Thursday 5 December 2019

Records tumble as Europe seize control

Justin Rose set the tone. Harry How/Getty Images
Justin Rose set the tone. Harry How/Getty Images

Dermot Gilleece

Captivated galleries estimated at 45,000 framed the banked fairways at Gleneagles, when the 40th Ryder Cup was graced by competitive play of unprecedented quality. And after their overnight supremacy had been cut to 6.5-5.5 by lunchtime, Europe regained control for a dominant lead of 10-6 by the end of play, the margin they, ironically, recovered from two years ago.

This weekend's activities will be worth £100m to the Scottish economy, much of it contributed by Americans yearning for redemption after the embarrassment of Medinah. But it was the European pair of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson who set the tone with a record-breaking performance on a truly memorable day.

Their better-ball of 12-under-par for the 16 holes it took to beat Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar ranks supreme in the history of this biennial showpiece. And the Americans' nine-under better-ball in defeat made for a combined record of 21-under.

Temperatures of 15 celsius and fresh south-westerlies easing to about 15mph from the brisk breeze of Friday made for ideal golfing weather. And through double-cutting and rolling, green-speeds were quickened to 10.9 on the Stimpmeter, which is fairly close to normal European tour pace.

All of which clearly suited the European pair. The only downside here was that the Swede felt obliged to stand down from the afternoon's play because of a back ailment, though there are no doubts about his fitness for today's singles.

Over the years, the captain's deployment of his troops has often been crucial to Ryder Cup success. And while Paul McGinley's leadership so far has been roundly endorsed, Tom Watson came in for heavy criticism for failing to include the rampant rookies, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth, in Friday afternoon's foursomes.

Yet there was much else that Watson got right, by way of heightening the tempo of battle. Indeed from a European standpoint, there were probably too many moments throughout the day which revived uncomfortable memories of the climax to the 1993 matches, when Watson, as a potentially victorious American skipper, whispered to a colleague: "Listen to the silence. Isn't it beautiful?"

As it happened, Reed and Spieth were responsible for many subdued moments among home supporters. And after winning their morning fourball on the 15th, they took on current US Open champion Martin Kaymer and his predecessor, Rose.

It proved to be a tense, sometimes thrilling tussle, and despite Reed's blunder of missing by less than three feet for a win on the 17th, they managed to squeeze a half which destroyed Rose's attempt at a clean sweep of five wins from five.

Rory McIlroy seemed to be cast in the role of salvage man. While nothing was divulged about the content of Alex Ferguson's team-room address last week, one could imagine the Holywood star taking on board his mantra to Manchester United players that if they could match opponents of lesser quality in determination and application, superior class would ultimately prove decisive.

This was certainly true of the late recovery which saw himself and Ian Poulter salvage a halved fourball with Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler yesterday morning.

"I thought I walked fast but Rory was striding right by my side," said the smiling Englishman, who shared a memorable Saturday afternoon with McIlroy in Medinah.

Later, in sending McIlroy back into foursomes action with Sergio Garcia, McGinley gave them the target of finishing the job they embarked upon in a hard-won half-point on Friday. And they duly delivered with a five-birdie win over Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan.

Meanwhile Graeme McDowell and Victor Dubuisson took up where they had left off in Friday's foursomes win over the crack US duo of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. This time it was Walker and Fowler in the firing line, thrashed by the irresistible efficiency of a remarkable partnership.

"This hugely talented man may be the best I've played with since Rory McIlroy," proclaimed McDowell of a partner who dovetailed beautifully, especially when employing an impeccable short-game. Much of the damage on dispirited opponents was inflicted by the short 10th where the Frenchman hit a glorious iron to two feet for a half in birdie which left the Europeans four under par and five up.

Around these parts, they are liable to remind you of the old Robbie Burns line that "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley". Still, the prospect of another European win has to be viewed as decidedly bright.

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