Rory's late show
Dave Tindall with an inside look on the story that could have changed the outcome of the 39th Ryder Cup.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 07/10/12 9:46pm
It's a scene repeated numerous times a day on every golf course up and down the land and it goes something like this....
Dash to course in car, park up, rush to putting green, wolf down energy bar, half-hearted stretch, couple of putts, tee off, miss fairway.
What you don't expect is for that age-old routine to be repeated by the world number one ahead of the Sunday singles in a Ryder Cup.
Rory McIlroy became you and I at Medinah last Sunday due to time zone trouble.
Thinking the tee-off times being displayed on his phone were local rather than Eastern, McIlroy believed his Medinah showdown with Keegan Bradley was scheduled for 12.25pm.
Back in his hotel room he showed no sense of urgency as the clock moved towards 11am, not realising that he was set to tee off in less than half an hour.
At the course, I had no idea of all this when I wandered over to the putting green at 11.05am.
I was still smiling about Bubba Watson again whipping up the crowds to cheer through his opening tee-shot when I decided the next good photo opportunity might be to capture Rory walking up the steps from the European Locker Room and onto the putting green.
When I got there, I was pleased there was no sign of him yet although his opponent, Bradley, was going through some putting drills - as were Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson who were playing in the following match at 11.36am.
As I stood, somewhat self-consciously, waiting to 'pap' Rory coming up the steps I checked my watch. I waited another couple of minutes. And then another minute. And another. But there was still no sign of him.
The air of calm didn't suggest anything was wrong though. Phil and Amy Mickelson had a hug and a chat while Jose Maria Olazabal was all smiles. I simply presumed McIlroy had taken a little extra time down the range.
Finally, Rory's head appeared but my only emotion was one of slight annoyance as a security guard and another random bloke walked across shot, thus half-obscuring McIlroy's entrance.
"Good morning," said Rory casually as he strolled onto the putting green looking totally unruffled which again put me off the scent.
However, there did seem something rather nonchalant about his warm-up. A couple of putts here and there, a half-hearted stretch, a swing with two wedges in hand and a couple of clumsy chips that I distinctly remember watching and thinking "they're a bit poor".
There were also a couple of looks and greetings from Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose which had an air of 'private joke' while it did seem a little odd to be gobbling down an energy bar as he hugged his captain.
But, still, as he received an affectionate pat on the backside from Jose Maria Olazabal and headed over the bridge to the first tee I didn't know anything was up.
It was only when I turned the radio on, whilst walking back to the media tent, that I heard Rory had been rushed to the course by a state trooper whose police car happened to be parked outside his hotel room.
Twitter was abuzz with stories that he'd nearly missed his tee-time although some simply refused to believe the line that he'd arrived at the course with just 10 minutes to spare.
When I uploaded my photos I noticed the (partly-ruined!) money-shot of him walking onto the putting green was timed at 1116. That was just nine minutes before his tee-time so presuming he'd put his shoes on en route it certainly tallied that he'd arrived in the car park outside the European Locker Room just a minute or so earlier.
Replaying the scene (helped by my Zapruder-esque photos!), my chief recollection now is how calm Rory seemed. In fact remarkably so given that he came within minutes of costing Europe the Ryder Cup!
The ruling is that if a player is late for his tee-time he loses the first hole; if he still hasn't turned up five minutes later he forfeits the whole match.
Of course, it may have panned out very differently if Europe had already been 11-6 down via Rory's disqualification. The US may have won by a landslide and McIlroy's mishap may have seemed just a part of the problem.
But imagine if Europe had lost by a point instead of won by one due to Rory never getting to strike a ball.
Even the lesser evil of McIlroy losing to Bradley due to his poor prep would have seen fingers pointed at him when the European loss was dissected.
Instead - and this is what tends to happens when you're the brightest star and the force is with you - the Northern Irishman has come up smelling of roses! He was one of the European heroes and we even buy into McIlroy's suggestion that the lack of thinking time ahead of his match actually helped him beat Bradley.
So far this has turned into an entertaining little side-story but, over time, its legend may grow.
Already I've heard conspiracy theories. Rory planned it to boost his casual image; it was a ploy by the Europeans to unbalance the up-to-that-point unbeatable Bradley that the late-running McIlroy would be easier to beat; or, most common and mischievous, Rory lost track of time whilst on the phone whispering sweet nothings to girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki who was playing in China on the Monday morning.
My favourite was actually provided by Sam_Daly1 on Twitter. "His hair is actually a wig and he couldn't find it, and couldn't bare the embarrassment of people knowing the truth."
I'm not having any of those although I do admit that it seems strange there was no system in place to alert Rory earlier. Why wasn't there a knock at the door or a pre-arranged pick-up time after consultation the night before?
Anyway, before I start studying my photos for a lone gunman on the sixth floor of the clubhouse (Lee Harvey Westwood?) I'll just marvel at the fact that McIlroy is so talented that he can go out and win a Ryder Cup singles match despite the shambolic warm-up of a hacker.