AVONDALE, La. – The foursomes format for round two of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans sent scores soaring on Friday. After Thursday’s birdie barrage in four-ball (best ball), par became a friend again for the field in the alternate-shot format. Rounds went from relatively stress-free to stressful.
Trust and a certain comfort level with a partner became paramount and not surprisingly two teams rose to the challenge.
Stenson and Rose are both in their 40s and while their games have taken a recent dip, they continue to make sweet music as a duet. They teamed to shoot the low round of the morning wave, a 4-under-par 68 to grab the clubhouse lead at 11-under 133, and one stroke ahead of South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Rose and Stenson have a wonderful Ryder Cup pedigree, including a 3-1 record in foursomes and were victorious in both of their foursome matches at the 2018 Cup in France. But they had shot 71, 72 and 73 in three previous rounds of foursomes at TPC Louisiana, where they have teamed to miss the cut in 2017 and finished T-19 in 2018.
Stenson’s game has been downright pitiful of late, missing six straight cuts before finishing T-38 at the Masters, but said he’s heading in the right direction.
“I shouldn’t say this while my partner is listening; it’s not always that I feel as confident as maybe some of the shots that I pulled off today, but it’s work in progress,” Stenson said.
On Friday, the Swede delivered the goods, including a 7-iron from 179 to 5 feet to set up a birdie at the par-4 12th hole, which happened to be the only hole Team Rose-Stenson both bogeyed in best ball.
“Henrik was a rock today,” Rose said. “I was kind of looking at it in terms of I don’t think he made one mistake that led to us dropping a shot really. It was pretty fun just to have someone that was so solid today. He pulled his weight today.”
On the three occasions when Team Rose-Stenson made bogey, they bounced back with birdie, making seven circles on the card in all. England’s Rose has endured his own recent rough patch and struggled with a back injury ahead of the Masters before contending to the finish and a tie for seventh.
“The biggest thing is you have to trust yourself but then you’ve got to trust your partner, but more so you have to trust yourself,” Rose said. “You’ve got to not worry about what your partner is going to be facing and I think it’s all about committing to your shots.”
Louis Oosthuizen at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana on April 22, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
That level of trust has to be earned together in the trenches. The South African pair of Oosthuizen and Schwartzel are former Presidents Cup teammates and have built trust between them over decades of competition that dates to the South African Boys’ Champions (Under-13 division). Oosthuizen was 12, Schwartzel 10.
“I think we know each other really well,” Oosthuizen said. “So, we’re very comfortable together, and never once really said sorry to the guy.”
While Schwartzel and Oosthuizen grew up in opposite corners of the country – Schwartzel in the northern part and Oosthuizen down south – their friendship blossomed traveling to golf tournaments throughout Africa and India and then on the European and PGA Tours.
The pair, who dressed in different shades of green but matching white pants, belts, hats and shoes, was pleased as punch to shoot 1-under 71 in difficult conditions on Friday, especially after starting 2 over through their first six holes of alternate shot. After a critical par at 16 to stem the bleeding, they made three birdies on the par 5s coming home and an all-world par at No. 6 after Schwartzel’s second shot from an old divot and with mud on the ball sailed into trouble left.
“Luckily I had a clear shot, but adjusted nicely and pitched it up there and he made quite a few of those length putts today,” Oosthuizen said of a 7-foot par putt. “It definitely felt like a net birdie.”
When Schwartzel was asked what was his partner’s best shot on Friday had been, Oosthuizen interjected, “Well, there wasn’t many.”
When their laughter subsided, Schwartzel said, “He drives the ball so well, and he makes me really uncomfortable. I’m not used to hitting out of so many fairways.”
On Saturday, these veteran teams of Rose-Stenson and Oosthuizen-Schwartzel will try to keep the magic going when the format flips back to four-ball and they can return to – pick your expression – trying to brother-in-law-it or ham-n-egg it. When asked if there was a South African version of those classic American idioms, Oosthuizen said, “We call it dovetail. I don’t know why, but yeah, we call it dovetail.”