Horschel, McIlroy have put their issues in the past
One-time Walker Cup rivals now friendly as their games, and personalities, have matured
September 10, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Billy Horschel and Rory McIlroy engaged in some fireworks during the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
ATLANTA -- Seven years later, Billy Horschel and Rory McIlroy meet again. Only this time a lot more is at stake.
Both are in the top five of the FedExCup standings entering the season-ending TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, and a victory at East Lake by either would guarantee the FedExCup trophy and more than $11 million in winnings.
If it ends up being anything like their last duel it promises to be memorable, albeit for a different reason now.
At the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down, Horschel beat McIlroy twice -- first in singles, 1 up, and then in foursomes with Rickie Fowler, 2 and 1. McIlroy bounced back by beating Horschel in Sunday’s singles but the U.S. went on to defeat Great Britain & Ireland by a point.
But it was the fireworks and gamesmanship between the two that most remember.
Horschel rubbed McIlroy the wrong way with his antics inside the ropes that weekend in Northern Irleand, one example coming on the 14th hole of their foursomes match. Horschel hit a difficult bunker shot to within inches of the cup. Moments later, he came running down the hill shouting. The reaction was over the top and off-putting to McIlroy.
“His antics really pissed me off,” McIlroy recounted to Golf Digest in 2008. “He was so loud and so obnoxious.”
McIlroy responded in their second singles match by ripping a drive down the middle on the par-5 first, hitting his second shot to 15 feet and shouting “Be good!” while the ball was in the air. McIlroy sank the putt for eagle and it set the tone for a 4 and 2 thumping.
“I gave it the loudest 'Come on!' you've ever heard,” McIlroy told Golf Digest. “I think he got the point."
Whatever bad blood existed between the two, however, has long since washed away. Time, success and a mutual admiration has healed all.
When Horschel was returning from wrist surgery three years ago, it was McIlroy who offered words of encouragement. Last season, Horschel returned the favor when McIlroy battled through a slump.
The two also played a practice round together at last year’s U.S. Open at Merion, and two weeks ago when Horschel hit his approach shot into the hazard on the 72nd hole to lose the Deutsche Bank Championship, the 25-year-old McIlroy gave him a verbal pat on the back when they crossed paths in the scoring area. Horschel, 27, won the following week.
“What happened at the Walker Cup happened, but we were very young,” Horschel said. “Now we’re more mature, older.
“It was in the heat of the moment. At 18 or 20 years old you do things you’re going to regret.”
Not lost on either player is the success each has had since, which is saying something given the star power of the two sides, particularly on the American side.
In addition to Horschel and Fowler, the U.S. roster included Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Chris Kirk and Kyle Stanley.
“I remember thinking at the time that was the best Walker Cup team ever,” Horschel said. “Now that I look back on it, I think I’m right.”
He might be.
All but Stanley and Johnson (who qualified but is on a leave of absence) are in the field this week at East Lake, where after struggling through the middle part of his season Horschel suddenly has a chance to win the biggest trophy of his career.
“After (missing the cut at) The Barclays, I didn’t see this happening,” said Horschel, second in the FedExCup standings. “My goal was just to get to Denver and then we at least have a shot to get to Atlanta.”
McIlroy, on the other hand, has long been poised for a run at the title at East Lake.
He won the year’s final two majors sandwiched around a World Golf Championships victory and entered the Playoffs as the top seed. Though he has since slipped to fourth, McIlroy has been in contention at one point or another each of the last three weeks.
“Anything other than a win here would be a disappointment,” McIlroy said. “After I finished the PGA, all my focus was on the FedExCup and trying to win this.
“I only have to beat 28 other guys.”
Horschel of course being one of them.
“It’s pretty impressive to see what (Rory) has done in his career,” Horschel said. “I would love it if both of us were paired together in the last group Sunday duking it out playing for $10 million.”
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