The Case (Again!) for the Europeans in the Ryder Cup
Dynasties rise, dynasties fall. Mostly, they reign. That's why they're dynasties.
September is again the time to consider the dynasty in our midst, the European Ryder Cup team. Sorry if you're an American in denial, but dynasty is the only way to summarize what Europe has done over the last three decades of the Ryder Cup, mustering a 12-4-1 record.
Something is up this year. Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed the U.S. as a favorite for the matches later this month at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn. The Vegas books have no insider information. No, their skill is in taking the pulse of the gambling public and setting odds that make it attractive to bettors on both sides. For whatever reason, to date the betting public favors the Americans.
At last week's Deutsche Bank Championship, one of my colleagues was telling everyone they're going to win this Ryder Cup by three points or more! That is a bold call. Yes, every great dynasty has to fall. Ming. Rome. The Chicago Bulls. The Kardashians. But is Europe's time possessing Samuel Ryder's cup finally up? Not so fast.
First, it's too early to make that call. A third of the U.S. squad hasn't even been chosen. Although, granted, if you're counting on your four captain's picks to win the Cup, that doesn't say much for the eight who qualified on points.
Second, it's too early to make the call in regard to who's hot and who's not. Most players play well in stretches of only a few short weeks. You can judge a player by his body of work this season, or even over a career, but that doesn't tell you how he's playing today. But hey, that's all we've got to go on, so…
Third, you are underrating this European team with your isolationist, make-America-great-again prejudice. Maybe you are doing so because Europe features six Ryder Cup rookies and some of these players aren't widely known to U.S. fans, even if they are accomplished on the world stage.
Haven't we been down this road before with who's-he Euros who turned into Ryder Cup killers? I submit Philip Walton (1-1-0); Paul Broadhurst (2-0-0); Paul McGinley (2-2-5); Victor Dubuisson (2-0-1); Jamie Donaldson (3-1-0); Peter Baker (3-1-0); and Ian Poulter, who became a household name because of the Ryder Cup and amassed a 12-4-2 match record.
What's not to like about this Euro team? Who would you rank as the top two players in the world at this minute? That's right, British Open champ and Olympic silver medalist Henrik Stenson and Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose. The former is as tough as high-school-cafeteria meatloaf—he's been playing with a slight ligament tear in one knee—and the latter is every bit as lethal as Mr. Poults. Rose is 12-4-2 in the Ryder Cup, and he keyed the Miracle at Medinah in 2012. That was when captain Davis Love III's team lost after taking a a 10-6 lead into singles, America's lowest moment in modern Ryder Cup play.
Rory McIlroy, dogged by putting problems for much of the year, is coming off a victory at the Deutsche Bank. Four over after three holes, he rallied to get back to even par, then followed with rounds of 67, 66 and 65. Suddenly, he looks remarkably like the player who has won four major championships.
Who is the home team's answer to these three gents? The 2016 Jordan Spieth is still searching for the 2015 Jordan Spieth. Dustin Johnson, your U.S. Open champ, may be the American any Euro would least like to face. And the third-best American would be… Bueller? Bueller? Jimmy Walker, your PGA champ? I like Walker, who showed his clutch gene at Baltusrol, but Europe's top of the lineup has the edge.
Lee Westwood, one of Darren Clarke's three captain's selections, finished fourth at last week's Omega European Masters. Martin Kaymer has won two majors and ascended to the No. 1 throne, and he dealt the hammer blow at Medinah. Sergio Garcia is the emotional heart of his team and plays with an enthusiasm that inspires his teammates, in the manner of Seve Ballesteros.
The Ryder Cup is a team event, but a nucleus can carry the day. Remember the Big Six of Ballesteros and José María Olazábal, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle (and later Colin Montgomerie) and Bernhard Langer? They routinely played all four team sessions, keying Europe's success.
But it would unwise to sleep on Europe's six rookies. First-timers didn't hinder the 2008 U.S. team, which also had six rookies as it thumped the Europeans at Valhalla for the only U.S. victory this century.
Meet England's Danny Willett, your reigning Masters champion. It seems silly to tag him as a rookie. Fine, he got the Masters handed to him by Spieth, but Willett put himself in position to catch the green jacket when it fell off the hanger with a final-round, bogey-free 67. Willett hasn't played his best golf in the months since, to put it politely. It is not unusual for a foreign Masters champion, especially one who's not prepared for global fame, to suffer a Masters hangover after such a life-changing win. But the man is such a solid ballstriker, it's hard to see him not rising to this occasion.
Three more Englishmen have solid credentials. Andy Sullivan hasn't been in top form this season, but he won three times in 2015. In May, Chris Wood won BMW PGA, the European tour's flagship event. Even though he has played in only a handful of majors, Wood owns a pair of top-five finishes at the British Open. Matthew Fitzpatrick announced himself with his victory at the 2013 U.S. Amateur, and he has followed up with two Euro tour wins, pretty good for a 22-year-old young gun.
We all know how important putting is at the Ryder Cup, and Spain's Rafa Cabrera-Bello, 32, always ranks highly in the tour's putting stats. Thomas Pieters, 24, was picked by Clarke because he got hot at the right time. He was fourth at the Olympics, second at the Czech Masters and fired a 62 en route to winning at home in Denmark.
Your six rookies or your four wild-card selections may play a prominent role, or they may not have to. The format typically allows for a nail-biting finish.
In the end the Ryder Cup is simple. You're King of the Hill until the other side knocks you off. This continues to be Europe's hill. We'll see at Hazeltine whether the longest ongoing dynasty in sports continues.
But bet against Europe at your own risk.