Cup that we go on to lose. I'd say Sergio was fairly useless that afternoon, yeah, because he wasn't able to play. So, yeah, I agree.
PAUL SYMES: Okay, if we can end on a happier note.
RORY McILROY: (Putting arm around Sergio, consoling) You're not useless (laughter).
SERGIO GARCIA: Thanks, Nick, I love you, too. (Laughter)