AS DARKNESS gave way to dawn and the sun peeped over the Ochils, a familiar voice introduced us to the 2014 Ryder Cup, but it was not one of Ivor Robson’s better days. “On the tee, Bubba Watson,” said the European Tour announcer, only to see a surprised Bubba shake his head. “On the tee, Webb Simpson,” said Robson, coughing slightly.
If that was a slightly shambolic start to Gleneagles’ finest hour, it didn’t get much better for the American pairing. Simpson skied the opening shot, and although Watson whipped the crowd into a minor frenzy, à la Medinah, he was to have a torrid time of it in the 14 holes that followed.
A 5 and 4 spanking by Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson quickly ensured that the first match of the Ryder Cup also produced its first point. The Europeans, especially Rose, took full advantage of their misfiring opponents who managed not a single birdie all morning, an embarrassing statistic in fourballs golf. Simpson, in particular, had a rough old time of it. He was in all sorts of bother, from bunkers to hazards and thick rough. When one of his drives missed the ninth fairway, leaving him with a mound – covered in spectators – to negotiate, he yelled: “I’d move…if you’re smart”.
Watson, meanwhile, was quite a sight, gadding about the property, mittens on and waterproofs flapping about him. His putter, stone cold, could have done with one of those gloves. When he required three strokes on the second green, Europe seized an early lead. The advantage was soon doubled thanks to Rose’s birdie putt on the par-3 fourth.
At this stage, neither team were covering themselves in glory. The four players all made a hash of the par-4 fifth. Rose drove into rough, chipped out and chunked his chip. Simpson had to take a drop when his approach drifted right. Watson’s second was equally poor, firing straight left, into a bunker. Stenson, who had also laid up, managed a bogey, which is what the hole was halved in.
The turning point came at the ninth, where Rose was stung by a wasp, while searching for a ball he leaked into the hazard. As he gave up on the ball and retired to nurse his ailing thumb, Stenson stepped up with a birdie. When Rose drained a long putt on the tenth to put Europe three up, the hand was not sore enough to prevent him exchanging a high-five with his partner.
Despite passing up chances to win by more, the Europeans were cruising. Victory was only a matter of time, which finally ran out for their opponents on the par-4 14th. After a safe, but long, drive to the front of the green, Rose chipped on and putted for a decisive birdie. “For us to get off to this sort of start and build some momentum is fantastic,” said Rose who would resume his partnership with Stenson in the afternoon. The same could not be said of Watson and Simpson, who were quietly given the rest of the day off.