Sport is always about the big event, and for even the most hardened fans to those who turn away the back pages of newspapers with disgust, there are some sporting landmarks that demand attention. The World Cup captivated us for a month earlier this year. Olympic memories still run raw for many, and in two years’ time the same cycle will repeat itself all over again. Golf’s four majors can regular leap from back to front pages and leave memories for years to come but the Ryder Cup arguably transcends all of those events as Europe and the USA come head to head.
Througought the last week there have been a myriad of TV and Radio specials, along with thousands of words, written upon the great memories of other Cups. For good reason, even the Miracle of Medinah is still just 2 years old. Darren Clarke’s walk to the first tee at the K Club was just 8 years ago. Go back further and the memories of Olazabal, O’Connor, and Leonard are still fresh memories for many of those turning in over the next three days.
All of that history is hugely important in prestige terms, but the task at hand here is to try and find the winner over the next two days and the current evidence points towards another dramatic event. Europe have dominated this event in modern times, winning 5 of the last 6, and have home advantage. Incredibly for a period of such consistency, the market has only presented them as favourites for just the second time since 2002 – they were 7/10 to win at Celtic Manor.
On face value that would be the bet and the general consensus from the markets and media expect a home win but things are rarely that simple and there’s a good argument for the USA having been written of far too early. Over the last three Ryder Cups, the USA have won 8 sessions to Europe’s three with three ties; They have outscored Europe 43.5-40.5. Take out a comfortable win at Valhalla on home turf and the score is only 29-27 in Europe’s favour.
The home side do have the considerable benefit of recent experience – and plenty of it – around Gleneagles (see the course guides) with the course having hosted a European Tour event every year since 1999, so it’s understandable that they will begin today’s fourballs at 3/4 to lift the trophy but hat looks avoidable for two reasons.
The home advantage factor undoubtedly plays a part in success but golf is an international sport and several of the leading stars have experience of playing in Scotland and the UK with major success or positive memories.
Phil Mickleson won both the Scottish Open and the main event just a year ago while Rickie Fowler was eighth and second this year; Hunter Mahan – a winner of the Barclays Championship – was sixth in the 2007 Open, played at Carnoustie, Jim Fuyrk – who has 4 top 10’s in his last 5 events – was fourth in this year’s Open, Zach Johnson was sixth at Muirfield in 2012 – where Matt Kuchar was ninth.
They match up well on debutants as well. Jordan Speith has not won this year but showed his outstanding talent with his Masters second, while Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed have held their nerve and won three times on the PGA Tour in the last 13 months.
Crucially, Captain Tom Watson should be a perfect fit. The loveable veteran lost the 2009 Open in a playoff at the age of 59 to Stewart Cink in a playoff while he also has experience of four previous wins in Scotland to pass onto those who lack UK experience. While great players don’t always make great captains, Watson masterminded the last American away win at the Belfry and he should be well supported by Steve Stricker, Andy North and Raymond Floyd.
That would be a surprise, given that the Nickalus designed course is generous off the tee with wide fairways to help the aggressive bombers – of which this side has plenty – something backed up by the fact that the European tour event winners have played the par 5’s well. With the course playing soft, that could be exaggerated by any early rain today in the foursomes and for a side that are double the price, an awful lot is in their favour.
For all that, there is no argument Europe deserve favouritism. However too much could be being made of recent history with the last heavy defeat for America being back in 2006 at the K Club.
For the home side, previous experience is there in abundance and so is plenty of winning form. Rory McIlroy has never been on the losing side but played as youngster in 2010 and 2012; He arrives as the world’s undisputed Number 1, having dominated the sport like no-one had seen since the days of Woods in a golden period where he won The Open, WGC Bridgestone, and USPGA with astonishing length and control off the tee. Gleneagles has bought just one missed cut for him but he is a different beast and should prove to be the main asset.
Alongside him will be Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard has missed just one of the last seven renewals, lost only 4 matches, and comes into this renewal in Superb form, having finished second in the Open and WGC behind McIlroy, while he ended the Fed Ex Cup with a pair of top 10’s for the confidence he thrives on. The two are likely to be together all weekend, making the legal battles between Rory and Graeme McDowell a non event, giving Europe a powerful hand.
Justin Rose won the Scottish Open this year and had a strong showing in all of the majors, while G-Mac came into his own in the summer to thrive when the going got toughest once again with top 10’s in the Irish, French, Canadian and traditional Open.
Martin Kaymer has refound the form that saw him rocket to the top of many to watch lists with stunning US Open success and a solid Fed Ex Cup making this one of his best seasons for the man who holed the winning putt two years ago.
As strange as it sounds, the worry comes over Mr Ryder Cup – Ian Poulter – and his form. His legendary exploits in Illinois – he finished unbeaten will remain the stuff of legend for years, but he has finished no better than 50th since finishing 17th at the US Open and that worry is unavoidable for the man Europe have relied upon heavily in the past. Lee Westwood has a fine record and wealths of experience but has the same questions as Poulter with dire pre Cup form.
Thomas Bjorn is a course winner, back as soon as 2011, but he but has struggled with injury over the summer and has much to prove; Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallagher have earned their places here but they have just the six combined titles between them; Admittedly those have come in the last two years and they are winners this season but the Americans look at least as good on that front.
Captain Paul McGinley has the required experience of being a successful team captain – vice captain for Europe in 2010 and 2012, along with having captained Great Britain and Ireland to two Seve Cup victores) but he is no better a leader than Watson and his record five vice captains could clog the leadership.
It’s clear that these two sides are exceptionally hard to separate, as is generally the case in this event. The 1989 Ryder Cup ended in a draw and six of the 11 renewals since have ended with a score line of 14½-13½, including the last two renewals; Back both sides to win by that score and the US to take back the cup; A 2.5 point handicap for the US can also be backed at 4/5 when it is as short as 1/2 elsewhere, which looks to be outstanding value.
1 pt USA 14½-13½ Europe (12/1 Ladbrokes, 11/1 general)
1 pt Europe 13½-14½ USA (9/1 general)
3 pts USA +2.5 (4/5 Stan James)
1 pt USA (7/4 general)