Golf’s biennial festival of partisanship, the Ryder Cup, commences on Friday (26th September) at Gleneagles in Scotland. The event stands alone in the sport in its capacity to attract not only casual golf fans, but viewers who would not spend a single minute watching golf elsewhere in the calendar. In fact, it stands only behind the World Cup and the Olympic Games in terms of television audiences.
For those of you yet to succumb to its gravitational pull, The Ryder Cup is a match between two teams, one American and one European, each comprising of twelve golfers. Nine players qualify automatically via a points system that runs throughout the year, whilst each team’s captain picks the final three players.
The week is unique in the respect that an individual sport, consisting of especially solitary and driven sportsmen, is transformed into a team event. The Ryder Cup lasts three days; the first two days contain one session of fourballs and one session of foursomes per day. The final day contains 12 singles matches with every member of each team playing. 1 point is gained for winning a match and half a point gained for halving the match. Europe require 14 points to retain the cup as holders, while America require 14 ½ points to regain the cup.
The European team goes into the Ryder Cup as strong favourites and much of that is down to what many consider a formidable ‘top six’: Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell. The fact that Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter needed captain’s picks indicates the strength of the nine players who qualified. Former world number one Luke Donald didn’t even make the team. There are three rookies in the side: Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson and Stephen Gallagher. Experienced Dane, Thomas Bjorn, makes up the European twelve.
The Europeans have nothing to fear… their team looks to have a much better blend.
The only worry for European fans is how the three rookies settle. If captain Paul McGinley was picking his twelve from scratch, then Jamie Donaldson might not have made the grade. However, the Welshman has been a model of consistency this season and has earnt his place in this high company. Victor Dubuisson is a bit of a maverick, and he possesses a miraculous short game. The two concerns that linger over him are, firstly, the points that earnt him a place on the team were largely accumulated in the early part of the year. He hasn’t shown much form recently. Secondly, he has a reputation for being rather farouche, so it will be intriguing to see how he fits into a tight-knit group. Stephen Gallagher forced his way into the team with his form in recent weeks, and the fact he brings some Scottish representation to a Ryder Cup at Gleneagles was surely a decisive factor in his selection. I would expect him to contribute the most out of the three rookies.
The rest of the team looks extremely well balanced. Paul McGinley could trust all of them in either format which is vital. There are enough long hitters and birdie makers to do well in the fourballs, but there are also enough straight drivers and consistent ball strikers to thrive in foursomes. Expect to see the Graeme McDowell/Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose/Ian Poulter pairings play all four sessions. In the absence of Luke Donald, it will be interesting to see who McGinley pairs Garcia with.
Tiger Woods is absent for the Americans due to injury. However, the last time he missed a Ryder Cup for the same reason America emerged victorious, at Valhalla in 2008. There is a theory that his absence improves team spirit, with team members not frightened of saying or doing the wrong thing in his presence. Some will say it is also one less worry for American Captain Tom Watson, as the task of finding a suitable partner Woods has been a difficult one for captains over the years. I don’t really buy into this outlook though. With all due respect, any European player would rather see his name next to Webb Simpson’s than Tiger Woods’ come the singles on Sunday.
The team contains some familiar names in Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson. Great players and fantastic competitors all, but the Europeans have the knowledge that they have beaten them in the recent past. America’s toughest nut to crack could well be Rickie Fowler, who finished in the top five at every Major championship this season. The American team also contains three rookies; Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. Like Donaldson, Walker has been a late developer and has been extremely consistent this year. Spieth is a real prospect and is blessed with a calm mind, so shouldn’t have any problems in such a pressurised environment. Reed had an amazing start to the season, but hasn’t shown much recently and also seems to be a bit of a barbed character. Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan and Keegan Bradley were the three captain’s picks, with Bradley being picked largely on the basis of the partnership he forged with Phil Mickelson two years ago. The mercurial Bubba Watson makes up the twelve.
America’s toughest nut to crack could well be Rickie Fowler, who finished in the top five at every Major championship this season.
Incidentally, there was no place on the team for Billy Horschel despite the fact he recently won $10 million for finishing top of the season long FedEx cup standings. This seems to indicate that either America’s qualification process, or their season long extravaganza the FedEx Cup, is flawed. Perhaps both are.
I anticipate a comfortable European victory. As ever, the European Tour have been very wise in their selection of venue. It’s a course all the European players know well from the annual Jonnie Walker held at Gleneagles. It always puzzles me why the Americans don’t choose to hold their home Ryder Cups at some of the magnificent courses their tour visits every year (Torrey Pines, Quail Hollow, Bay Hill etc.). Instead they plump for stadium or major championship courses that their players know no better than the Europeans. Moreover, the Europeans will cope better with whatever weather late September in Scotland throws at them.
Such advantages aside, the European team looks to have a much better blend. Aside from Rickie Fowler and perhaps Mickelson and Watson on their day, I don’t see many players in America’s team capable of taking a match away from someone by winning four or five straight holes. There are also a few players who I wouldn’t trust. I wouldn’t trust Mickelson, Watson or Bradley to find the fairway in foursomes. I wouldn’t trust Hunter Mahan over a chip shot. I wouldn’t trust Jim Furyk’s ageing nerves. The Europeans have nothing to fear, though that also means they have a lot to lose.
You can follow Dan on Twitter: @ZeqiriDan
Image courtesy of mirror.com