BEWARE the injured golfer, or at least the golfer who has his hand stung by a wasp while he is rummaging about in the rough for a lost ball. Justin Rose emerged from a hazard on the par-5 ninth yesterday with only bruised pride and a swollen right thumb to show for his efforts.
After a long, tiring day at Gleneagles, the Englishman reflected on its only sore point. “I don’t know if it was a bee sting or a wasp, but I had the barb of the insect in me. It’s still pretty swollen and stinging a bit. Luckily, it wasn’t my left thumb because that one takes a lot of pressure. It’s the one that just sits on top and doesn’t do much. I was lucky.”
Maybe, but he was also good. Very good. After a quick antihistamine, and a successful birdie putt on the tenth, Rose was soon the picture of health, striding around Gleneagles with Henrik Stenson, forging the strongest partnership of the day for a European team who were able to sleep with the aid of a 5-3 lead last night.
No-one contributed more to that advantage than Rose and Stenson. Not only did they whip Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 5 and 4 in the morning foursomes, they overcame a much tougher challenge in Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan when it came to the afternoon foursomes.
While the margin of victory was only 2 and 1, the opponents were stronger, the golf was better – four under par in foursomes is no mean feat – and the
upshot was that the Englishman and the Swede were the only two players on day one of the Ryder Cup to win
Rose, in particular, produced a towering display, as his partner admitted later. “He’s got a sharp short game,” said Stenson. “He made some crucial putts and he was driving the ball nicely. If you’re out there with no real weaknesses, it’s hard not to produce good golf. I could have found worse partners.”
Stenson, who improved as the day grew older, combined with Rose to be an inspiration for Europe, exactly as Paul McGinley, their captain, intended when he asked them to lead the team out yesterday morning.
Rose loved every minute of the dawn appointment. Although he didn’t hit the opening shot – that nerve-racking privilege belonged to Simpson, who cut it high into the Perthshire sky – he hit his best drive of the day before setting off down the first fairway, the tone set.
“That was a huge honour,” he said. “This is my first home Ryder Cup, the first time I’ve experienced the majority of the crowd.
“Although the noise was amazing, for me it was the visual. Looking down the fairway and seeing ten, 20 people deep from tee to green was just an amazing sight.” The afternoon atmosphere was more subdued, but Rose again led by example, especially with the putter. After all the hype about Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy, you wondered if the 2013 US Open champion, a veteran of two previous Ryder Cups, had been the leader all along.
Rose, of course, is too modest to admit as much. “Henrik and I were a strong pairing, therefore we warranted playing first, but Sergio and Rory are equally strong. They were kind of like the anchor match. In no way did I see it as our role to be the leader. It was our job to put a point on the board and start things the right way.”
Neither is he comfortable with suggestion that he is the new Poulter. “I don’t think so,” he said. “My record is strong, but Poults’ passion for it, his flair. . . he really revels in that.
“I like to go out and just play a good hard match and deliver for my team. I’m not interested in anything other than delivering a point.”
That he supplied two alongside Stenson justified McGinley’s faith in them. They complement each other as players and people. They are neighbours in Lake Nona, Florida, they travel together and their children are friends.
Rose has played most of his Ryder Cup golf alongside Poulter, a very different personality to Stenson. “Henrik’s intense, but not outwardly so,” said Rose. “He doesn’t express it with huge shows of emotion, but he stays focused the whole day, just like Ian does. He’s a great partner, a partner you can rely on.”
Except on the 12th yesterday afternoon, when the Swede’s birdie putt came up woefully short, leaving Rose with a nasty ten-footer for par. By holing out for a half, he kept Europe one up, and laid claim to a shot that was as big as any he had executed all day.
No wonder McGinley has selected Rose and Stenson to partner each other in this morning’s first match. If they can secure another point, this time against Watson and Matt Kuchar, the Europe captain will be hard pressed to leave them out in the afternoon.
With the singles to come tomorrow, that would mean five matches in three days for the team’s top pairing. It would be a tall order around the PGA Centenary Course – which is physically and mentally demanding, even without the windy conditions – but if McGinley thinks they are up to it, so does Rose.
“I played all five at Medinah, and I played four in my first Ryder Cup, so I have always played a lot of matches,” he said. “There might be times when you just let a good thing keep riding.”