How can the Ryder Cup hope to follow up 2012’s ‘Miracle at Medinah’?
The last time Europe and America locked horns on the golf course, the world was witness to one of the greatest sporting comebacks ever and now Gleneagles has to find a way to back that up.
Many of the characters are the same. The 2012 version will always be represented by Englishman Ian Poulter’s eyes popping out on stalks at the end of his extraordinary Saturday four-ball match, by Phil Mickelson applauding his opponent Justin Rose’s improbable, match-securing putt in their Sunday singles game, by Martin Kaymer’s steely nerves to secure the European victory on the final green. All four will once again be teeing it up in 2014, indeed, fifteen of the world’s top twenty golfers will be competing.
That figure could have been two higher, but the American side is suffering from some high profile casualties. None come higher profile than Tiger Woods, who is missing through injury. The former world number one may not be the player he once was, but any American side, and in fact any Ryder Cup, without him is immeasurably poorer. Also missing are Jason Dufner, also through injury, and Dustin Johnson, who has taken a break from golf due to personal issues, both of whom have excelled in previous competitions.
These losses have also placed scrutiny on Tom Watson’s Captains’ Picks. Watson has chosen a conservative trio in Hunter Mahan, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, who all have both Major-winning and Ryder Cup experience. None of the three, however, are playing particularly good golf, and their selection ahead of some of America’s more form players hands further advantage to Europe.
The world’s form player, $10million Fed-Ex Cup winner Billy Horschel, is certainly the most surprising omission, especially given the character he displayed to outplay world number one and European superstar Rory McIlroy in securing his title.
European captain Paul McGinley himself, however, is not beyond criticism for his selections; Poulter, Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher. Poulter is a Ryder Cup legend and will be more or less assured of a pick for the rest of his career.
Gallacher too deserves his place, based on the fortitude he showed at the Italian Open where he shot a final round 65 to force McGinley’s hand. The fact he was born just 35 miles from Gleneagles will have also helped his case.
Question marks, however, must be raised over Westwood. Yes, he is a former world number one, and yes, he has won 21 points in eight previous Ryder Cups, but fundamentally, he has played poorly for the majority of the 2014 season.
Luke Donald, who has a similar case for selection was overlooked for this very reason, and given that the European team is already stocked with quality and experience, there is an argument to say that a more attacking, exhilarating player such as Joost Luiten or Matteo Manassero could have been included.
This is a minor gripe however, and Westwood will probably not expect to see too much actual playing time in a European team that seems to cover every base. First of all, they have the world’s best player and three of the top four in the world rankings in McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. All have had stellar seasons and should be relied upon to score heavily.
They have Ryder Cup class and exciting rookies. 24-year-old Victor Dubuisson is perhaps the most unheralded of the team, but the Frenchman’s combination of a dynamic attacking mentality and genius recovery and short-game play means that he is ideally suited for match play golf.
Although he was the beaten finalist at the World Matchplay in February, where he defeated major champions McDowell, Bubba Watson and Ernie Els en route to the final, he garnered huge praise for his displays, with no less than the South African legend Gary Player likening him to Houdini in his escapes. McGinley must trust the rookie to play a large part at Gleneagles.
It is a Ryder Cup that Europe should win. They have won seven of the last nine contests, and have not lost on home soil since 1993. It is this dominance that truly motivates the American side.
They as a nation are not used to losing, and as American coach and commentator Butch Harmon told The Sunday Times: “The American public are tired of it, we need the US to start winning.” You would expect little else from a man who so strongly connects himself with the fortunes of his homeland, many of the US team have spent some time under his tutelage, but he raises a broader, more significant point.
If Europe are to win this week and make it eight wins in ten matches against the United States, when does the whole thing begin to lose relevance? Medinah was so memorable as it was so closely-contested, but in the end Europe won, as they (almost) always do. A more one-sided European victory here could spell the beginning of the end for golf’s most watchable contest.