Ryder Cup Preview and Prediction
AND so the talking finally stops. The phoney war is over. It’s time for the best 12 players from Europe to take on America’s finest at Le Golf National and discover if they are good enough to wrest back the Ryder Cup.
If you believe all the hype, this is one of the best American sides ever to draw breath, which is some claim. But then you look at the personnel and maybe it is not such a claim after all - Brooks Koepka, winner of the 2018 US Open and US PGA championship, Patrick Reed, The Masters champion, Tiger Woods, resurgent after an extraordinary recovery from injury and the winner of 14 majors, Jordan Spieth, three times a major champion, Dustin Johnson, a former US Open champion and a man who hits the golf ball into the middle of next week, Justin Thomas, the 2017 US PGA champion and 2017 PGA Tour player of the year, Bubba Watson, the left-hander who has never had a lesson in his life but who is a two-time Masters champion and possessed of a short game that is the stuff of dreams, the veteran Phil Mickelson, playing in his 12th Ryder Cup and back in the winners’ circle at the ripe old age of 48, Bryson DeChambeau, the physics major with a unique take on the game and a swing that is all his own, Rickie Fowler, one of the most natural talents within the game, Webb Simpson, the former US Open champion who has rediscovered his best form in 2018 and Tony Finau, who didn't win a tournament in 2018 but did everything but.
Between them, Jim Furyk’s side have won 31 majors. And Europe? Eight. And four of those were won by one man, Rory McIlroy. But here’s the thing…it was ever thus.
What matters is what happens when those players step out to represent their supporters, and in recent years Europe’s finest have done rather a better job of it than America’s. It is 1993 since the USA last won on European soil - before Mickelson made his debut.
And let’s take a closer look at this current American team. Almost every single one of them played in the Tour Championship at East Lake before having to board a plane, fly across the Atlantic and adjust to a different time zone. Watson secured his place in the team on the strength of an incredible start to the season. His recent form has been patchy at best. Yes, Reed won The Masters and has since shown further flashes of that form but he has had an indifferent summer. Woods has enjoyed a comeback for the ages, but will his back stand up to another three days of ferocious competitive action? Spieth’s form has been dreadful all year, Fowler is nursing a back injury and there is speculation surrounding Johnson’s private life after his partner, Paulina Gretzky, removed all images of him from her social media accounts. Mickelson still produces moments of incredible magic but he is 48 years old and will surely not be asked to play five times in three days, even if he wanted to.
Don’t run away with the idea that all is well with the European team. There are many who question the wisdom of handing a wild card to Sergio Garcia, a man who has been spectacularly out of form all year. Paul Casey, another who is not fully fit, made a brilliant start to the season but has tailed away in the months since. On his day, Henrik Stenson remains one of the most formidable competitors on the planet, but will he be able to raise his game? And there are questions over how rookies Tyrrell Hatton and Thorbjorn Olesen will react.
1?????????? Johnson— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) September 24, 2018
For the first time ever the top ten players in the @OWGRltd are playing in the #RyderCup.
But then you look at the engine room and all seems rather better in the European camp. Francesco Molinari has had a stellar season, during which he was crowned Open champion. He has won in Europe and he has won on the PGA Tour with a display of iron play that nobody on either side has come close to matching. And he has found a putting stroke. Justin Rose looks like winning every time he steps onto a golf course. And yes, Tommy Fleetwood may well be another of Thomas Bjorn’s rookies but what a player he is - he makes birdies and eagles for fun, and he loves what he does. And he won the 2017 French Open at Le Golf National so he knows the course and he loves it. Rory McIlroy once described the Ryder Cup as an exhibition match but he knows what it is all about now and always seems to find a way to raise his game. His frailties on the green remain well-documented but in Ryder Cup week the shackles seem to come off. Jon Rahm will be making his debut but do you honestly imagine he will be suffering from first-tee nerves? And it is difficult to regard Alex Noren as a rookie, even though he is - the Swede is a seasoned campaigner who has proved himself at every level and on every continent.
And then there is The Postman. Bjorn was thrilled when Ian Poulter rediscovered his best form and climbed back into the world’s top 50 earlier in the season. And he has continued that progress. Perhaps the best news for Bjorn was that Poulter narrowly failed to make the 30-man field for the Tour Championship, which means that he has had time off to sharpen up his game for three days that mean more to him than any other occasion in golf. Poulter lives for the Ryder Cup. He was the inspiration behind the Miracle at Medinah and has produced umpteen memorable moments during Ryder Cup matches. Europe will be hoping that he can do so once again.
There will be huge crowds at Le Golf National, a course that offers fabulous views for spectators. And it is the perfect course for this sort of event, with its thick rough and lakes. We will see some astonishing shots attempted, especially during the four balls when one player gets the ball into play and his partner can go for glory. We are certain to see some shots that take our breath away, but we are also going to see players coming to grief. For sure, the occasion will be too much for some; for others it could be week that defines them.
Logic dictates a comfortable American victory, especially when you read the comments of Reed, trying to convince all and sundry that his team are underdogs. In reality, Reed expects to win and he expects to win well but he is getting his excuses in early just in case. Had the match been played five or six weeks ago there is every chance Europe would have been routed but the stars appear to be slowly aligning in Bjorn's favour. America should win, of course they should, but I have a feeling that it is all going to come down to the last couple of singles matches to decide the outcome. I still believe America will win - 15-13. But it will be a cracker, living up to all our hopes and expectations.
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