Ryder Cup features 'two best teams ever assembled'

U.S. golfers Tiger Woods (L), Jim Furyk (C) and Steve Stricker walk off the fourth tee during a...

U.S. golfers Tiger Woods (L), Jim Furyk (C) and Steve Stricker walk off the fourth tee during a practice round at the 39th Ryder Cup golf matches at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois, September 25, 2012. (REUTERS)

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:52 PM ET

CHICAGO - They may be playing it up or they may be playing possum but, either way, the Euros were playing it smart Tuesday as the Ryder Cup practice rounds got under way at Medinah Country Club.

The Europeans did their deprecating best to build up the home U.S. team while assuming the role of underdog in a competition they have owned for the past decade.

The European Ryder Cup dominance -- winning four of the past five since 2002 -- can be thrown out the window, the sly Graeme McDowell contends. McDowell says it's game on in Chicago and that the resurgent Americans hold the edge.

"You know, (these are) perhaps the two best teams that have ever been assembled, in my opinion, at the Ryder Cup, certainly on paper anyway," McDowell said. "Everyone's playing so well, it's going to be a big week and a Titanic struggle for sure."

Not sure McDowell was looking for a 100th anniversary tie-in with the doomed ocean liner, but he was taking the tack that unlike those touters of the "unsinkable" European ship, he wasn't coming in overconfident.

"I really don't think history counts for much this week," McDowell said in reference to his squad's record in recent Ryder Cups. "I think Europe has to be a slight underdog on paper, you know, with the home advantage here and the home crowd."

The Americans, meanwhile, carried a quiet confidence Tuesday, perhaps playing the role of the underperforming team with something to prove.

"We have played in seven, we have won two and lost five," Jim Furyk said of the core of the U.S. squad that includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson going back to 1997 in Valderrama in Spain. "I would have expected, and definitely wished, for a much better record than that."

Jason Dufner didn't want to get into stats or predictions, saying "you can skew the stats either way for whatever team you might be trying to favour," but he was confident the Americans would be firing on all cylinders.

"I know this: We have got 12 guys on our team who are playing really good golf right now," he said. "All 12 of us made the Tour Championship (including a big win for captain's pick and Ryder Cup rookie Brandt Snedeker) last week. We have had some guys play really, really well in the second half of the season."

What both sides can agree on, however, is the obvious: The partisan Chicago crowd will give the Americans a boost (even though the Euros practised in Chicago Bears orange and blue Tuesday).

Whether it's already in their heads or whether they're just being coy, the Euros referenced the 13th-man effect and the anticipated deafening noise of the crowd when play starts Friday.

"You have to expect the unexpected this week on all levels," said Justin Rose, runner-up Sunday at the Tour Championship. "There's nothing sinister about it at all, you just have to expect noise ... If something crazy happens, do your best to laugh it off."

McDowell said that U.S. captain Davis Love III can't really give his team too much of an advantage with course setup itself, but the fact that Love has set it up to favour lots of birdies could be a boon if it's the Americans making more of them.

"The only thing Davis can do this week is to set the golf course up for scoring to get the crowds on their feet and to get them charged up from the word go," McDowell said. "And I really think that's their tactic, to get the crowds behind their guys."

Good play by Americans is the way to get the crowed fired up because, McDowell says, the rivalry virtually has disappeared.

"As much golf as Europeans play here in the States, I think the crowds like the European golfers. They have embraced (us) as PGA Tour players.

"I think, of course, the crowd is going to be on the Americans' side, that's inevitable, but the hostility is gone. I think Davis wants birdies and eagles made to get the crowd fizzed up and charged up. It's going to be exciting and it's going to be loud."

"Like I say, the days of hostility, I think, are gone ... I say that, but we'll see."

RYDER CUP DEPTH CHART

UNITED STATES

1. Tiger Woods

  • Age: 36
  • World ranking: 2
  • What he brings: Woods brings experience. Despite a spotty record in the Ryder Cup, Woods plays a lot for his country and he will be looking to quiet his critics this time around. As was pointed out Tuesday, he can, however, bring out the best in his competition. Woods has won two PGA Championships at Medinah (99, 06).
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 6 (97, 99, 02, 04, 06, 10)
  • Record: 13-14-2

2. Bubba Watson

  • Age: 33
  • World ranking: 7
  • What he brings: His goofy nature and length off the tee will make him a popular teammate but he has admitted he has had problems with focus in the past. He harnessed his game and emotions to win the Masters this year so he could be a big part of an American win this week.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 1-3-0

3. Phil Mickelson

  • Age: 42
  • World ranking: 16
  • What he brings: Again, Mickelson's experience can't be discounted, but he has been on again, off again this year. We have seen flashes of the old Mickelson but you just don't know who is going to show up. Has been tinkering with his putting this season, and putting will be at a premium at Medinah.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 8 (95, 97, 99, 02, 04, 06, 08, 10)
  • Record: 11-17-6

4. Brandt Snedeker

  • Age: 31
  • World ranking: 10
  • What he brings: Having the hottest player in golf can't be a bad thing. His Tour Championship victory and FedEx Cup win are making Davis Love III look like a genius for making him a captain's pick. While everyone was talking up Woods and McIlroy last week, Snedeker quietly got the job done, which would be a good approach this week.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

5. Jason Dufner

  • Age: 35
  • World ranking: 9
  • What he brings: One of the hottest players early in the season with two victories, his ability to keep an even keel could serve him well in this type of format.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

6. Webb Simpson

  • Age: 27
  • World ranking: 8
  • What he brings: Young player showed his resolve in tough conditions to win the U.S. Open this year, overcoming a four-shot deficit before keeping his cool with the appearance of that crazy bird dude. Things will get wacky at Medinah, but Simpson has the game and demeanour to take it in stride.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

