When I looked up at the scoreboard sprawled across the front of the media center Saturday morning, I wasn’t immediately sure which group to follow. The fourball matches were all on the front nine still and my plan was to catch one as they made the turn.
About 15 minutes later, it became brilliantly obvious when I saw the flurry of red numbers posted in the opening match between Europe’s power duo, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, and America’s odd couple, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar — they were all square as they headed to the back nine, not to mention they were obviously playing very well.
I had a feeling I’d be seeing some solid golf, but little did I know I would end up witnessing one of the most remarkable fourball matches in the history of the Ryder Cup.
I caught the group just as Stenson rolled in a short birdie putt on no. 12 to take a 1-up lead for the first time in the match.
Then, on no. 13, with the Americans in good position, Rose putted first and drained a downhill 18-footer that slid toward the hole before disappearing in the cup. He turned around toward the crowd and made three emphatic fist-pumps.
On the drivable par-4 14th, Stenson was in the rough short right of the green. His chip rolled 12 feet past the hole, while Rose was left with a six-footer for birdie. However, Rose never needed to putt as Stenson rolled in his 12-footer from the fringe.
You see, Rose and Stenson, who were Europe’s stars on Friday going 2-0, fell to an early deficit to Watson and Kuchar, going 2-down after six holes. You see, the European duo decided on a goal — they need to square up the match by the 16th hole.
“There were some key moments in the round,” said Rose, who carded seven of the pair’s record-breaking 12 birdies. “I hit a shortish putt at 7, missed it; we were 2-down.
“Henrik made that (putt) and that really started the momentum swing. We set a mini goal of getting back to all-square by the 16th tee.”
That’s also when they started their birdie blitz, rolling in 10 in a row before closing out the Americans 3&2 in the match.
“Of course we would have birdied 17 and 18, as well, if we had a chance,” quipped Stenson in a press conference Saturday afternoon.
But that birdie on the 7th was a crucial moment in the match.
‘We were 2-down at the time, given that Justin had made a couple of great birdies already and we were still 2-down,” said Stenson. “He just lipped-out for his birdie from about eight feet, so of course it was very important for me to make that 7-footer down the hill to get one back, and that kind of started our run.
“We were hoping to get back to kind of all-square late in the back nine to have a chance coming in the last couple holes, but it only took us two holes to be back to all-square. Then we didn’t give them a chance.”
Stenson, who is nursing a sore back that forced him to sit out the afternoon and rest, gave most the credit to Rose, who has been absolutely flawless.
“I was it was one-half Stenson, one-and-a-half part Rose,” said Stenson. “Justin played phenomenally all week, and luckily I was there to back him up on a couple of occasions.”
Rose has been an absolute magician in the first three sessions, where he and Stenson went 3-0, but it was his dexterity on the greens that separated this round from the rest.
“I think obviously I really got into reading the greens well today and I just had the feeling of the anticipation of what it’s going to feel like to make putts today,” said Rose, who goes to 9-3 in his Ryder Cup record. “When you get into that mind-set, and you just see the ball going in the hole and you sort of get those positive vibes, today was a day it all happened for me.”
Stenson and Rose were quick to give Kuchar and Watson credit, as the American duo obviously held their own if they took the match all the way to 16, despite the 12 birdies made by Team Europe. That’s because they rolled in nine of their own — not too shabby.
Watson was on his game, dropping in seven of those birdies and carrying Kuchar for most of the match.
“Give Bubba and Matt credit, we knew we were up against it with those guys and the spirit in which they played the match was phenomenal,” said Rose. “They would have won nine times out of ten today.”
Watson and Kuchar can certainly take pride in having their own part to the record-breaking day, as Rose and Stenson chalked up another page in the history books. The four players were 21-under combined, with the Americans carding nine of them.
“That was wild,” said Watson following the loss. “We would like to go to a few more holes, just so we could watch some great golf again. They played great, they made all the putts, they made key putts.
“Then to watch ten (birdies) in a row, that’s just amazing. We were right there, it wasn’t like we got killed. We pushed them as far as we could.”
Added Kuchar: “What a team. It was impressive what they were doing, just birdie after birdie. I think we counted ten in a row, awfully tough to beat that. We played good golf. Right now they are unbeatable and hopefully we can figure out a way to make some more birdies.”
Bubba was disappointed with the loss, but he recognized they were flat-out outplayed and he was pleased with his own performance, as well.
“Today wasn’t that I lost,” he said. “It was, I got beat. Justin Rose and his partner played well. Henrik Stenson played quite well, and I can’t look back and go, man, I wish I would have done this.
“I think I did everything I thought I could do. I think I had six birdies in 15 holes, so I can’t get too mad at that. So I know my game is pretty good.”
It was definitely a treat to watch, and by far, the greatest fourball match I’ve seen in person. I found myself shaking my head as Rose and Stenson stuck shot after shot and made putt after putt. (I also put money on Rose being the top European points leader, so that’s good.) In my line of work I’m fortunate to bear witness to loads of great golf, but this one will undoubtedly stick out as one of the best — even if the Americans were on the losing side.
In my predictions for the morning fourballs last night, I forecasted that Team USA would get throttled, but (fortunately) turned out I was wrong. The Americans played brilliantly, coming out on top in the fourballs once again as they beat the Europeans 2.5-1.5 points. The total score heading into afternoon foursomes is 6.5 Europe to 5.5 USA.