MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) — After Rory McIlroy took a detour, Luke Donald made sure Europe's comeback stayed on track.
Donald won the first Ryder Cup match of the day Sunday, paring the U.S. lead to 10-7 with a 2-and-1 victory over Bubba Watson. The Americans need only 4½ points to regain the Ryder Cup, but they had the lead in just one of the other first six matches.
The biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history was by the Americans at Brookline in 1999. Trailing by the same 10-6 deficit that Europe faced Sunday, the U.S. front-loaded its singles lineup and raced to a 6-0 lead. European captain Jose Maria Olazabal is using a similar strategy, and Donald didn't disappoint him.
Donald is as close to a hometown kid as the Europeans have, a Northwestern alum who still lives in Chicago, and even the U.S. fans didn't have the heart to cheer against him.
"It certainly helped having some local support," Donald said. "It wasn't totally going Bubba's way. I felt a lot of love from the crowd."
Donald never trailed against Watson and was so in control he managed to halve the 13th hole even after going in the water off the tee. Donald had a chance to close the match out on the 14th hole, with a 5-footer for eagle. But he missed it, and Watson extended the match with a birdie from the bunker.
Watson finally won his first hole on No. 15 when Donald missed a 7-footer, then made another birdie with a monster chip across the 16th green. Donald had a long uphill putt to halve the hole, but he left it well below the cup to send the match to 17.
Donald's tee shot went into a bunker, but he made a gorgeous save to within a foot. That meant Watson would need to chip in from the gallery well behind the green; he didn't come close, and Donald had the point. The crowd serenaded him with a chorus of "Ole! Ole! Ole!" and cheers of "LUUUUKE!"
"It was a big honor for me that Ollie had enough trust in me to go out and get the first point for Europe," said Donald, who has delivered two of Europe's last three points.
It was a good thing Olazabal sent Donald out first instead of McIlroy, because the world's No. 1 player needed a police escort just to get to the course in time.
Watching TV on Saturday, McIlroy saw and heard that his tee time for his singles match against Keegan Bradley was 12:25 p.m. One problem: That was Eastern time. Medinah Country Club, outside Chicago, is in the Central time zone.
"We didn't have that in mind," Olazabal said. "All of the sudden we realized Rory was not here, and we started to look for him. Nobody knew. We finally got a hold of him."
Riding in the passenger seat of an unmarked squad car, McIlroy pulled up at the clubhouse 10 minutes before he and Bradley went off. That gave him just enough time to scarf down an energy bar, spend a minute on the putting green and get to the first tee. He came down the stairs — at 11:22 a.m. — with a sheepish grin.
In this day of smartphones and social media, fans were well aware of McIlroy's gaffe, and they serenaded him with chants of "Central time zone" and "What's your tee time?"
McIlroy did a few quick twists and was up, and he promptly launched his opening drive well right of the fairway, the ball coming to rest in a nest of TV cables. McIlroy recovered quickly, however. When he chipped in from behind the green on No. 6, he roared and pumped his fists, and the American fans had no clever response.