Ryder Cup US Team Predictions
Following on from his early European Ryder Cup team predictions Nick Bonfield looks ahead to Gleneagles and how the US Ryder Cup team could shape up.
Tiger Woods boasts an inauspicious matchplay record, but he remains the most influential player on the American side. He's still the best player in the world when he's on song, he commands more respect and instills more fear than anyone else. His aura has undoubtedly been diminished over the past couple of years, and he still looks a shadow of his former self in the major events, but I think the Ryder Cup could be just what he needs to get his career back on track.
Phil Mickelson, like Woods, has been a stalwart of the American side over the past two decades, and that experience, coupled with an exemplary skill set, make him arguably the most dangerous player on the American side. He's also played a lot of golf in Scotland throughout his career, something that will give him an additional edge. He formed a brilliant partnership with Keegan Bradley at Medinah in 2012, and that should be rekindled this time around.
As it stands, Keegan Bradley is languishing in 30th position in the US Ryder Cup standings, but I suspect we'll see the Bradley of old over the next few months. He worked hard on his swing during the off-season and he's come back with renewed determination. His results haven't been spectacular so far in 2014, but I've seen enough to suggest he's going to mount a surge up the rankings. He's a quality golfer with major-winning pedigree and someone who reserves his best golf for the biggest occasions, so I'd expect him to be a captain's pick if he doesn't make it on merit.
Webb Simpson is another former major winner who boasts an unflappable demeanor and consistency across the board, making him an ideal Ryder Cup player. He didn't enjoy the most fruitful 2013, but he won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at the start of the new season. In his eight starts on the PGA Tour's 2013/2014 wraparound schedule he's notched six top 10s, propelling him to 6th in the FedEx Cup and 8th in the Ryder Cup standings.
Zach Johnson isn't the most flashy player on the American team , but he's hugely effective in matchplay. He grinds opponents down with his experience and consistency and strikes with his deadly wedge play and short game. There's no one better in the world from 120 yards and in, which applies significant pressure. His singles record is excellent and he's become one of America's most valuable assets over the last five years.
Brandt Snedeker has gone slightly off the boil since the middle of 2013, with a combination of persistent injuries and loss of form placing him in a precarious position in the US rankings. He's currently way off the pace in 31st, and the fact he stands 160th on the PGA Tour in scoring average is undoubtedly a concern. That said, he's the world's best putter and someone who possesses skill and determination in equal measure, so even if he doesn't breach the top eight, Tom Watson will be hard pressed to leave him out.
A less than diligent follower of the game might not be familiar with the work of Jimmy Walker, but he's been the form player in world golf over the last six months. He recorded three victories in six events to surge to the top of the FedEx Cup standings to all-but secure his place in Tom Watson's side, proving along the way that confidence is the most important facet of any golfer's armory.
Dustin Johnson's raw power will be a huge asset at Gleneagles, which will play long at the back end of September. With receptive greens, he'll be hitting more wedges than everyone else in the event, which - despite his lack of proficiency from that distance - should translate to a high birdie average. He's now won eight times on the PGA Tour and spent a number of weeks inside the world's top 10, proving he's made for the big occasion.
Harris English looks set to be part of an American Ryder Cup team containing at least three rookies. He's already won two times during his young career - at the 2013 FedEx St Jude Classic and the 2013/14 Mayokoba Classic - and he looks more and more impressive each week. He's in possession of a sumptuous golf swing and an excellent temperament, and I think he'll make a seamless transition to life in golf's biggest event.
What can you say about this enigmatic youngster that hasn't already been voiced? His rise up the professional ranks has been nothing short of sensational, especially when you consider it all started with overnight drives and Monday qualifying at the age of 18. He displayed his mental toughness and self-confidence - something that's been evident throughout his fledgling career - by dropping out of college after one semester, and vindicated his decision almost immediately. He's a genuine world beater in the making and, given his performance in the Presidents Cup and his appetite for the game, I can't see him missing out on a place in the US side.
Much like Johnson, Bubba's length will be hugely advantageous at Gleneagles. The gregarious American plays an aggressive brand of golf and makes more birdies and eagles than the vast majority of other players, which explains his excellent record in fourball golf. He formed a good relationship with Webb Simpson at Medinah and I'm sure that will be rekindled if both players make the US side in September. In all honesty, I can't envisage a scenario where that eventuality will fail to materialise.
I predict a mighty scramble for the last automatic qualification place, but I think Dufner will just sneak it. He's a picture of consistency and another unflappable American who has shown impressive aptitude and mental strength over the last couple of years. He's a player who doesn't give much away - in terms of emotion and competition - and a dangerous matchplay opponent as a result.
No place for...
Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan. With such a wealth of American talent, some established players inevitably have to miss out. Kuchar has been quiet, Fowler - whilst showing positive signs, will come up just short and Mahan could be the subject of heartache once more.
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