At the outset, a correction from the previous column.
In suggesting the U.S. Ryder Cup team has an advantage in horsepower off the tee, I mentioned Nicholas Colsaerts of Belgium as the sole European with bomber length, ignoring the elephant in the room. Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is clearly the most lethal long hitter in the game today. While Americans Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson may have the yardage edge slightly over McIlroy, the now two time major champion has a better package of skills from the fairway to take full advantage of his length.
That is also a perfect starting point for assessing the roster captain Jose Maria Olazabal will send out at Medinah later this month. While there is a gigantic hill to climb if McIlroy is to chase Tiger Woods career to date in golf, when it comes to the Ryder Cup he already is in position to eclipse one of Woods’ career marks.
It may come as a surprise to many that despite owning the top spot in golf for more than a decade, Tiger Woods has been a part of only “one” winning Ryder Cup team, the miracle on grass group from Brookline in 1999. When the Americans last won the Cup at Valhalla back in 2008 Tiger was a texting cheerleader while recovering from his knee surgery and broken leg. Overall Woods has a losing record in the matches, with a solid 4-1-1 mark in singles.
In his rookie debut, McIlroy posted only one win at Celtic Manor in 2010, but his team took the Cup back, leaving a perfect 1-0 for his career. Like Tiger for so many years, the expectations for McIlroy will be off the charts coming off his recent three wins at the PGA and in the Fed Ex playoffs. The Euros will no doubt count his expected five appearances to turn into a five-point guarantee, leaving only 9 1/2 points for his teammates to amass for the win.
Behind McIlroy, the Europeans three most experienced Cup players have solid winning records. Sergio Garcia, who learned to turn the competition into a personal war, has only lost six points in 24 matches. Luke Donald has only two losses in eleven rounds and Lee Westwood carries a .667 percentage in earning points when representing his side of the ocean. In fact, only two of the eleven veteran Europeans, Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari have losing records.
There is always the temptation to undervalue Europeans who play the majority of the their golf away from the US Tour. Hanson, Molinari, former Open champion Paul Lawrie and Colsaerts fall into that category. Molinari is behind only McIlroy when it comes to rising stars in Europe. Lawrie has returned from the dead to enjoy his best run since his Open win over Jan Van de Velde at Carnoustie. Hanson has eleven career wins and made a big splash heading into the weekend at this year’s Masters.
The only two other major winners on the European side couldn’t be a greater contrast in form. Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the clinching winner at Celtic Manor, could easily have won both Opens this year, and his worst major showing in 2012 was T12 at Augusta. The bad news for McDowell is he is nearly two years removed from his last win.
Former PGA Champion Martin Kaymer would gladly trade places with McDowell for performance in the same time period. The German has visited the winners circle more than once since his playoff win at the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits but in the tension of the majors he has as many missed cuts as trips to the weekend since he became a major winner. Along with Colsaerts he figures to get the least course time for the three days.
In the skills sets, McIlroy is far and away the most complete European player, even more so now that Dave Stockton’s tutelage on the greens appears to be kicking in. Westwood may be better than any of the twenty-four players from tee to green. Unfortunately, green to hole hasn’t been a strength, and despite his playing record, putting mediocrity exposes a player quickly in match play. Ian Poulter and Justin Rose are the most workman like of their team’s twelve, with no real outstanding strengths or weaknesses.
Which brings us back to Garcia. If McIlroy is the engine expected to drive the Euro’s, Garcia is the potential extra gear for the squad. Sergio on form, as he has been of late, plays with the passion of Seve Ballesteros in these competitions and can lift the mood in the locker room. Off form, he can become sullen and an emotional drag on anybody he is paired with.
Even though the Europeans will decline the favorite role, their recent dominance (wins in four of the last five) and overall individual records make them a ‘paper’ pick. That leaves only the course, the captains and country to complete the equation next week.
Dan Reardon is Golf Editor at KMOX. He can be heard throughout the week on America’s Sports Voice.