THE man we think of as “Mr Ryder Cup” finally came alive. We just knew, surely, that Ian Poulter would show his true colours.
The man who could actually be an even more worthy candidate for that title, if not now then somewhere down the line, has been switched on at Gleneagles from the off.
We’re talking, of course, about Justin Rose. Perhaps it’s down to spending so much time with Poulter at his side in this event. Five of his nine matches coming in here had been in the company of his fellow Englishman. Whatever it is, Rose comes alive on this stage, too.
Just ask Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar. Or Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. Rose blossomed against both American duos as he took his tally here to three-and-a-half points in four outings. His overall record now is nine-and-a-half from 13 matches, a Poulter-esque return.
Watson and Kuchar were a combined nine-under-par for 16 holes in the second-day fourballs. If they’d been up against any of the three other European pairings, they’d have come out on top. Unfortunately for them, they ran into an immovable force. Buoyed by two wins on day one, Rose and his partner, Swede Henrik Stenson, covered the same stretch in 12-under-par – a record for fourballs in the event. Their combined better-ball was 52 – a European record. Despite being slightly restrained by a stiff back – it was the reason their winning partnership was split up in the afternoon, when Rose joined forces with Martin Kaymer – Stenson made five of those birdies. Rose carded seven that counted and would likely have made more if he’d had to hole everything out.
To close out the match, they birdied ten holes in a row. After being two down after six, the Europeans won 3&2. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime – something very special,” said Stenson. “To make ten birdies in a row, that doesn’t come around very often.”
It would be totally wrong to suggest it’s been a one-man show. Stenson, last year’s FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai winner, produced a strong display in the opening-day foursomes. He also came in when he was needed on this occasion. According to Rose, in fact, it was his partner that provided their spark after the Americans had made the brighter start by holing a six-footer for a win at the par-4 seventh. “That really started the momentum swing,” noted the Scottish Open champion.
As Stenson was quick to acknowledge, though, Rose delivered the bulk of the telling blows, which included a 20-foot birdie putt at the eighth and one from off the front edge at the short tenth. “It was one-half Stenson; one-and-a-half part Rose,” said the world No.5 – one spot above his team-mate. “Justin has played phenomenally all week and today I was there to back him up on a few occasions.”
Stenson got in first to make birdies at the 12th, for a win, and 14th, for a half. The Swede then hit his approach stiff at the 15th, where Kuchar holed from just off the green for a half. Stenson’s wry smile as they left that green told you that this was one of the great Ryder Cup matches. Right up there with the best, in fact.
Fittingly, it was Rose who shut the door on the Americans. From the left rough, his decision to take on the water at the par-5 16th was perhaps a touch reckless. It went left into the massive crowd up at the green. Having been well trampled, it wasn’t the best of lies. Despite that, Rose lobbed it into the air and the ball came down like a feather to nestle close to the hole for a match-winning concession. “I was in a great zone and played great, making everything I looked at,” admitted the 2013 US Open champion.
His afternoon contribution was less spectacular but equally important. In holing from six feet for a birdie at the last for a half, he denied the Americans going into the singles without the sort of boost that Poulter had provided for Europe two years ago.
“This afternoon was more of a battle,” he added. “Playing the last hole, Martin said, ‘come on, we really need to get a point out of this game’ and that made the task simple. To pull out the half feels great and keeps the momentum for us going into tomorrow.”
Rose, of course, produced a phenomenal finish to beat Phil Mickelson in the singles at Medinah two years ago, holing a monster across the green at the 17th then knocking in one from closer range at the last. In some respects, that contribution was overshadowed by what Poulter did the night before when finishing with five birdies as well, and, of course, Kaymer converting his six-foot knee-trembler to retain the iconic gold trophy.
So far, however, no one has done more for Europe in their bid to sicken the Americans again than Rose. He may not show it in the same way, but there are definitely some Poulter-isms creeping in. A cheeky wink to Watson, for instance, after holing a putt wasn’t what you’d have once expected to see from him. Strip him bare, though, and his Ryder Cup DNA will be an exact match.