Medinah plays host to the 39th edition of the Ryder Cup when Europe and USA tee it up in their biannual match up which starts on Friday. The Americans go into the event as marginal favourites largely due to their home advantage as there is very little to choose between the two teams. Prior to 1979, the contest was between GB & Ireland and America, GB & Ireland were very much the perennial loser of this competition and a joint decision between both teams was taken to expand the GB & Ireland side to include players from continental Europe. This decision breathed new life into the contest and since 1979 the record between the two sides reads USA – 7, Europe – 8, Draw 1, with many of the contest being tightly contested.
Since 1995 Europe have been the dominant force of the competition, they have won 6 of the 8 contests held with the two defeats coming on American soil in 1999 and 2008. Drama has never been far away in Ryder Cup contests and 2010 proved to be no different as a first ever Monday finish provided the backdrop for tightest of finishes as Europe held off a an American final day charge. The match came down to the final singles game where McDowell produced a typically gritty performance highlighted by a sublime putt on 16 to beat Hunter Mahan to seal a 14.5-13.5 victory. It was quite simply sensational drama and it was an ending that befitted the contest, it also confirmed how closely matched the sides were.
On paper the two sides are even stronger this year, all 24 are ranked in the world top 35 including 9 of the world’s top 10. Only 2 of the 24 have not registered victories in the last 12 months, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell who are both major winners and have registered a top 5 finish in a major this year. It is easy to see why pundits and fans alike are anticipating a classic, one thing that is certain is that there will be no shortage of drama, excitement and tension over 3 days.
One of the main advantages the home captain enjoys is the ability to tailor the course set up to their liking and Davis Love III has done so at Medinah by putting in place a set up that will produce birdies. The rough is low, the fairways and greens are fast and smooth, while this will be to liking of the American team, it will not be a hindrance to Europe, if anything it will create a level playing field for both teams as any touring pro would relish playing in such conditions.
America will also benefit from the vocal and passionate and home support, it is likely to be hostile to Europe but it is doubtful that they will be a minority willing to be as hostile and in some ways unsporting as there was in Valhalla. Chicago is a proud and passionate sporting city but its support is always fair and they respect great sportsman regardless of who they represent, this I feel will shine through this weekend.
Now the course and overall team strength have been covered, here’s the four players from each team that I think will be earning the plaudits this weekend, starting with Team USA
Tiger Woods – The finest player the game has seen since Jack Nicklaus and yet despite this he has an average Ryder Cup record winning 15 points of a possible 29. He has been a consistent points scorer in singles matches across his 6 appearances gaining 4.5 points from a possible 6, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he made a real impact in the team matches.
Partnered with Stricker they won their first 2 matches before being swept away by Donald and Westwood in their third match. It is extremely likely this partnership will be resumed , add to that Tiger’s game being in far better shape this year and his return to the scene of two of his major triumph’s and a strong performance from Tiger this week looks likely.Bubba Watson – A player with a style all of his and a swing that has astounded analysts but he confounded many who dubbed him ‘just a bomber’ by winning the Masters in April. His shot from the trees will be shown for years to come and for me he is the forgotten man of the American side. He showed his passion for the Ryder Cup on his debut at Celtic Manor and he will be far more at home on this course set up which has similarities with Augusta.
He looks quite likely to be paired with Webb Simpson, they are good friends on and off course, they have a nice blend of playing styles, and most importantly they use the same ball type. Their partnership worked well at last years Presidents Cup getting 3 points out of 4 and with Bubba having the imagination for foursomes and birdie making ability suited to fourballs, we could see the partnership in 3 and perhaps all 4 team sessions.
Dustin Johnson – Like Watson he’s a big hitter who’ll be suited by Medinah’s set up, his game has been in extremely good order since his return from a mid-season injury lay off. He won within weeks of his return and was the only player to finish top 10 in all four events of the Fed Ex play offs. I’ve always been a big fan of Dustin and view him as major winner in waiting, he can highlight that potential this week.
Pavin got it completely wrong by partnering him with Mickelson at Celtic Manor despite them being regular practice partners, they are too similar to work as a partnership particularly in foursomes. Johnson looks likely to paired with Kuchar and this looks a good match, they have a similar demeanour and their games will compliment each other. A successful start to this partnership could make it difficult for Love to overlook them in other sessions.
