With the Ryder Cup 2018 a few short weeks away, battle lines are being drawn and the familiar rivalry is heating up. This year, the famous competition will be held in mainland Europe for only the second time in its 91-year history. It will be held at Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, where Team USA will be hoping to retain the cup after they were victorious on home soil two years ago.
Is form important?
The match play format has shown time and time again that the on-form stroke play golfers can’t always turn it on when playing one-on-one. As usual, there are likely to be a few upsets here and there. Some of the American team are playing the best golf out on tour but the Europeans will be keen to avenge their one-sided loss in 2016 and will be playing for pride. US captain Jim Furyk will have to keep his players motivated to keep both the European players and the crowd as quiet as possible.
Players to watch out for
It is widely expected that Tiger Woods will have a significant impact on this Ryder Cup, both because he is playing his best golf in years, and also because anyone playing against him will have to deal with the attention the star receives. Europe have at least four rookies playing for them this year so they will have to start quickly, otherwise they may become overwhelmed by the USA’s experience.
Tyrell Hamilton is a player to watch out for. He’s making his Ryder Cup debut for Europe, and the young English star has a reputation for being quite a fiery character. He’s not guaranteed to win his matches, but for sure he’ll be good entertainment for those watching. Another rookie to keep your eyes focused on will be Justin Thomas. The young American is in top form, and many are tipping him to be the standout performer of the tournament. Look for fireworks if Thomas and Hamilton are drawn to play each other.
The top three players in the world are American, so look for big performances from Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and the aforementioned Justin Thomas. Young American golfers Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler will be looking to add to their Ryder Cup experience by notching another few wins.
Europe are not favoured to win in France, but they might have a couple of aces up their sleeves. The two most recent French Open winners, Alex Noren and Tommy Fleetwood are both among Europe’s ranks for the competition in September. They both won the tournament at Le Golf National so if they can replicate their recent form once more they are going to be a match for anybody.
Last time, Europe team captain Darren Clarke had an inexperienced team that didn’t put up much of a fight on American soil, losing the 2016 Ryder Cup 17-11 at Hazeltine National Golf Club. They will hope that playing on home soil will make them more competitive and, if Europe cannot secure a win, reducing the six-point deficit is something that must be accomplished. Europe team captain Thomas Bjørn added some experience with his wildcard picks, and one of the men expected to perform well is Mr Ryder Cup himself, Ian Poulter.
Bjørn has a total of four wildcard picks this year, so some of Europe’s heroes from Ryder Cups gone by have been included in the team. Joining Poulter will be Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. While Bjørn hasn’t necessarily picked the form players, he has picked those who he knows can be relied upon to be a match for anybody on their day.
All eight of Europe’s automatic qualifiers have been decided; Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Alex Noren, Tyrell Hatton and Jon Rahm are in. Thorbjorn Olesen snagged the last qualifying spot after his performance at the Made In Denmark tournament.
The USA’s automatic positions are all wrapped up, so the only mystery surrounding their team was who the captain would pick as his wild cards. Like Bjørn, the US captain had four picks, and he didn’t overlook golfing legends Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for two of those spots. That left another two places open, and Furyk was always likely to go with the players who are on top form but missed out on the automatic spots.
Bryson DeChambeau agonisingly failed to qualify for his spot, but the US captain included him in the final line up anyway. Team USA will be lining up with qualifiers Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Webb Simpson. With only one rookie in their ranks (Thomas), it’s hard to see where the USA’s weaknesses are, but it’s up to the Europeans to find and exploit them.
The American’s are heavy favourites to lift the trophy once more and if they manage to put some daylight between themselves and Europe in the early stages it’s hard to see anything but a US victory. If Europe are to win they must start strong and hope they can grind out a victory.
It takes years of practice to compete in the Ryder Cup and many of these golfing legends have taken on the Old Course at St Andrews in preparation. Are you up for the challenge?