Rory McIlroy recalls Ryder 'red mist' even Tiger couldn't stop
Posted on: 14 Nov, 2023 at 06:10 PM
Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
When in Rome, Rory McIlroy was all business during the 2023 Ryder Cup.
All business to the extent he didn't pick up the phone when Tiger Woods repeatedly reached out on a peacekeeping mission to douse any lingering flames from the disruption between McIlroy and Woods' former caddie, Joe LaCava.
McIlroy's greenside spat with LaCava, serving as American Patrick Cantlay's caddie, created a tremendous uproar on the second-to-last day of the event before Europe's coronation at Marco Simone Golf Club just outside Rome.
McIlroy recalled the incident with the favor of hindsight this week and provided fresh context of the Ryder Cup Saturday hubbub that included teammate Shane Lowry restraining the Northern Irishman after a heated argument in the course parking lot. NBC television cameras captured McIlroy shouting "This can't happen. It's a (expletive) disgrace."
He originally was held back by his wife before Lowry helped McIlroy to his vehicle.
As it played out on television, the outburst came after McIlroy and Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick lost their match against Patrick Cantlay and Wyndham Clark of the United States team on the 18th hole.
Cantlay sank three consecutive birdies, including a 43-footer at No. 18, en route to the victory over McIlroy and Fitzpatrick. He then made the motion of his tipping his cap to the crowd, which had been mocking him by waving their hats in the wake of a report by British media that Cantlay wasn't wearing a team-issued hat to protest American players not getting paid to participate in the Ryder Cup.
LaCava also, seemingly with a taunting energy, waved his hat while on the green. Tempers flared as McIlroy asked LaCava to move out of his way, which LaCava did, but then the caddy was shown saying something to McIlroy.
Fast forward to McIlroy's recall of what transpired in an interview this week with the Irish Independent, and the moments where McIlroy felt his emotions devolve into "red mist" of fury.
"Here's what angered me," McIlroy explained during his sit-down with Paul Kimmage. "My relationship with Cantlay is average at best. We don't have a ton in common and see the world quite differently. But when I saw he was getting stick on the 17th and 18th greens I tried to quiet the crowd for him. And I don't think [Matt] Fitz[patrick] and I were afforded the same opportunity to try and hole those putts to halve the match. I hit a decent putt, but I under-read it basically, and Fitz hit a good putt but left it short, right in the jaws. ... I shook Joe's hand, and Patrick's hand. Those three putts he made on 16, 17 and 18 were fantastic, and under that pressure, to give your team a glimmer of hope going into Sunday was big balls. So, all respect to him. There was a bit of argy-bargy at the back of the 18th green with Fred Couples and Thomas Bjorn - and that's fine - but as I'm walking back to the locker room, I can feel this red mist coming over me: ‘No! That wasn't right.'"
Lowry played bouncer again, separating McIlroy and Justin Thomas' caddie, Bones Mackay, in Marco Simone's valet line, McIlroy ran into Brooks Koepka's caddie, Ricky Elliott, and instructor, Claude Harmon III.
"We get to the hotel, and as you come into the lobby we go left to our wing of the hotel, and the Americans go right to their wing," McIlroy said. "So, we're going left and someone is shouting at me, ‘Rory! Rory!', and I look back and it's Ricky Elliott and Claude Harmon. And they're trying to diffuse the situation. But I start having a go at them: ‘Joe LaCava used to be a nice guy when he was caddying for Tiger, and now he's caddying for that d--- he's turned into a--.' I still wasn't in a great headspace."
McIlroy said he cooled down literally and figuratively with eight minutes in a 6-degree cold bath, then reported as scheduled to the Team Europe room.
He said he thought he was "in trouble" when European captain Luke Donald entered.
"But he goes, ‘Rory! I f------ loved that!' And all the boys started banging the table. It was brilliant. It had been a really deflating finish, but it galvanized the team," he said.
During the team ruckus, McIlroy said he ignored text messages from LaCava asking to meet to iron out the issues and dismissed multiple calls and three text messages from Woods. At the end of the night, McIlroy did acknowledge Woods' outreach but declined to talk.
What did he tell Tiger?
"I sent him a quick message: It will be fine ... long day ... just want to go to bed."
--Field Level Media