Rory McIlroy was involved in angry exchanges at the end of a scintillating Saturday at the Ryder Cup that saw Europe move within four points of regaining the trophy.
The Northern Irishman confronted Patrick Cantlay’s caddie on the 18th green and was later ushered away from an ugly-looking scene in the car park by team-mate Shane Lowry.
McIlroy was annoyed at the way Joe LaCava celebrated Cantlay’s 30-foot birdie putt and the row spilled over behind the scenes.
LaCava was close to McIlroy, waving his hat in the air, while the Northern Irishman tried to line up his own putt.
Europe captain Luke Donald, who watched the events unfold from the side of the green, said: “I’ve talked to Rory. He politely asked Joe to move aside. He was in his line of vision. He stood there and didn’t move for a while and continued to wave the hat, so I think Rory was upset about that.”
US skipper Zach Johnson said: “A celebration is a celebration. With a big putt like that on 18 at the Ryder Cup, I think you have every right to celebrate with your team and that’s exactly what I saw.”
Justin Rose and Lowry were also incensed and approached LaCava on the green.
It was an unsavoury end to what had been a fabulous day of golf in Rome.
The hosts hold a 10½-5½ lead going into Sunday’s 12 singles and no side has come from five back to win in the event’s 96-year history. A 10-6 deficit has twice been overhauled, by the US at Brookline in 1999 and by Europe at Medinah in 2012.
Europe need to 14½ points to regain the trophy, while the US, as defending champions, require 14 to retain it.
The hosts had dominated the morning alternate-shot foursomes, winning 3-1 to extend their lead to 9½-2½.
But Cantlay won the last two holes against McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick with birdies to eke out a point as the US took the final session 3-1.
The final-green antics led to a chorus of boos from the thousands of fans surrounding the hole.
McIlroy and Fitzpatrick then both missed birdie chances that would have resulted in a halved match at Marco Simone Golf Club.
The world number two was magnanimous when he spoke to the media, saying: “Patrick made three great putts at the end to seal the deal, so hats off to them. They played a great match, and yeah, I mean, a few scenes there on 18 and just fuel for the fire.”
Video footage of a still-riled McIlroy appeared soon after with Lowry guiding his European team-mate away from another confrontation.
The rest of the American players had celebrated Cantlay’s final birdie by waving their caps in the air, a reference to the fact he has not worn a cap all week.
It is understood he is refusing to do because he is not getting paid to play in the biennial contest, and the crowds had been waving caps at Cantlay throughout the afternoon session.
However, in his post-round news conference, he addressed that by saying “it just doesn’t fit, it’s as simple as that”.
And when asked if it was about being paid to play in the Ryder Cup, he replied: “It’s not about that. It’s just about Team USA and representing our country.”
Cantlay and playing partner Wyndham Clark had never led in the match. They were one down from the fourth until Cantlay birdied the 11th. And the American drained two more putts on the 16th and 17th to send the match down the last all square before winning that with yet another birdie.
The top two matches also went the way of the visitors.
Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg were paired together for the afternoon fourballs after dishing out a record 9&7 foursomes beating to world number one Scottie Scheffler, who had tears in his eyes as he was driven away, and five-time major winner Brooks Koepka in the morning.
However, the Europeans were handed a thrashing of their own in the better-ball format as Sam Burns and Collin Morikawa strolled to a 4&3 triumph.
The US had not won the first hole in any of the preceding 12 matches but a Burns birdie put them on the right track. He won three more holes to put them three up by the sixth and Morikawa had two birdies and an eagle in four holes to move them six ahead with six to play.
Successive Aberg birdies kept the Europeans alive but when the Swede missed from 10 feet on the 15th, Burns tapped in to seal just the second full point for the US.
In the second match Max Homa and Brian Harman were also never behind as they beat Tommy Fleetwood and Nicolai Hojgaard 2&1.
Homa birdies put the US three up after six holes and Harman holed another on the ninth to push them further clear.
Hojgaard and Fleetwood tried to mount a late rally and birdies on the 14th and 16th gave them hope but they lost on the 17th.
Europe’s solitary point in the afternoon was a first for debutant Bob MacIntyre, who was playing with veteran Englishman Justin Rose for a second time.
They were up against the formidable unbeaten fourball pairing of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
A tight contest was finally swung Europe’s way when the Scot holed a crucial birdie putt on the par-three 13th to move them two clear. Rose then knocked in another at the next as they ran out 3&2 winners.