The 40th Ryder Cup: 5 Things to know
Golf’s most anticipated teams event begins in Scotland on Friday. Our man Kent Gray sets the scene from Gleneagles ahead of what shapes as another ding-dong battle between Paul McGinley’s Europe and Tom Watson’s Team USA.
The United States lead the biennial dust-up 25-12 with the two other matches ending in ties, in 1969 at Royal Birkdale and in 1989 at The Belfry. It was pretty one-sided when the opposition was Great Britain and later GB & Ireland with the US dominating proceedings from the inaugural match at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts in 1927, winning 18, losing three and drawing one in the next 50 years.
But that’s almost ancient history. Since continental Europe came into the fold in 1979, the score has been 9-7 to Europe, plus that famous 14-14 deadlock at the Belfry. Europe has also won five of the last six.
The US have to go back to Valhalla in 2008 for their last victory, 16½ – 11½ courtesy of a team minus an injured Tiger Woods. Perhaps ominously for Europe, Woods is MIA this week thanks to his crook back. And the last US win on foreign soil? In 1993 at the Belfry in England by a team captained by none other than Tom Watson. He’s back in the hot seat this week too and gunning for redemption.
All seems rosy in the European camp and not just because Paul McGinley’s team boasts a player the calibre of, er…Justin Rose.
McGinley insists his side are comfortable with their unusual favourites tag and is making all the right noises about not taking Tom Watson’s wounded team lightly. It doesn’t hurt either having the game’s No.1 player, Rory McIlroy, fighting your corner.
But simmering beneath the surface of an apparently light-hearted European locker room is a strange feud between McIlroy and Graeme McDowell thanks to Rory’s acrimonious split from Horizon Sports, the same management company that represents G-Mac. Both parties insist all is well and McGinley told media that if he doesn’t reunite the pair in fourball or foursomes battle this week, it’ll be a tactical call rather than a personality clash.
But expect to hear more about this if things don’t go Europe’s way in Perthshire. After all, a High Court judge has ordered McIlroy to hold peace talks with Horizon Sports for fear of what personal information might come to light in the media otherwise.
McGinley certainly hopes Europe can keep their winning habit. “One thing is for certain; when you’re winning, which we have been, it’s easy to have a lot more camaraderie. It’s very easy to be friends when you’ve got momentum. And it’s easy to look disjointed when you’re losing.” Indeed.
It’s the most frat-boyish haircut in Ryder Cup history and gives a hint of what the competition means to the US players. Rickie Fowler, who glows in his PUMA orange on Sundays but will be in the more reserved Team USA clobber come this week’s singles, has found a way to stand out from the crowd. America’s hottest player arrived at Gleneagles with the letters USA shaved into the side of his swede. Not even Bubba Watson’s fancy shoes, bejewelled with the star spangled banner, can compete.
You’d think the haircut would have golf’s greybeards spitting up their single malts, but apparently not. It turns out PGA of America President Ted Bishop has gone down the same route as Rickie with a similar buzz cut. European fans will hope the hairdos remain louder than the inevitable chants of “USA, USA…” this week.
Europe’s stirring comeback from 10-6 down going into the singles to win 14-½ 13½ two years ago was dubbed the Miracle at Medinah. But for the US it was more accurately the Meltdown at Medinah and Watson says his team, overwhelming underdogs entering this week at Gleneagles, are desperate for revenge.
“The fact they lost, that’s what we have to take from 2012,” Watson told Middle East Golfer recently. “And how they lost. That’s sticking in everybody’s craw right now and we’ve got to make amends for that.”
The US are minus Woods, big-hitting Dustin Johnson (who has taken a six month leave of absence from golf to “seek professional help for personal challenges”) and 2013 US PGA champion Jason Dufner. Many believe Watson also missed a trick by leaving in-form Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk back in the US, not that he could have foreseen Billy Ho’s magical end to the FedEx Cup playoffs, or have done anything about it anyway. Instead Watson has pinned his captain’s picks on Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson, a trio of experienced Ryder Cuppers, none of whom are in particularly inspiring form.
There are also performance clouds for Team USA talisman Phil Mickleson and US Masters champion Bubba Watson. Yet Watson believes.
“Yes, the European team on paper is very strong, but we have a team that can get the job done. We have a kind of attitude in America that we will get the job done no matter how we get it done.” You read it here first!
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, it seems the game’s top player is going to do just that with Rory McIlroy casting aside the red Covert 2.0 driver he used to win two majors and a WGC event in the span of three weeks earlier this year in favour of Nike’s Vapor Pro model. The world No.1 has given the lime green machine a thorough whirl in practice at Gleneagles this week and has pronounced himself ready to rip it in the 40th Ryder Cup matches.
This despite the club only appearing on the USGA’s conforming driver list for the first time Monday. Ryder Cup anoraks will also remember that Phil Mickelson changed his clubs before the 2004 contest at Oakland Hills, a match in which Lefty contributed just one of a possible four points in Team USA’s 18½-9½ loss.
But McIlroy says the comparison is unfair and unwarranted.
“Phil changed from one equipment manufacturer to another. This is a driver I’ve actually been using and practicing with since June so it’s not like…I wouldn’t be putting in the bag if I didn’t feel it wasn’t better.”
With that, the microscope will be focused just a little tighter on Rory on every tee, if that is possible. Every split fairway will be a boon for Nike…but we bet the clubmaker is sweating on Gleneagles’ thick rough just a little.
Catch all the action and drama as it unfolds on OSN Sports 1 HD from 10:30am on Friday and Saturday and 2.30pm on Sunday.
Kent Gray is the Managing Editor of Middle East Golfer. He travelled to Scotland courtesy of Virgin Atlantic.