Going into the 2012 Ryder Cup, there isn’t a noticeable chasm between the two teams. The Euros have the hottest player in the world over the last two months in Rory McIlroy, but the American team has Tiger Woods and 2012 FedExCup champ Brandt Snedeker. The U.S. team has one more player in the OWGR top 10, as well as the highest average ranking, but the European team has three of the top four players. The American team has slightly more overall experience, but the Euros have a better overall record. And so on it goes.
The Americans are looking to bring the Cup back Stateside, while the Europeans hope to keep it. Let’s break it down.
Number Five: The Captains
Davis Love III: one major win, 20 PGA Tour wins, two Ryder Cup wins, and four Presidents Cup wins. Davis has played 26 total Ryder Cup matches, and is 9-12-5 (plus 16-8-4 in his Presidents Cup matches). This will be his first time captaining (or vice-captaining) any professional team event.
Jose Maria Olazabal: two major wins, six PGA Tour wins, 23 European Tour wins, three Ryder Cup wins. Jose Maria has gone 18-8-5 win his 31 Ryder Cup matches, and he has vice-captained two prior events.
Number Four: Ryder Cup Experience
With two of his captains picks, Davis Love went with the experience of Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk over the relative youth of golfers like Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler. The U.S. has the older team overall (about 34 years old compared to about 32 years old for the Euros), as well as the most Ryder Cup experience by combined appearances thanks mostly to veterans Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, and Stricker.
Unfortunately for the United States, much of that is losing experience, as the European team has won four of the last five events. The European team’s players have far better individual records, and no player on this U.S. has a Ryder Cup record above .500. The U.S. players do have Presidents Cup experience, which, though the competition isn’t as strong, still gives the team some added match play practice.
Number Three: Medinah Country Club
The 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla featured a raucous crowd, and many of the younger Americans feasted on that energy with Tiger Woods on the mend. Celtic Manor, another relatively young course that was repurposed specifically for the Ryder Cup, hosted the 2010 event, and it held up relatively well despite torrid rain.
The 2012 event returns to the United States, but this time it goes to one of the most historic courses in the country. Medinah Country Club was built in 1924, and has hosted five majors: three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships.
Only two people associated with this year’s Ryder Cup played in the 1990 U.S. Open hosted at Medinah: Phil Mickelson, who finished T29 as an amateur, and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who finished T8. More importantly, Medinah hosted the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships, both won by Tiger Woods.
The 1999 event was one of Tiger’s most memorable early wins, as he held off a young Sergio Garcia down the stretch to pull out a slim one-shot victory. Jim Furyk is the only other 2012 Ryder Cupper to finish in the top 10. Tiger won the 2006 PGA by a much wider margin, beating runner-up Shaun Micheel by five strokes. Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, and Steve Stricker were also in the top 10.
The course was altered somewhat for the 2006 event, becoming the longest major championship course to that point, and it has since been lengthened even more. Medinah will play at 7,657 yards come the end of September, only 19 yard shorter than Kiawah Island, which now stands as the longest major championship course in history.
Number Two: The Last Four In
It’s splitting hairs to find major differences between the first few players on each of the rosters, but the last few that got in can sway the outcome of the Ryder Cup wildly. For the U.S., the last four in are the captain’s picks: Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker, and Dustin Johnson. For the European team the last four in are the two captains picks (Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts) and last two from the Ryder Cup World points list (Peter Hanson, and Martin Kaymer).
For the U.S. team, I have to say I disagree strongly with DL3’s picks. I would not have put Stricker or Furyk on the team. Though they both have great short games, Stricker and Furyk are both among the shortest player on Tour, which will put them at a disadvantage on every single hole.
Stricker won the season-opening event but his season has been consistently mediocre (by the standards he’s set) thus far. Stricker has missed only one cut, at The Players, but frankly the Ryder Cup isn’t about being average, you’ve got to be great, and he hasn’t been that the entire year. Furyk is somewhat different. He doesn’t have a win this year, and he has missed four cuts. He contended at the U.S. Open, entering the final round tied for the lead, but a big-time choke on the 16th hole knocked him out of it.
Snedeker and Johnson I agree with more, if only because they introduce some extra young(er) blood into the mix. Snedeker won back in January at Torrey Pines, capitalizing on a collapse by Kyle Stanley, and he played well in several of the year's major championships. His Tour Championship win only makes Love’s pick look better, since you can’t really find a player hotter than the one who won the week prior. Johnson played in the last two U.S. team events, and he bounced back from early-season back problems in 2012 with a very solid summer.
The European team has, in my opinion, the stronger final four. For all of his flaws (and the list is seemingly limitless), Ian Poulter has played well in Ryder Cups past. Poulter has been on every Ryder Cup team since 2004, and his overall record is 8-3. He’s a high energy guy that can get off to hot starts and put opponents away with fist pumps and patriotism alone. Colsaerts, the other captain’s pick, has quietly had a pretty great year. He contended at the U.S. Open before a fourth-round 76, and he played even better at the Open Championship. He has finished in the top 10 in nearly half of his Euro Tour events, and he stands at ninth on the Race to Dubai rankings.
Hanson had another strong 2012 record, with top 10s in seven of his 17 European Tour events, and a victory earlier this month. Kaymer, the former top player in the world, might be the weak spot. He only has a few top 10s on the year, and he has missed the cut in his last two majors. I can understand why Olazabal would pick someone like Kaymer to be on the team, but I wouldn’t expect much out of him.
Number One: Tiger and Rory
The actual matchup may or may not happen, but clearly a grouping of the number one and number two players in the world is what the fans want to see (then again, if they aren't matched up at the Ryder Cup, they are playing one-on-one in late October). Until Rory's two FedExCup victories at the Deutsche Bank and the BMW, Tiger was the consensus PGA Tour player of the year, but now the title seems safely in Rory's hands.
The two were paired up for much of the FedExCup Playoff events, and the results speak for themselves. Tiger went T38, third, T4, T8, while Rory finished T24, first, first, T10. Rory was second in the final standings, while Tiger was third. Rory has four wins on the PGA Tour this year (including a major), Tiger has three.
Your guess is as good as mine as to who would actually win a matchup between the two, but Tiger's experience at the Ryder and Presidents Cups as well as at the WGC-Accenture event certainly gives him an advantage.
Closing and Your Thoughts?
In an attempt to feign objectivity, I'm going to take my face paint and Uncle Sam hat off for a minute, and declare that neither side will run away with the Ryder Cup. The talent is too immense and the teams are too close for one side to fail miserably. The Euros have an advantage in Jose Maria Olazabal, and they're last four are superior the the American team's, but the U.S. side does have the home course. And if you've been living under a rock for the last few months, Tiger and Rory are both really, really good.
If forced to make a pick, I'll go with the U.S. side winning 14.5-13.5 in a reversal of the 2010 score. Who are you taking?