MacIntyre turns the Ryder Cup tables on Spieth to burst the US bubble | Ryder Cup 2023

The ball splashes out of the bunker and flies towards the green. Jordan Spieth raises a hand, commanding it to stop. The ball stops. Spieth gives a small nod of contentment, accepts his putter from the caddy Michael Greller and begins to compose himself ahead of the four-foot putt that will halve the 9th hole.

It is at times like these that you realise that Spieth is not like other golfers. Most players bark at their ball in flight, exhorting it to “sit down” or “get up” as if it were an errant dog. Spieth, by contrast, whispers to it under his breath, cajoles and encourages it, as if to say: “Come on, buddy, you can do this.” And in his most sublime moments, it can feel as if Spieth and the ball are almost like dance partners, master and pupil, one leading and the other loyally following.

The heat on this Saturday afternoon is slow and persistent. The home crowds are rowdily serenading Tommy Fleetwood in the group ahead and Rory McIlroy in the group behind, but this match feels somehow more restrained and intimate. Like Spieth and his partner, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre are measured players, methodical players, players who try to seal themselves in a bubble. At one point Rose is crouching over a putt and has to ask Spieth, who is contemplating his own putt in a Zen-like state of concentration, to move out of his eyeline.

And by small degrees, the United States are making inroads. Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa have taken a firm grip on the opening rubber, and Max Homa and Brian Harman are romping ahead in the second. As the scoreboards begin to light up in an unfamiliar red, this match begins to feel like the pivot of the afternoon, America’s last stand. If this match goes red too, then the comeback really will be on, and frankly what happens after that is anyone’s guess.

In short, this is a time for big deeds and big personalities. Spieth, Thomas and Rose have won six majors between them and all spent time as world No 1. MacIntyre, meanwhile, is the lowest-ranked player in the competition who isn’t a freaky Swedish genius. He came into this Ryder Cup on the back of a 55th place, a 45th place and a missed cut. He has little matchplay experience and has never won on the PGA Tour. On Friday he and Rose were a little fortunate to scrape a half after Homa and Wyndham Clark imploded up the stretch. And so pretty much the last thing anyone expects to happen at this point is what actually does. The man who will salvage Europe’s day is the world No 55 who still lives near his mum in Oban.

MacIntyre looks like a player who fears he might lose his equilibrium at any moment. He greets the ball with a long and elaborate routine, dangling the club in front his eyes for several seconds. He addresses putts with a funny little front-on shuffle. The crowds seem to adore him, but he never acknowledges them. Indeed, anyone popping his bubble of concentration is liable to receive a terse word. “Any time today, sir,” he huffed at a photographer who was dawdling into position as he was lining up a chip.

Justin Rose and the European team celebrate on the 16th green after the putt to win the match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas
Justin Rose and the European team celebrate on the 16th green after the putt to win the match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

But the stately pace of the match was also playing to his strengths. And having struggled on the front nine, MacIntyre began to look more comfortable after the turn. At the par-three 13th, he sent a delicious iron to six feet. It was a tricky downhill putt, ebbing away left to right, and as the ball dropped MacIntyre clenched his fists at his sides, let out a howl and savoured the relief and jubilation of a man who, 31 holes into his Ryder Cup career, had finally left his mark.

Spieth, for his part, was whispering against the dying of the light. This has been a painful couple of days for him, a reminder of just how far he has regressed from that idyllic 2015‑17 peak, and as he hacked his way around Marco Simone in the cloying heat it was clear that whatever he was trying to tell the ball, it was no longer listening. His driving has been abysmal all week. He no longer seems to trust himself to get out of trouble. And while Thomas has occasionally been able to bail him out, a single half-point from three matches feels like a pretty fair reflection of his contribution.

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Here was the beauty of the Ryder Cup in a single snapshot: a competition that makes heroes of the meek and vice versa. Spieth is one of the greatest players of his generation, one of the sport’s genuine stars, a man feared and revered in equal measure. MacIntyre is nobody’s idea of a household name, the least heralded player in his team, and may never play another Ryder Cup. But here, on the biggest stage of his life, he built something that will last.