Fantastic finishes

Ryder Cup 2023: The 18th hole was Europe's raucous happy place in afternoon comebacks

September 29, 2023

ROME — On the first day of the 44th Ryder Cup, the gates opened at 6:45 a.m., and for the next 11 hours, there was no lonelier place at Marco Simone than the 18th hole. The European team could be credited or blamed for that, with its 4-0 thumping of the U.S. in Friday morning foursomes not allowing any match to sniff the par-5 finisher.

In the final hour of the afternoon fourball matches? The sweeping downhill 18th was a raucous and quite literal three-ring circus as a trio of games came down to the final putt. And in the spirit of the day and maybe this weekend, all of them stunningly turned in the Europeans’ favor as they built a 6½-1½ advantage on Day 1.

The replays of Europe’s putts on the final hole will be played on hype videos for decades, and they all were equally dramatic.

In the afternoon’s opening match, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth looked like they’d earn America’s first point, but Viktor Hovland drained a 26-foot birdie that he had to double-clutch on his celebration because it looked like his ball would just run out of steam.

“It was about time the ball went in,” said Hovland, who opened the day with his first Ryder Cup victory by teaming with rookie Ludvig Aberg to beat Max Homa and Brian Harman. “I felt like we played some really good golf today, and the Americans played some great golf as well and they kept pushing us and, yeah—to make a putt like that on the last hole that was huge for the team.”

Finishing on their heels in Match 2, Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler had to wonder what more they could have done against Jon Rahm and first-time Ryder Cupper Nicolai Hojgaard. Incredibly, the Americans birdied seven of their last eight holes, including concessions, but ultimately were beaten by the otherworldly heroics of Rahm, who eagled the 16th with a chip-in (his third of the day) and then gave himself another eagle look at 18.

With Rahm lining up his putt on the front of the last green after he lashed his approach from 268 yards, Koepka and Scheffler were in great shape, five and 11 feet, respectively, from the hole for a birdie that would clinch a 1-up victory.

Then they all, including Rahm, watched in disbelief as the Spaniard hit an aggressive putt, the ball hitting the exact back of the hole, popping up and dropping in. Rahm looked thoroughly embarrassed, covering his face in his hand, but he broke into a huge smile when his teammates mobbed him.

“It's the intention of the moment, and then the fact that something happens is truly unique,” Rahm said. “I've got to give Nicolai props because over here on 18, he gave me the freedom to basically go at it, and he told me to hit a putt, try to make it. And he said, ‘What would Seve do, do it for Seve.’ I don't know if he would have quite made it like that, but I'm sure glad that it went in.”

Said Koepka, “Nothing you can do.”

At that point, Europe had scratched two half-points out of potential losses, and with Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick routing Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele, 5 and 3, the U.S. needed something to go right.

Enter, instead, 43-year-old Englishman Justin Rose, who’s had plenty of moments in the sun over five previous Ryder Cups. In the evening’s fading light, he was still grinding after all but carrying rookie Robert MacIntyre for 17 holes. Reigning U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark and Homa led from the seventh hole, but saw that lead whittled to 1 up when the Americans butchered the par-3 17th with a bogey.

In a classic match-play situation, Europe looked dead at the 18th when Rose drove into a bunker and MacIntyre missed into deep rough. Homa laid up from the rough, but Clark went for it and missed the green far to the right. Then Rose followed by hitting an approach to eight feet.

Clark ruined his chance for a birdie when he sculled his third from a scruffy lie over the green, and Homa missed his birdie effort from 12 feet. That left the stage to Rose, who buried his roll and celebrated with a deep knee bend and guttural yell. He also mouthed words that he was later asked about.

“I think it was ‘you and you and you and you’—that's what I was saying,” Rose said. “For all the boys. You know, just because everyone is in it together. Made the putt because I had 10 people willing it in behind me. Yeah, it's for them, as well.”

Rose won the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. He’s holed numerous putts of significance in the Ryder Cup. They are the moments that every golfer lives for. Where did this one rank?

"Top, top, top,” he said. “A lot of putts have meant a lot to me. We don't know the significance of the putt yet, but the last putt of the day, all of your team are behind you, the stage was set. I've been out on the golf course and experienced moments like that in the past, whether it be with Poults [Ian Poulter] and Rory, and guys like that. But I've never had that moment alongside Bob here, where we fought really hard to have that moment.”

For Europe, there were more of those moments than they could have possibly dreamed.