Know your opponents: The American Dozen
Team Europe have been busy collecting plenty of silverware of late, with six titles in the past five weeks, so we decided to take a look at their American opposition to see how they stack up against a very in-form European line-up.
Tiger Woods has been resurgent in 2012 with three titles on the US PGA Tour coming at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial Tournament and at his own event, the AT&T National. Heading into his sixth Ryder Cup appearance, Woods has also shown great form of late, finishing in a tie for fourth at the BMW Championship, following on from a fine third place at the Deutsche Bank Championship a week prior. The 14-time Major Champion is clearly back to somewhere near his best and will be looking to add to the 14 points he has earned so far in his Ryder Cup career, and therefore once again a name to respect on the American team sheet.
Alongside Woods, Phil Mickelson is now firmly established as one of the team’s elder statesman, and potential talisman for the home support and champion for the younger members of their team. This will be the ninth outing as part of the American line-up for the man known popularly as ‘Lefty’, but in that time, thanks to some dominant European displays, he has only been on the winning side twice. He will be looking to rectify that in Illinois when he becomes the most capped American golfer of all time, and after a little difficulty on the greens in 2012, Mickelson has showed he is back to his best with two top fives in his last two outings.
Adding to the flair and gung-ho attitude of Woods and Mickelson is a man who really has taken creative play to the next level in, making great use of the most cultured hands in the game, a talent that culminated in a maiden Major title at the Masters Tournament in April. Bubba Watson entered Augusta folklore with his outrageous escape from the trees en route to a play-off victory at Augusta, and there really is very little that this champion shot maker cannot do with a golf club, meaning he will always pose a threat in match play.
And then there is the fidgety, but extremely effective Keegan Bradley, who having stormed onto the scene with US PGA Championship victory in 2011 has continued that run with a maiden World Golf Championships title in Akron last month at the WGC-Brigestone Invitational. Put him, the previous three, and the prodigious long ball hitting of Dustin Johnson into the mix, and you have five players likely to come out all guns blazing at Medinah.
There is no doubting the talent this flair group – in many ways reminiscent of American teams past - but this year’s line-up is also a much more considered team than usual.
This is typified by both the experienced players and rookies alike, and none more so than two of Davis Love III’s wild cards, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, who have made their careers out of letting their golf clubs do the talking. This experienced pair are very similar to the likes of Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, and of course Jason Dufner, who are all particularly measured on the golf course.
Simpson, an impressive young talent that broke through last year with a pair of victories on the PGA Tour is now a Major Champion after a stunning final round at the incredibly testing Olympic Club in the US Open Championship, while Kuchar has not stopped smiling since crowning a superb period of form with Players’ Championship gold back in May. Meanwhile, the always-dogged Zach Johnson has won another couple of times on the PGA Tour in 2012, Brandt Snedeker has quietly gone about his business with a title of his own and a fine performance at The Open Championship, while Dufner has picked up his first two wins to rubber stamp a fine 12 months.
The make-up of this American team could be seen as somewhat different to the norm; a little more considered, cooler under the eyes of the golfing world. It is unlikely that any of them will ride their driver like a wild stallion as they head from the first tee, they are unlikely to hoop and holler as much as in years gone by, but make no mistake, they are just as likely to play well come Medinah.
Between them this season the American team have racked up two Major Championships, a World Golf Championships title, plus 15 PGA Tour titles compared with the European line-up’s one Major, one WGC and eight PGA and European Tour titles. So, a slight edge for the American’s, and proof that this has the potential to be one of the closest matches in Ryder Cup history.
And it is that fact which has fans either side of the Atlantic uncertain as to who will take possession of Samuel Ryder’s trophy come September 30; what they do know, though, is that the competition is going to be tighter than ever, and another great Ryder Cup spectacle now just weeks away.