Fergie stirs Europe, soldiers spark US at Ryder Cup

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Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and two US soldiers who lost limbs fighting in Iraq delivered motivational messages to golfers ahead of Friday's start of the 40th Ryder Cup.

And the inspirational talks Tuesday night could just make a trophy-winning difference in this week's showdown at Gleneagles, says world number one Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

"Those things do help, those things really do. It galvanises us and brings us together," McIlroy said. "These things, they help. They are little details in the bigger picture, but it would be that half a percent or one percent that helps us to get back that little trophy."

Ferguson a 72-year-old Scotsman who retired in 2013 after a 26-year career, guided Manchester United to 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League titles.

"OK, everyone might not be a Man United fan, but at the same time, everyone has to respect what Alex Ferguson has done in his career and how successfully," said McIlroy, a Man United supporter.

"He's a very inspirational sort of man when he talks. He's got a lot of authority and the room just goes quiet and everyone listens. It was a great experience."

Europeans, seeking their sixth victory in seven tries over the United States, have employed Welsh rugby union star Gareth Edwards then-Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola for past speeches.

US captain Tom Watson tried to ease the pressure on an American side that has lost seven of the past nine Ryder Cups by reminding players golf is just a game, having them meet US Army sergeants Josh Olson and Noah Galloway, who were wounded fighting in Iraq.

"I think the sobering effect of last night has put them on a good even keel," Watson said. "It did give perspective. That was the whole reason.

"In this cauldron of pressure, it's great to have that kind of sobering. We make it a big deal, but it's not that big a deal. It is the Ryder Cup. Yeah, there's pressure there. But you look in perspective of what those men did... We're playing a game for a living. That's the message."

Galloway tweeted, "I've had several interesting things happen to me, but I must say the moment Phil Mickelson grabbed my phone for a selfie and Rickie Fowler photobombed it is definitely one of those that top my list."

Mickelson called their talks "two of the best speeches that we've had."

"These two gentlemen have overcome some of the greatest challenges that any individual could deal with in life... loss of limbs, near-death experiences, and they're overcoming those challenges," he said.

"We, as players, found this to be very inspirational. It makes the challenge of overcoming an incredibly strong European team seem not as great a challenge."

McIlroy, who won back-to-back majors at this year's British Open and PGA Championship, was nearly hypnotised by Ferguson.

"I was just sitting there and looking up at him, and I didn't take my eyes off him," McIlroy said. "I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything he was saying and I'm sort of thinking, 'This is all the stuff that he's probably said to Manchester United teams over the years.'"

Ferguson stressed making the most of a home-soil advantage.

"We're slight favourites for a reason. We deserve to be," McIlroy said. "We've played well this year. It's not something that we should shy away from. It's something that we should embrace."

Even Real Madrid fan Sergio Garcia gathered something from Ferguson.

"Hard-working, confidence, belief, never giving up," Garcia said. "Just keep fighting until the end."

Practice hints at duos

Wednesday practice pairings hinted at possible foursomes and fourball duos with McIlroy joined by reigning US Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and the likely tandem of Graeme McDowell and France's Victor Dubuisson.

Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose joined Garcia and Sweden's Henrik Stenson while Gallacher went out with Welshman Jamie Donald, Dane Thomas Bjorn and England's Lee Westwood.

On the American side, pals Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson were joined by Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson while rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed teed off with Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar.

Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson will partner with Keegan Bradley. They worked with Rickie Fowler and rookie Jimmy Walker.

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