Justin Rose gives Europe something to aim at by playing perfectly boring golf
Europe’s Mr Dependable steadies the ship as Americans blown off course
Europe’s English golfer Justin Rose (R) and Europe’s Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson celebrate their victory. Photograph: Getty Images
When Justin Rose teed off for the afternoon just short of two o’clock, the situation could hardly have looked less appealing. It wasn’t just that Europe had lost three matches in the morning session, it was who and how they’d lost them. Their biggest dogs had been outbarked - Rose, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, all back in the clubhouse with nothing to show for it.
Europe’s margin for error had diminished to the size of pea. When McIlroy ran into Rose on the locker room at lunchtime, all he asked was for something to aim at. Given the dubious state of McIlroy’s aim all morning, it was maybe not the best choice of words.
That said, Rose had some making up to do as well. He and Rahm had thrown their morning match away against Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka, partly through outrageous luck on the American side but partly too because of a poorly played final hole. Up to then, the Americans had won three holes all match - two with chip-ins, one when a Finau tee shot bounced up off the railway sleepers around the water at the 15th and nestled three feet from the hole.
Their fourth came when Rose dunked his approach on 18. Europe made the unforgiveable error of losing a fourballs hole to a par because Rose, with Rahm already in trouble after an errant drive, ran his second through the green and into the drink. At worst, he should have closed out a half - it was a rare brain fart.
So when he and Henrik Stenson renewed their partnership for the afternoon, it couldn’t have had more riding on it. If there was to be a European revival, it was unlikely to happen without their best player leading it. If you can’t depend on Justin Rose, who can you depend on?
As it turns out, you can depend on American Ryder Cup teams to yet again not really get what foursomes is about. The longer the afternoon went on the clearer it became that this format suits the side who does the fewest stupid things. This goes double on a tight course with deep rough like Le Golf National and it goes treble when the wind gets up, as it did here. Rose and Stenson didn’t significantly outplay Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler, they just made far fewer unforced errors.
From the fifth hole to the 11th, Rose and Stenson went from all square to five up and they only had to post a single birdie to do so. On the fifth, Fowler hoiked his approach dead left from the middle of the fairway, leaving Johnson a brutal chip from cloying rough. On the short par-four sixth, Fowler again pulled his approach to the left and again Johnson had no shot. Meanwhile, Rose and Stenson were steady as the rent and went two up without having to do anything spectacular to earn it.
And so it went. At the seventh, Johnson’s tee shot cleared Rose’s by about 25 yards but whereas the Englishman’s was in the middle of the fairway, Johnson left his partner ankle deep in the right rough with the ball way below his feet. Fowler could only hack it forward about 60 yards and Europe had two putts to win another hole with a regulation par.
If you’re not hitting fairways, you better sink some putts. The Americans at nothing there either. Johnson lipped out from six feet at the short eighth to sully a brilliant approach from Fowler. Fowler returned the favour on the next hole after Johnson had played a wonderful 50-yard bunker shot to nine feet. It meant Rose and Stenson went to the turn three-up even though they were only level par for the front nine.
The Americans’ general untidiness continued to dog them. Fowler’s drive on 10 put them out of position and when he looked to have saved them with a delicious bunker shot soon after, Johnson’s ice-cold putter let them down from no more than four feet.
A sumptuous long putt down the hill on the next from Fowler got the same treatment, this time from six feet. It meant Europe went five up despite missing Stenson leaking putts on both holes as well. The difference was he was putting for birdies, Johnson was putting for pars.
And though the US managed to drag a couple of holes back on the way in, Rose and Stenson were never going to be so loose as to squander that size of an advantage. It ended on the 16th, after a safe Stenson tee shot left Rose with two putts from 20 feet. He was never going to leave his partner any more than gimme range from there. They won 3&2, playing exactly the sort of boring golf the situation demanded.
McIlroy, playing in the match behind 15 minutes later, broke off from his walk to the green to run over and slap them both on the back as they were giving interviews. They had given him something to aim at alright. And everyone else in their team.