Ryder Cup: Justin Rose riding high as the European cavalry arrives
Team Europe flew into Chicago from Heathrow early yesterday afternoon. That there were only three players on the plane tells how far the centre of golfing gravity has shifted in recent years. Five of the European team lining up at Medinah this week contested the final tournament of the PGA Tour regular season in Atlanta.
Four more were watching from their American homes. Only Paul Lawrie, Francesco Molinari and Nicolas Colsearts crossed the Atlantic, challenging the idea that this is an away fixture in the full sense of the word.
It is true that sentiment will be largely with one side when the 39th Ryder Cup tees off in this outer suburb on Friday. That aside there will be little to discomfit the cosmopolitan group in European blue. The final of the Fed-Ex Cup at East Lake on Sunday approximated to the Ryder Cup singles, with Brandt Snedeker effectively seeing off the challenge of Justin Rose at the penultimate hole to claim victory at the Tour Championship.
Snedeker's performance vindicated captain Davis Love III's decision to include him among his picks and gave the Americans temporary bragging rights. But the Europe captain, Jose-Maria Olazabal, will have been just as pleased with the display of Rose and Luke Donald, who shook off indifferent form in the three preceding Fed-Ex tournaments.
Today begins three days of formal practice, during which the captains will settle on the pairings for Friday's opening foursomes. Rose, second only in accomplishment to Rory McIlroy this year, is making his second appearance in the Ryder Cup following his debut in Valhalla. A repeat of the three points he returned under Nick Faldo's management would be welcome.
"I always tell people that when I played at the 2008 Ryder Cup I finished on the losing team yet had one of the best weeks of my life," said Rose. "I can only imagine what it would feel like to be on a winning team. That is one of the really big goals in my career and, hopefully, we can do that this year.
"I suppose you could say that Valhalla was a personal triumph but that doesn't count for much because, at the end of the day, if the team doesn't win then you have nothing to show for it. But to have played so well under that kind of pressure will, hopefully, hold me in good stead for Medinah."
Of his performance at East Lake and its consequences for the Ryder Cup, Rose said: "Obviously, with Snedeker winning, the needle might be swinging in favour of the Americans. But I think it's set up for a great week in Chicago. Two great teams, all in the top 40 in the world. It's probably as strong as it's ever been between the two teams. All 12 of their guys played this week, and only five of ours did. We'll see how that plays out."
Donald's second successive round of 67 was bettered only by Hunter Mahan on the final day, demonstrating once again the value of precision on a tight course. Donald's Ryder Cup win ratio is the highest on the European team, recording victories in eight of the 11 duels he has contested, and in Chicago he is returning to his adopted home.
"Some of my best moments in golf have been in the Ryder Cup," said Donald. "Obviously, with it being in Chicago, the place I have lived for the last 15 years, it will be pretty special to just drive down the road and play. It is going to be a unique experience."
Lee Westwood was among the first to arrive, but then he did have a longer run at the journey, having gone out in the first group on Sunday. Westwood laughed off his last-place finish at East Lake, claiming to be in fine fettle as he enters the Ryder Cup arena. "The speed of the greens caught me out," he said. "I have a few days' practice coming up. I've learnt the important thing in the Ryder Cup is to pace yourself. It's a long week."
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