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Relief ruling fires up McIlroy at Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. — An unfavorable ruling turned out to be the jumpstart the Europeans needed.

Fired up when they were refused relief on the second hole, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have gone on a birdie run and are setting the tone for Europe's early dominance at the Ryder Cup on Friday.

It was exactly the kind of start European captain Jose Maria Olazabal hoped for when he sent his strongest pair off first in the foursomes.

McIlroy and McDowell closed the front nine with birdies on five of the last six holes, and were 3 up on Jim Furyk and rookie Brandt Snedeker through 12 holes. Ian Poulter and Justin Rose were taking advantage of the shaky start by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, who were lucky to only be 1 down at the turn.

Fourballs will be played Friday afternoon. Europe has won four of the last five Ryder Cups.

McIlroy's tee shot on the par-3 No. 2 landed a few inches in front of the sprinkler head, and McDowell asked for relief. The Americans seemed to indicate it wasn't needed, and two referees agreed, forcing McDowell to chip. The Europeans wound up bogeying the hole, giving the U.S. its first lead of the day.

But two holes later, McIlroy chipped in from behind the green to square the alternate-shot match. The world No. 1 screamed and threw a roundhouse punch when the ball went in the cup, and slapped McDowell's hand so hard his friend will likely be feeling it the rest of the day. That started a run of four straight birdies, with the Northern Irish duo making one big shot after another.

They even got some help from the Americans. Furyk called a penalty on himself when the ball moved ever so slightly as he took a practice swing on the 10th hole. He and Snedeker wound up with a bogey, and a bogey on the next hole gave the Europeans their biggest lead in any of the matches.

Stricker and Woods are 6-2-0 together in match play, and U.S. captain Davis Love III asked them to anchor the morning session. But they were in trouble right from the start, with Woods pushing his drive on No. 1 so far left it came to a rest against a fence in the corporate hospitality area. Stricker made a nice recovery and the Americans salvaged a halve against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

But they fell behind on the next hole, when Stricker put his tee shot in the water. Woods sprayed another tee shot into the gallery on No. 5, missed a short par putt on No. 6 and chunked a flop shot on the par-3 No. 8. But Rose missed — badly — on his par putt to win the hole as the Americans finally caught a break.