SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — Move over, War by the Shore, here comes The Wettest Ryder Cup Ever.
We knew Le Golf National held plenty of places to splash a Titleist: 10 of the 18 holes on this treacherous layout just west of Paris feature a water hazard. Go over them, along them, do anything to avoid them. That just didn’t happen Friday.
Seven players in the first session (best ball) found one or more of the watery graves on the course. Reed, Thomas, Fowler, Woods, Olesen, Rose, Molinari. Kicking off their second session — alternate shot — Ian Poulter and Phil Mickelson each rinsed his first tee shot. Alex Noren found the drink two hours later. Jordan Spieth 30 minutes after that.
“When the wind blows, it’s not an easy course,” Tony Finau said. “You don’t have to be that far off to be off-off, to be a couple shots and you’re out of the hole.”
As he found out firsthand Friday. Finau hit the first shot of the matches, right around 8:10 a.m. local time. With a 3-iron in hand and the water 301 yards away, he rolled his ball all the way out to the edge, drawing a gasp from the fans in the mega-grandstand behind the tee.
Of the lucky ones to keep their rocks dry, Finau was luckiest. One down on the 16th tee, in a match he and partner Brooks Koepka never led, Finau’s 8-iron ballooned on him. His approach bounded off the wooden planks that support the green, and rolled out to three feet. A few inches shorter with the shot and he’d have been swimming. His birdie putt won the hole and tied the match. Two holes later, he and Koepka had secured a point.
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They got some help from their opponents. Justin Rose’s approach into the 18th landed pin high then rolled out — you guessed it — into the water behind the hole. Rose’s partner, Jon Rahm, had missed the fairway off the tee and was forced to punch out. Neither made par, and Koepka did.
The sequence exemplified just how taxing the 18th is, and what the island green can do to a player’s mindset (18 is the kicker on a four-hole stretch dubbed “The Loop of Doom”). Paul Casey was forced into similar strategy 30 minutes after Rahm. Desperately needing a birdie, Casey missed the fairway and could only chop his ball out of the heavy rough.
With fewer balls in the air during the afternoon alternate-shot session, yes, fewer balls found the water. But that didn’t mean the hazards played any less of a menacing role. Since their teammates can’t bail them out in this format, players are bound to play safer shots. Rickie Fowler stated his goals plainly between sessions: Just stay in as many holes as possible. As a result, there were few birdies and many more clutch pars. It was both-hands-on-the-steering-wheel kind of golf, and it was wildly entertaining. It’s bound to be a splashy weekend.