Jason Dufner – Dufner looks to have the potential to be the standout of the rookies on show this weekend, he has enjoyed a stellar season with two wins and runner-up finish at Colonial where he and victor Zach Johnson dominated the field, he also finished tied 4th at US Open. What impresses me most about Dufner for this weekend is his demeanour, he seldom looks flustered or worried on course add to that his ability to make long putts at crucial times which will make him a handful in match play golf.
The combination of his demeanour and long putting have the potential to get into opponents heads and force mistakes in their games, a likely initial partnership with Zach Johnson will be interesting and will provide Jason with Ryder Cup experience to compliment his potentially formidable match play game.
And now the four who I am tipping to star for Team Europe.
Sergio Garcia – Seve like in passion for this competition and as a result there is no doubt that Jose would have used a wildcard pick on him had he failed to make an automatic place. He ensured that wouldn’t be required by winning the Wyndham and his form towards the end of last year when he won back to back tournaments mean that he warrants his place in the side.
His Ryder Cup record is one of the best in the side and he is one of only two Europeans to have taken 4 points from the fourballs and foursomes in a single contest and his overall record stands at Won:14, Halved: 4, Lost:6. He knows first hand that past records mean nothing on American soil as he went into Valhalla has one of Europe’s key men but emerged pointless. This year I think will be different on a course where he has finished 2nd and 3rd in the past 2 PGA Championships held there.
Graeme McDowell – 2 years ago, G-Mac capped his best golfing year by clinching the winning point at Celtic Manor, he followed that up by beating Tiger in his own invitational tournament, Since then its been a some what strange period of McDowell’s career, he has been without a win since that defeat of Tiger but he’s played well enough to earn his place in the team, playing particularly well in the majors this year, with top 15’s or better in all 4.
His superb match play record and seemingly certain partnership with Rory means that he will realistically play in all 5 sessions and as one of the senior guys on the team he will want to set the standard for others to match. Most importantly, G-Mac wants and expects to be at the forefront of Europe’s challenge by playing well in tandem with Rory.
Ian Poulter – He’s finished top overall points scorer in his last two Ryder Cups and has won both World Match Play events, so there is no doubt that Ian Poulter is a different prospect in match play events to stroke play events. His Ryder Cup record has him well on the way to becoming one of the legends of the competition, which is impressive considering two of his four appearances were from wildcard picks.
One of the reasons behind his success in this competition has to be his putting which in match play can be critical, the macho element of match play golf also appeals to Poulter’s psyche and the fact is that in a one on one contest he simply hates to lose. He would prefer to be partnered with Rose but Ian will be happy to go out there with Happy Gilmore as long it means he’s there in a Ryder Cup competing.
Luke Donald – This is almost a home tie for Luke as he has lived in Chicago for a number of years. Since Celtic Manor, Luke’s stock in the game has reached new heights, he spent most of last year as world no.1 and topped the money standings on both sides of the Atlantic. He has won 6 times since Celtic Manor including the WGC Match Play in February 2011.
We are likely to see a resumption of his partnership with Sergio Garcia on Friday, a partnership which proved to be very successful in 2006 earning 2 points from a possible 2. The quality of Luke’s short game could mean that he is used with other partners in addition to Garcia, I would personally like to see him paired with Molinari in Saturday’s foursomes. However he is paired with he’ll be one of the Europeans that Love will be targeting as a danger man and the fortunes of the Europe will be linked to his success of failure.
As a European I’d love to be able to predict a Europe victory but the reality is that it will be extremely tough to retain the trophy. They are by no means forlorn hopes, not by any stretch of the imagination, they have a strong team with a number of established pairings. However the American just look that bit more suited to the set up and I think they have more birdies in their side which looks to be crucial this weekend, add to that the home support they will enjoy which will be a big boost for them. That said it will be a tight contest in terms of the individual match scores but I feel America will be able to edge ahead sufficiently in each session to win 16-12. Regardless of who comes out on top the next 3 days should be quite a ride, so we should sit back and enjoy the action.
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