Justin Rose meets opponent he cannot handle

It wasn’t until after the final putt had dropped at Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary Course that Justin Rose finally met an opponent he couldn’t handle. He sprayed teammate Graeme McDowell in celebration with what little champagne he had left in his bottle, and McDowell quickly popped the cork on his Moet and returned fire, dousing the Englishman.

It was the only match Rose would lose all week.

The rest of the time, Rose sauntered about the hills in Perthshire as if he were 10 feet tall, because, well, he was. Rose, who made three huge putts down the stretch in singles to help fuel Europe’s improbable Ryder Cup comeback at Medinah two years ago, went 3-0-2 at Gleneagles and was the unofficial Man of the Match. On a team that always has a new superhero stepping in to lead, Rose was that man.

Sunday, he earned but a half-point against Hunter Mahan, but it was the manner in which he earned it that proved so impressive. He fell 4 down through six holes, dug deep, and drew inspiration from two men: one a legend, one a former teammate who has only a single career Ryder Cup point.

The first, of course, was Seve Ballesteros. Rose told himself that the late Seve would relish being 4 down in a match. Few others would view such a deficit as a golden opportunity.

He’d already thought of Seve on his way to the first tee Sunday, passing through a tunnel filled with images of Ryder Cup heroes on the wall, the last one being Ballesteros, with whom Rose bumped knuckles. He also thought of Seve as he walked up the 13th hole, where his errant drive came to rest in a gorse bush.

Rose had a gap and punched an 8-iron through an opening. The ball pitched just right, rode the contour of the green and finished a foot from the flag. Birdie, his sixth in seven holes. “That was the kind of B-roll footage I’ve seen of Seve my whole life,” he said.

The second man inspiring him? Peter Hanson. Hanson was 4 down to Jason Dufner through eight holes at Medinah but took Dufner all the way to 18 before losing the match.

“Even though he didn’t win his match, things like that can give the team a ripple effect in confidence and momentum,” Rose said. “I was just trying to give the team a message that I’m fighting, working, trying.” That’s Team Europe.

Always fighting, working, trying. Rose is only the latest Euro to step into this bubbling cauldron and raise his level of performance. He’s now 9-3-2 and unbeaten in singles. He knows the Ryder Cup potion summons something intangible from deep within, and even credits the event with helping deliver his first major, the U.S. Open, in June 2013.

“You’re not playing for yourself,” he said. “You’re playing for 11 other guys, too, that you really admire. You really value their opinion. So when you stand up and you deliver for them as well as yourself, it makes delivering for yourself somewhat easier the next time around.

“Does that make sense?”

Rose is ranked No. 6 in the world. As such an elite player, he says he seldom gets presented with growth opportunities. At the Ryder Cup, he’s always learning something.

He trailed two times at Gleneagles going down 18, in foursomes and in singles, and both times delivered a halfpoint. Huge. In crunch time, he felt more poised than ever.

As for those B-roll highlights he watched as a kid featuring his Ryder Cup heroes? Now he’s starring in them.

Does it make sense, he asks? Perfect sense.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2014 issue of Golfweek magazine; click here to subscribe.

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