7. Steve Stricker

  • Age: 45
  • World ranking: 12
  • What he brings: While a bunch of other guys on the team are superb drivers of the ball, Stricker's putter can make a difference this week. His only victory this season was in the tournament of champions way back in January. He has been a steadying partner for Woods in the past.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (08, 10)
  • Record: 3-3-1

8. Keegan Bradley

  • Age: 26
  • World ranking: 14
  • What he brings: Won the 2011 PGA championship using the long putter, the first to do so. Rookie really wanted to be on this team and he will be eager to prove he belongs.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

9. Dustin Johnson

  • Age: 28
  • World ranking: 13
  • What he brings: Distance. Johnson is the poster boy for this supposed team of bombers and he has to take advantage of Love's course setup (wider landing areas) to contribute and justify being a captain's pick.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 1-3-0

10. Jim Furyk

  • Age: 42
  • World ranking: 23
  • What he brings: Furyk was a somewhat controversial captain's pick but he finished with a flourish in the FedEx Cup playoffs to show he belonged on the team. Provided heroics for the U.S. in Sunday singles in '08.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 7 (97, 99, 02, 04, 06, 08, 10)
  • Record: 8-15-4

11. Zach Johnson

  • Age: 36
  • World ranking: 17
  • What he brings: With all the bombers on his side, Johnson will be looked at to play to his strengths -- consistency and accuracy with his irons. Has proven he can play with the big boys with two wins this season.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (06, 10)
  • Record: 3-3-1

12. Matt Kuchar

  • Age: 34
  • World ranking: 15
  • What he brings: Kuchar is a streaky player who won the Players Championship in May but hasn't been great over the past couple of months. He needs to pick it up this week to contribute.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 1-1-2

EUROPE

1. Rory McIlroy

  • Age: 23
  • World ranking: 1
  • What he brings: Everyone is talking about the American bombers but the top player in the game has the length, too, as well as everything else, in his arsenal. Some worry about fatigue after a long FedEx Cup run but the youngster should be able to get up for his second Ryder Cup.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 1-1-2

2. Lee Westwood

  • Age: 39
  • World ranking: 4
  • What he brings: One of the best players in the field to never win a major has been a factor in the Ryder Cup. His record is the best of anyone at Medinah, save for teammate Sergio Garcia. He seems to have the personality that suits team competition and he played well in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 7 (97, 99, 02, 04, 06, 08, 19)
  • Record: 16-11-6

3. Luke Donald

  • Age: 34
  • World ranking: 3
  • What he brings: A short hitter who makes up for it by being above average in every other aspect of his game. Look for him to consistently pick up points. A year removed from his dream season, Donald won once this year on the PGA Tour and tied for third at the Tour Championship.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 3 (04, 06, 10)
  • Record: 8-2-1

4. Justin Rose

  • Age: 32
  • World ranking: 5
  • What he brings: Rose is a bit of a streaky player who is getting hot at the right time, as evidenced by his runner-up finish at the Tour Championship. Canadian coach Sean Foley got him working with David Orr on his putting and Rose said he's more confident with the flat-stick.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (08)
  • Record: 3-1-0

5. Sergio Garcia

  • Age: 32
  • World ranking: 19
  • What he brings: Was forced to watch the 2010 Ryder Cup from the sidelines because his game went away, but after taking some time off, a refreshed Garcia made the team on his own merit this season with a clutch win at the Wyndham. You're never sure what you'll get from him around the greens, but his Ryder Cup record is great.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 5 (99, 02, 04, 06, 08, 10 as an asst. captain)
  • Record: 14-6-4

6. Graeme McDowell

  • Age: 33
  • World ranking: 18
  • What he brings: Buddy and likely playing partner of Rory McIlroy, who also has great game that goes in streaks. Could be one of the leaders in the locker room for the Euros.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 2 (08, 10)
  • Record: 4-2-2

7. Ian Poulter

  • Age: 36
  • World ranking: 26
  • What he brings: Someone who will have fun with being the enemy on American soil, the captain's pick has the personality to play the spoiler if his game is as colourful this week.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 3 (04, 08, 10)
  • Record: 8-3-0

8. Peter Hanson

  • Age: 34
  • World ranking: 25
  • What he brings: One of the Euros we don't see a lot on the PGA Tour, but he's got a big-game mentality, showing well in this year's Masters (T3), PGA Championship (T7) and in the WGC events.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 1-2-0

9. Paul Lawrie

  • Age: 43
  • World ranking: 28
  • What he brings: The best comeback story here. The 1999 British Open champ hadn't won in nearly a decade and his sons started to get competitive with him on the course, so he decided to re-dedicate himself to the game. Should get a charge out of his team's young guns, too.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (99)
  • Record: 3-3-1

10. Nicolas Colsaerts

  • Age: 29
  • World ranking: 35
  • What he brings: The lone Ryder Cup rookie for the Euros could be a big factor. The captain's pick is the longest hitter on the team and Tiger Woods said Tuesday Colsaerts has a great swing and that his game is starting to develop the consistency to be a top-level player.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

11. Francesco Molinari

  • Age: 29
  • World ranking: 31
  • What he brings: Molinari plays predominantly on the European Tour, where he is ranked third on the money list. Putting will be the key to his success here.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 0-2-1

12. Martin Kaymer

  • Age: 27
  • World ranking: 32
  • What he brings: The former world No. 1 decided to start tinkering with his swing and his game hasn't been the same since. In a poor year, by his standards, Kaymer says he found something in his swing at the recent Italian Open, where he finished fifth. Still, the Ryder Cup isn't the time to be working on your swing.
  • Ryder Cup appearances: 1 (10)
  • Record: 2-1-1

-- with files from Reuters

tim.mckay@sunmedia.ca


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