Saturday 21 September 2019

Old dogs provide the inspiration for Bjorn in foursomes backlash

Sergio Garcia is embraced by vice-captain Luke Donaldo after Europe’s victory in yesterday’s foursomes. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Sergio Garcia is embraced by vice-captain Luke Donaldo after Europe’s victory in yesterday’s foursomes. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Brian Keogh

Thomas Bjorn won't be remembered as a tactical genius if Europe fails to win back the Ryder Cup.

But in selecting three old dogs for the hard road and letting them off the leash in the toughest of all formats, he's given the hosts much more than a fighting chance of reclaiming that little gold chalice tomorrow.

There have been just ten 4-0 whitewashes in the history of the event, and with those sides winning the Ryder Cup nine times and drawing the other one to retain the trophy in 1989, Europe's first foursomes clean sweep since that tied match at The Belfry 29 years ago bodes well for the steely Dane.

While Paul Casey lost in the fourballs despite leading a spirited fightback with Tyrrell Hatton to take Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth to the last, those afternoon wins for his other wild-cards - Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia - could be worth much gold.

With a stiff north-east wind whistling across the treacherous Le Golf National course, Bjorn's foursomes pairings were an irresistible blend of class and experience, aided and abetted by some woeful American play.

In the words of the Bard: "Experience is by industry achieved, And perfected by the swift course of time."

With an average age of more than 40, Stenson, Poulter and Garcia were simply immense as Europe built a 5-3 lead.

The Swede and the Englishman revived the spirits of Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy with their mere presence while Garcia described by Bjorn during his wild-card announcement as "the heartbeat of this team", proved a brilliant foil for Swedish rookie Alex Noren.

Rose admitted he was crestfallen after losing with Jon Rahm to Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler on the 18th in the morning. But he was lifted by the sight of Stenson and they played their first 11 holes in an implacable level-par to go five up before closing out a 3&2 win.

"To rekindle that was the perfect thing for me this afternoon," Rose said of his partnership with affable Swede. "And Rory said to me, 'Come on, put some blue on the board, give me and Poulter something to chase'."

McIlroy didn't make a birdie alongside Thorbjorn Olesen in the morning. But like Rose, he was transformed alongside the irrepressible Poulter.

"I never have any doubt in Rory McIlroy, because if I start doubting him, then I probably shouldn't be doing this job," Bjorn said.

Despite falling two down after three holes, Poulter would not let McIlroy's head go down and they beat Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson 4&2.

Their turnaround began at the driveable sixth, where Pádraig Harrington was quick to let Bjorn know that McIlroy had just driven the green.

Even when Poulter left the lengthy eagle putt seven feet short, much to the glee of the travelling American fans, McIlroy nervelessly rolled in the putt, bellowing "Come on!" before raising his finger to his lips to shush the hecklers.

You could almost feel the momentum shift around that green after what turned out to be the first of four successive wins that put the Poulter-McIlroy duplex two up at the turn.

Immense Poulter was immense for the remainder against an American pair that was four-over par for the holes played, his never-say-die spirit infectious.

"As Ian said, a big thing for us this week is resilience, but also persistence," McIlroy said. "You have to persist. Persist, persist, persist, until it turns around for you."

Perhaps the defining moment came at the 13th where Poulter's tee-shot drifted right but held up inches from a lateral hazard. McIlroy had a near impossible shot but responded to the challenge, chopping a miraculous approach to 25 feet that his partner duly converted for a birdie that put them three up again. The Ryder Cup brings out the best in Poulter, as he showed alongside McIlroy at Medinah in 2012.

"I love it and embrace it, and when you have great partners to go out and play golf with, it's inspiring," Poulter added.

As for Garcia,, he proved the perfect partner for the metronomic Noren and silenced those who feared he was a risky pick. "He really is that type of guy that binds it all together in the team room," Bjorn said.

They made five birdies in their first nine holes to turn five up against Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau - a hugely unlikely foursomes partnership - and a 5&4 win duly followed.

Noren was fighting back tears, so raw is the emotion of a winning Ryder Cup debut. "It was really nice to get paired with Sergio," the Swede said afterwards, choking up. "We played great."

Irish Independent

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