US Captain Corey Pavin (centre) completes his team (Getty Images)
Perfect blend makes America a formidable force
Europe may be the bookies' favourite to lift The Ryder Cup but they are evenly matched according to the World Ranking and the Americans have plenty in their armory.
by Paul Symes, europeantour.com
Whilst the European Team may head to Wales as firm favourites with the bookmakers to regain The Ryder Cup, a brief glance at their American counterparts reveals a blend of youthful exuberance and experienced know-how which will undoubtedly test Colin Montgomerie’s men.
Indeed, purely from an Official Golf World Ranking perspective, the two Teams could hardly be more evenly matched.
Both Teams have four players each in the world’s top ten: Tiger Woods (first), Phil Mickelson (second), Steve Stricker (fourth) and Jim Furyk (fifth) from America; and Lee Westwood (third), Martin Kaymer (sixth), Rory McIlroy (seventh) and Luke Donald (eighth) from Europe.
Similarly, seven players on each Team are drawn from between positions 11 and 40 in the Official Golf World Ranking – the American septet is comprised of Matt Kuchar (11th), Hunter Mahan (13th), Zach Johnson (17th), Dustin Johnson (24th), Bubba Watson (25th), Rickie Fowler (33rd) and Stewart Cink (35th).
And the final remaining member of each Team is taken from the 41st to 50th bracket – in the case of America Jeff Overton (47th), and for Europe Peter Hanson (43rd).
Thus, based on combined World Ranking positions, the overall tally is 217 for America to Europe’s 219 – and had Furyk’s display at the Deutsche Bank Championship on the US PGA Tour last week not moved the American into the World Number Five spot previously occupied by Kaymer, the two Teams would have been tied on 218 apiece.
In terms of Ryder Cup experience both sides are again evenly matched, with America’s seasoned quartet of Cink, Furyk, Mickelson and Woods – who between them can boast no fewer than 22 Ryder Cup appearances – being counterbalanced by Donald, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jiménez, Poulter and Westwood on the European side.
The USA Team boasts one fewer Ryder Cup rookie than Europe, with five Americans making their debuts at The Celtic Manor Resort next month, namely: Watson (who finished third on the USA Ryder Cup Points list), Dustin Johnson (sixth), Overton (seventh), Kuchar (eighth) and Fowler (20th), who was the surprise package when Captain Corey Pavin announced his four wildcard picks at the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.
The fact that Pavin chose to overlook the likes of former US Open Champion Lucas Glover and Anthony Kim, who was arguably America’s most impressive performer at Valhalla two years ago, shows how highly the Captain rates Fowler.
The talented 21 year old, who sits in 33rd place in the Official Golf World Ranking after three runner-up finishes in his rookie season on the US PGA Tour, has made history by becoming the first player to progress from the Walker Cup to The Ryder Cup in just one year.
His selection came down to a hunch, according to Pavin. He said: “I had a gut feeling about Rickie. He has a great Walker Cup record [winning seven matches and losing just one]. So he’s a very good player.”
Paul Azinger, one of Pavin’s Vice Captains, also talked up Fowler’s competitive instincts, saying: “He’s a great young player. He’s a big boy, a professional, and he has a great match play record. And I will tell you this: confidence trumps experience in match play, and he has tons of confidence.
“Look at what Anthony Kim and JB Holmes did in their first Ryder Cup. My best Ryder Cup was my first one. There’s something about confidence that you can’t top, and Rickie is loaded with guts.”
As well as a boundless spirit, another key component in Fowler’s armoury is his prodigious length off the tee. In that respect, Fowler by no means stands alone in the American Team – his fellow rookies Dustin Johnson, Overton and Watson all regularly drive the ball well over 300 yards, which could prove a more-than-useful asset at The Celtic Manor Resort, especially if the rain falls.
“Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Jeff Overton – those guys just crush the ball,” said Azinger. “Steve Stricker’s not short, but he’s not even in the conversation – and that in no way disparages him. This is the longest-hitting Team in history, no doubt.”
Of course, no assessment of the American Team could be complete without reference to the World Number One. Woods, who was absent at Valhalla two years ago after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, returns for his sixth cap.
After weeks of speculation over whether or not Pavin would pick the World Number One, who finished 12th in the USA Ryder Cup Points List, the Captain revealed that Woods’ recent renaissance had made his decision far easier.
Pavin said: “I told Tiger I would like to have him on the Team, and asked him if he would like to be on the team, and he said “absolutely”. He said whatever you would like me to do, I will do – just tell me what you would like. That’s exactly what a Captain likes to hear from any player on the Team. So obviously I was happy that he was very excited about playing, and he wants to be on a winning Team – just like the other 12 guys as well.”
For his part Woods, one of five Major Champions in the American Team, spoke of his excitement at the prospect of returning to Wales, which he last visit when Royal Porthcawl hosted the Walker Cup in 1995.
He said: “It’s great to be part of this Team. I’m honoured to be selected and to head over to represent the United States at The Ryder Cup. I’ve been to Wales previously in the Walker Cup, and I’m looking forward to going back and having a great time, and hopefully bringing the Cup back.”