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Monday 22 October 2018

Skipper Bjorn backs 'brilliant' Rory to inspire Europe's rookies

GETTING INTO THE SWING: Team Europe captain Thomas Bjorn has backed his side’s rookies to perform this weekend. Pic: Reuters
GETTING INTO THE SWING: Team Europe captain Thomas Bjorn has backed his side’s rookies to perform this weekend. Pic: Reuters

Europe captain Thomas Bjorn has faith in his five rookies and a misfiring Rory McIlroy as he plots to regain the Ryder Cup in Paris.

McIlroy ended a 16-month winless streak at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but has passed up six other chances for victories this season when starting the last round in the final group.

The latest of those came in the Tour Championship on Sunday when he outdrove playing partner Tiger Woods by 25 yards on the opening hole, but could only make a par to the eventual winner's birdie on his way to a closing 74 and a tie for seventh.

However, Bjorn has seen at first hand McIlroy's transformation from a player who once labelled the Ryder Cup "an exhibition" into a team leader capable of inspiring rookies such as Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen.

"The good thing about Rory is that he's maybe not won the last few weeks or months, but he's still there or thereabouts every time he plays, and that shows what quality he has and what he brings on the golf course," Bjorn said.

TEAM PLAYER: Rory McIlroy at yesterday’s preview day of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire
TEAM PLAYER: Rory McIlroy at yesterday’s preview day of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire

"I always say he's the one guy I'll pay money to watch play because he's always quality.

"The steps he's taken off the golf course are brilliant. He brings so much in that team room. He's great to have conversations with.

"He's got great ideas. He understands everybody in the team room very well. He really gets under the skin on a lot of those youngsters and they take to him.

"You've got people that are great players and then you have people that have everything, and he's one of those. If you're a young player you look at him where this is the guy I want to learn from and this is the guy I want to be, the way he plays golf.

"There's not a golfer in the world that wouldn't want to be like that.

"He's obviously a big part of this team, but he's also very understanding that it is a team and it's about all 12, and that's what we go with."

Europe had six rookies in the team in 2016 and although Thomas Pieters won a record four points and Rafa Cabrera Bello claimed two and a half from three matches, the other four - Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick - combined for just one point in a 17-11 defeat.

"You want to see the rookies get out there and you want to see what they are all about, but I've got a good feeling about these five, I have to say," Bjorn added.

"I feel like they are all well prepared. I feel like they are very strong. They are very class players and there's some very good quality in there. The way they talk about it, we get a good feeling about them, being around them. It looks like they are ready to go."

One of those aforementioned rookies, Fleetwood,yesterday admitted the most pressure he has been under prior to the anticipation of his first tee shot at the Ryder Cup was at the birth of his first child. Wife Clare delivered their son Franklin last September and it was all a bit much for the 27-year-old.

"I was a bit overwhelmed when my wife was giving birth," he said.

"I mean, what I can take from that into the Ryder Cup, I'm not sure.

"But that was probably the most overwhelmed I've been in a pressure situation, and I got told off for shouting too much, so I might try to keep it down a little bit this week."

Fleetwood is at his first Ryder Cup as either a player or spectator as the family finances in Southport could not stretch to the admission fees when he was a youngster.

"I've never been to a Ryder Cup in my life so this is my first experience of it all. I've only ever watched it on TV," he added.

"As a kid, we probably couldn't afford tickets. That's probably the simple answer.

"I honestly didn't get to travel to that many golf tournaments as a youngster.

I went to the Open when it was in Southport or Lytham, but that was one sort of special time I got to go and watch a golf tournament.

"Ryder Cups or anything else were kind of out of the equation. It was down to watching it on the TV."

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