(KMOX) – Writing an advance for this week’s Ryder Cup matches in Scotland is a little like using a box of crayons with a coloring book in the dark. You know what the picture looks like, and you know how many crayons you have, but until the Captains begin rolling out their pairings on Thursday you have no idea what is possible. So reading beyond this point is a leap of faith.
The conventional thinking is the Europeans are prohibitive favorites. Two of those reasons validly tilt the playing field. Seven of the last nine matches have gone to the Europeans, and the last US win as the visiting team was twenty one years ago when current Captain Tom Watson’s squad posted a 15-13 win.
A third advantage has some suggesting a wide talent differential between the squads. Four of the Euro’s ranked among the top six in the world – Rory McIlroy (1), Sergio Garcia (3), Henrik Stenson (5) and Justin Rose (6). Four Americans fill out all but two of the remaining top ten spots – Jim Furyk (4), Bubba Watson (7), Matt Kuchar (9) and Ricky Fowler (10).
If the Ryder Cup was a single competition and a stroke play event that stat might be meaningful, if not prohibitive. But the Ryder Cup is match play and actually two different matches. Sixteen points are contested in the partnered events on Friday and Saturday and the remaining points are accumulated in the twelve single matches on Sunday. World rankings may be predictive in singles, but foursomes and four-balls are about chemistry.
Furyk may be one of Watson’s most experienced players, and he likely has been the best player in the world this year without a win, but history recommends that Furyk should be on the sidelines for the four-balls. He has a 1-8-1 record in what most call the American best ball format. Chemistry.
Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have been paired six times in the last two Cup matches and they have a losing record 2 ½ – 3 ½. Chemistry.
You couldn’t find two more contrasting golf personalities than Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson but they have a 2 – 1 record together. Chemistry.
If Captain’s alchemy isn’t enough to consider, then timing is a worthy factor.
Three of the four majors this year went to the Europeans – two to McIlroy and one to Martin Kaymer. Bubba Watson has the Masters. Seven of the twelve Americans are winless in 2014 although Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker have five Tour wins in the last twelve months. Both teams feature three Cup rookies, Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson and Stephen Gallacher for Captain Paul McGinley and Reed, Walker and Jordan Spieth for the US.
The two most veteran players on either team have posted poor results this year. American Phil Mickelson has only one top ten in 2014 (the lowest total since he became a professional) and no tournament wins. Lee Westwood has two prominent top tens, 7th at the Masters and 6th at the Players, but sixed missed cuts. Westwood historically has been a reliable points machine in the teamed events with fifteen wins and eighteen points and he has lost 23 pounds this summer trying to be ready for Gleneagles. Mickelson has his pairing with Keegan Bradley from Medinah in 2012 that was 3-0, and Watson has a fall back possibility with Fowler, a regular in Mickelson’s Tuesday game on Tour.
Analysts will point to the depth of the European squad without examining the numbers. McGinley has six in the top twenty in the world. Watson has eight. Four Europeans rank 30th or higher (Westwood the worst at 41). Only Simpson, a Captain’s choice, is in the same group at 33.
In essence what we have with this year’s edition of the Ryder Cup matches is a role reversal from the 2004 get together at Oakland Hills. Captain Hal Sutton had five major winners among his twelve, led by Tiger Woods and Mickelson. Bernhard Langer had none. Sutton fed the media beast by sending out Woods and Mickelson together twice on the first day tossing two points away on a bad fit, and the Americans never recovered from their five point deficit getting blown away 18 ½ to 9 ½.
Don’t look for McGinley to make the same mistake. The Irishman was on that 2004 team for Langer, and he told me at the PGA Championship that Sam Torrance’s performance as Captain in 2002 at the Belfry was the best of his Ryder Cup experience, mentioning his Sunday lineup stacked from the top and picking up 4 ½ points in the first six singles matches.
Finally keep in mind Watson’s win in 1993 at the Belfry. That year the European’s were the likely winners with a team laden with proven and emerging stars. Bernhard Gallagher had Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Langer, Ian Woosnam, Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie among his dozen; with the exception of Ballesteros, all in their prime. Watson had a very solid lineup that included Fred Couples, Raymond Floyd and Payne Stewart but the US Captain who trailed by one after two days packed the bottom of his singles on Sunday and took 5 ½ points in the last six matches for the 15-13 win.
No predictions here but hopefully I offered you a little illumination as you try to color in your own Ryder Cup picture.
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