CHASKA, Minn. – Henrik Stenson tracked the flight of his shot from the middle of the 11th fairway and didn’t like where it was headed. The ball had barely settled into a greenside bunker when he flipped the fairway wood end-over-end into the air like a baton.
“Welcome to America, Henrik!” someone in the gallery howled with delight.
Never mind that Stenson and his family have lived in a very exclusive enclave in Orlando, Florida, for four years now. More important is that it was the Swede who had the last laugh Friday at the Ryder Cup.
He teamed with Englishman Justin Rose in the afternoon’s fourballs to begin the comeback that Rory McIlory and rookie Thomas Pieters finished in grand style to pull Europe to 5-3 by the time the gates at Hazeltine National Golf Club were closed.
The closing flourish was something to see.
Like Stenson-Rose, the McIlroy-Pieters duo got beat handily as the Americans rolled out a 4-0 sweep of the morning foursome. No U.S. team had managed to sweep a session since 1981, which may explain why Captain Davis Love left his opening and anchor pairings intact. So did Darren Clarke, his European counterpart, and his turned out to be the better gamble.
No sooner had McIlory’s 20-footer dropped for eagle to seal a 3-and-2 win over Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, than he pumped his fist, then stopped and bowed deeply to the sometimes-raucous and overwhelmingly hometown crowd ringing the 16th green.
“I wanted to put an exclamation point on that session for us,” McIlroy said. “I thought about that celebration before I hit the putt.”
It was the kind of gesture we’ve come to expect from Spaniard Sergio Garcia. He teamed with countryman Rafael Cabrera Bello to win his afternoon match and has often served as the emotional engine for the European side, a role he inherited from the late Seve Ballesteros, another of his countrymen.
But Garcia was relatively subdued after his win and, if McIlroy, as well as Stenson and others whose style is less demonstrative, step forward and claim a leadership role, these Ryder Cup matches will be something to see.
With six rookies on his side, Clarke opted to pair the Olympic medallists – Rose won gold at Rio and Stenson grabbed silver – and put them out as his leadoff pair for both the foursomes and fourballs. They managed just one birdie through the 16 holes in the alternate-shot format and got beat 3 and 2 by Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
“Obviously, Jordan and Patrick made a few more putts and got the momentum early,” Stenson said.
But the Swede had an inkling he’d get the chance to square things.
“Jordan just told me he would see me this afternoon,” Stenson added, and Spieth turned out to be right.
But this time, the Europeans got some traction early, turning a 1-down deficit around with three straight birdies by Stenson and leading 2-up before they turned for the back nine. When Stenson dumped that fairway wood at par-5 11th into the bunker and wound up making par, Rose stepped up and halved the hole with a nervy 6-footer for birdie. That fueled another run as Stenson and Rose took the next three holes and closed out the match 5 and 4.
“Makes it sweeter when you beat the guys you lost to in the morning,” Stenson said.