The Stars and Stripes that were all over the leaderboard for much of the final round at Carnoustie were gradually making room for the various flags of European nations as the outcome of the 147th Open continued to swing to and fro.
With three Americans sharing the 54-hole lead and another right behind in fourth at the start of the day, the feeling was that the Claret Jug would be heading back to the United States following Jordan Spieth’s Birkdale triumph of 12 months ago.
Yet an early low round from Eddie Pepperell gave the Englishman a viable clubhouse lead at five-under, the mark his compatriot Justin Rose reached with five to play and while Italy’s Francesco Molinari was parring his way around the famous links to stay at six under as others dropped shots, Ireland’s Rory McIlroy decided to gatecrash the party with his spectacular 40-foot eagle putt at the par-five 14th.
EAGLE at 14 for @McIlroyRory. From nowhere he is back in a share of the lead.July 22, 2018
When all is said and done the nationality of the winner would never be too big a deal to spoil one’s appreciation of what was a cracking major championship on the Scottish coast this week and the entertainment value on the final day was enough to make it an Open for the ages. It is an individual sport after all.
Yet this is a Ryder Cup year and with just 10 weeks to go until the biennial matches between Europe and the United States crank into gear at Le Golf National in Versailles, near Paris, both sides were looking for signs that momentum was favouring them rather than the other crowd.
Four-time Ryder Cupper Rose, on the side which lost to the Americans at Hazeltine in Minnesota two years ago after three straight European wins, made the link before the tournament.
Of a European victory at Carnoustie, he said: “It would be nice to get some good momentum for the Europeans going into the Ryder Cup in September to start challenging in these biggest tournaments for sure.”
The view from the American side was just the same with Masters champion Patrick Reed, also pre-tournament, talking up the Ryder Cup benefits of a third US major victory from three in 2018.
Reed said: “I think it would send a good message. I feel like our team is improving.
“It’s one of those things, if you have all of us out there, really on either team. If we have all 12 guys in unison and focusing really hard and kind of grinding and very determined and kind of working as one unit, they’re going to be hard to beat no matter what, whether it’s our team or it’s their team.
“I felt like we finally have kind of grasped that family unit that the Europeans have had since who knows how long. Every time I’m over here playing on both tours, the guys are always going out and eating together. They’re always hanging out with each other during the tournament week. You don’t see that as much in the States because everyone’s travelling with their families and stuff.
“I feel like we finally clicked and we figured out the right kind of mould for 2016 and moving forward. So if we can continue that run on winning the big tournaments and stuff and keeping them in the States, it’s going to help our psyche, and it’s also going to hopefully get in the heads of the Europeans a little bit that, hey, we’re all playing pretty well, and we’re coming.”
There has been no better evidence of American unity this week than the US “frat house” in Carnoustie shared by Spieth, 2015 champion Zach Johnson, fellow major winners Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker and Jason Dufner, and Rickie Fowler.
European team hopeful Paul Casey noticed it as part of continuing trend and said yesterday: “They’ve got something going. They’ve got momentum on their side. They have the Presidents Cup, they have the Ryder Cup, world number one (Dustin Johnson), all the majors. They’ve got a lot of momentum, and then you throw that into the mix, the fact they all get along, it means they’re going to be a very, very good team.”
Yet he suggested, as Reed did, that the Americans were merely catching up to a strong bond that was within the European team since the late 1980s.
“Europe have always had that ability to come together nicely. Maybe it’s something we’ve had as a bit of a strength in the past. We can’t rely on that, but I also think we’ve got a very, very good team when you look at it as well.”
Casey for one, was not reading too much into the nationality of the man who lifted the Claret Jug yesterday evening.
“You can use this as a little bit of a reference, but not much of one. It’s an Open Championship. We’ve seen Dustin Johnson missing a cut, some of Europe’s team members missing a cut. It means very little from what we’re going to face in September.”