Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy's most important drive leading to the Ryder Cup might have come in a car instead of with a golf club.
The 29-year-old Northern Irishman made a prank phone call to European captain Thomas Bjorn while driving with teammates Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Tommy Fleetwood in what became a laugh-filled social media post.
Whether its building camaraderie through trying to get Bjorn to spring for "cryotherapy chambers" at the biennial team showdown against the United States, or shotmaking to lead Europe's top players, McIlroy will be a key figure in the September 28-30 showdown at Le Golf National -- if Bjorn isn't too upset.
"He's in big trouble. He might not play until Sunday now," Bjorn said of McIlroy to Sky Sports in mock outrage before laughing at himself.
"That's OK. They looked like they had fun. It's never fun when you get done on the prank but have to take it in the spirit it is. It was a good moment."
A Europe team with five rookies and five players with four or more prior Cup starts will try to deny the US holders their first victory in Europe since 1993, with McIlroy stressing experience is crucial.
"It creates a really good team dynamic," McIlroy said. "It's a continuity that's within the team if you have experience, guys that have been there before, know what goes on.
"You've got all this stuff to do and like gala dinners and opening ceremonies and it's like, 'Really?' All the guys know what they need to do to prepare the best way. I just think continuity in the team room and knowing what to expect as the week goes on is a big thing."
It's a contrast to the uncertainty McIlroy has had about his game for much of the season. After a winless 2017, McIlroy won at Bay Hill in March, then shared fifth at the Masters as he attempted to complete a career Grand Slam.
After missing the cut at the Players and US Open, he shared second at the British Open at Carnoustie and had top-six efforts at the WGC Bridgestone and BMW Championship.
- Rory ready for breakthrough -
McIlroy hasn't won a major since back-to-back wins at the 2014 British Open and PGA Championship, but he likes where his game is as the Ryder Cup nears.
"I've given myself some half-chances at majors," he said. "In golf you just have to be an eternal optimist. I feel like I've done as well as I could with what I have. It's still a work in progress."
Bjorn would love to see a McIlroy breakthrough in France.
"I just think he's in a place where it's going to go boom and then he's going to start winning a lot of golf tournaments again and that's actually pretty good fun to watch."
While McIlroy might get a singles rematch of his thrilling showdown with Patrick Reed at Hazeltine, he might also find himself pitted against Tiger Woods, the resurgent 14-time major winner who has only one team win in seven Ryder Cup appearances.
"Whoever goes up against him in Paris, with us being at home, he's playing against the crowd where it's usually the other way around," McIlroy said.
"It's not very often the crowd is against him. This will be a very rare occasion in France. Probably still be some people cheering for him but, for the most part, they'll be cheering for the European team."
McIlroy, who has claimed three points in each of his last three Ryder Cups, hopes to inspire a few roars of his own in what is likely to be a full run of five matches in three days.
"My game feels in really good shape," McIlroy said. "There are a lot of good signs out there. My approach play, my wedge play has been much better. I'm putting well.
"Ryder Cup is a long week and it's an exhausting week and if you have to play five matches, you feel it at the end. But hopefully it will be worth it."
© 2018 AFP