MEDINAH, Ill. – It was Dustin Johnson’s short game, not the long stuff that he’s known for, that finished off Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose in their Friday afternoon four-ball match at the Ryder Cup.
The four par saves that Johnson executed on Medinah’s back nine all rated high in degree of difficulty. They all were crucial to the 3-and-2 victory by him and teammate Matt Kuchar, as well.
Kuchar and Johnson, who both sat out the morning session, play two differing styles, but made perfect partners. They never forced the other to shoulder the team’s entire load. There were several times Friday when one American made birdie while his teammate was waiting to attempt an even shorter birdie putt.
“We really worked together well,” Kuchar said.
Their European opponents helped the Americans’ cause. They made par on the first three par 5s, a cardinal sin in four-balls. Kaymer, who’s struggled this year and was the final player to qualify on points for the Ryder Cup roster, didn’t make a birdie.
Johnson and Kuchar built a 3-up lead behind Kuchar’s four consecutive birdies on Nos. 4-7. It wasn’t until the 12th that the Europeans began to threaten that margin. Rose holed a 48-foot birdie putt on that hole to cut the lead to 2 up. It was Europe’s first won hole since Rose’s birdie at No. 1.
Johnson’s saves averted further trouble.
Both Americans missed the green on the par-3 13th after Kaymer hit his tee shot to 15 feet. Johnson faced a short-sided bunker shot to a green that ran away from him. His ball landed in the fringe, then rolled 15 feet on the green to 1 foot. Kuchar and his caddie lifted their first in acknowledgement as Johnson’s ball rolled toward the hole. No one needed to tell him how good it was, though. That save kept the Europeans from winning consecutive holes and moving within 1 down.
Johnson pitched 8 feet past the hole on the No. 15, but made the putt to halve the hole. He faced another greenside bunker shot at the drivable par-4 15th, blasting to 5 feet before watching Justin Rose miss a slightly longer birdie. Johnson made his downhill putt to give his side a dormie 3 advantage. Johnson’s pitch shot over a greenside bunker at the par-4 16th settled 1 foot from the hole and meant the Europeans needed to make birdie to extend the match. They couldn’t, and it was over, giving the United States a third victory in the afternoon session.
Kuchar and Johnson trailed just one hole in the match, after Rose’s opening birdie. Johnson’s 18-foot birdie on the next hole squared things up. Then Kuchar went on his run. He didn’t do it alone, though. Johnson reached the green in two on the par-5 fifth, but it was Kuchar’s 8-foot putt that counted on the card. Same with the next hole, where Johnson had a 4-footer that was meaningless after Kuchar holed out from 12 feet. Johnson also had a short birdie putt on the par-5 seventh hole, but Kuchar holed out first from about 8 feet.
Johnson’s crucial saves on the back nine were made easier by Kuchar’s assistance. Kuchar was waiting to hit a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-5 14th when Johnson holed out from 8 feet. It was actually Kuchar’s two-putt par on the 16th that counted on the team’s card, but it was preceded by Johnson’s pitch to a few feet.
“We make a great team,” said Johnson, one of Davis Love III’s four captain’s selections. “We keep each other energized and excited out there.”
They gave American fans plenty to cheer about, as well.