SI convened a panel of experts — senior writers Michael Bamberger, Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle as well as special contributor John Garrity and a PGA Tour player who participated on the condition of anonymity — to tackle all things Ryder Cup.
THE BUZZ — OR BUZZKILL?
VAN SICKLE: What makes this Ryder Cup so important and crucial? Or is it?
SHIPNUCK: This is a chance for Rory McIlroy to continue taking possession of an entire sport. If McIlroy plays great and leads Europe to victory on U.S. soil, it's one more exclamation point to his year. If Rory takes down Tiger Woods in singles—the one match everybody wants to see—it would be epic. This could be Rory's show.
GARRITY: Other than anticipating Rory's play, I don't see this as one of the more significant Ryder Cups. There's no trend to get alarmed about. Home teams have won the last three. The European domination, when they were winning big, is over. The teams are balanced. Neither side is the tormented underdog. There's simply not as much at stake.
BAMBERGER: This almost seems like a pre-1991 Ryder Cup. The level of animosity isn't there anymore, in part because Europe's top players, guys like Rory and Graeme McDowell, are so well-liked. Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, too.
VAN SICKLE: I hate to say I miss the Ryder Cup hype, but what happened to it? The buildup used to begin at the start of the year. We're only just starting to think about it now.
ANONYMOUS PRO: The Tour hypes the FedEx Cup all year, so the Ryder Cup gets lost. And it has been diluted by the Presidents Cup, another PGA Tour show. With a team event every year, the Ryder Cup feels less special. Maybe one of the reasons the European team bonds better is that they have two years to look forward to it. Our guys play something every fall. I don't know if they still get as excited.
VAN SICKLE: The Euros are united in their desire to knock off the big, bad U.S.A., while we're united only in our fear of losing big—again.
SHIPNUCK: You can lay some of this on Tiger and Phil Mickelson. They don't live and breathe the Ryder Cup like Payne Stewart and Paul Azinger and Tom Lehman did. Their attitude has filtered down. Even Rory called the Ryder Cup an exhibition before he played in it. Now he has changed his tune. Tiger and Phil have been on every team for almost 15 years and, sorry, they're just not that into you. Get over it.
BAMBERGER: When Tiger missed the 2008 event at Valhalla, no one cared.
SHIPNUCK: Not having Tiger might have helped that team win. The Ryder Cup is like a party, and Tiger is the hottest girl in the room, staring at his fingernails and twirling his hair. He's not dancing on the bar. He sets the tone for the whole thing, and he's kind of a buzzkill. It's no fault of Tiger's. The Ryder Cup was never a priority for him. It doesn't suit his lone-wolf mentality. It's not in his DNA.
BAMBERGER: I think team play means more to Tiger now. Everything said about Tiger was true prior to the Hydrant. Now that he's trying a little harder to be a citizen of the golfing world, we have to look at him in a new way.
TIGER VERSUS RORY
VAN SICKLE: Ever since Rory made that joke at the PGA Championship about kicking Tiger's ass in the Ryder Cup, we've been imagining a Tiger-versus-Rory match. If they meet in singles, who wins?
GARRITY: Rory is the ascendant player now. He has outplayed Tiger most of the year. Medinah is the kind of long, soft track that Rory thrives on. I say that while recognizing that Tiger has won two PGA Championships there, but Tiger isn't devouring the par-5s as he used to.
BAMBERGER: It's Rory because he's a better golfer right now. It's close. If they play 100 times, Rory wins 56.
SHIPNUCK: After all the talk about Tiger's budding friendship and mutual respect for Rory, I can see Tiger going to the 1st tee and totally freezing him out and using every bit of gamesmanship he has learned over the years to take Rory out of his comfort zone. I wonder if all this backslapping and yukking it up with Rory isn't some kind of rope-a-dope.
VAN SICKLE: That's brilliant. That would be so cool if the Buddy Boy Tiger was part of Davis Love III's master plan to position Tiger versus Rory in every match.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Maybe Tiger is actually recruiting Rory for Nike because Tiger has Phil Knight in his ear telling him to make nice. I wouldn't be surprised. Nike always wants the No. 1 guy in a sport. That's Rory now.
GARRITY: I remember the U.S. Open at Oakmont in '07 when Tiger stared down Aaron Baddeley on the 1st tee and Baddeley opened with a triple bogey. I don't think that will work on Rory. Based on how Tiger has been treating weekends at the majors lately, Tiger probably wouldn't play his best because he wants it so badly.
ANONYMOUS PRO: I'd look forward to their demeanor if they play in singles. I'll bet Rory will look as if he's having a much better time. Tiger may concentrate so hard that his head explodes.
SHIPNUCK: I'll still take Tiger. Rory's superiority is evident over 72 holes, but this will be like that old MTV show Celebrity Death Match, in which the animations tear each other's limbs off. This is such a different environment—wives, teammates, captains and 50,000 screaming fans. Tiger's year has been a bust, but if he won this match, it would help him get back to who he was.
GARRITY: Rory has proved himself on the big stages already with big margins of victory.
SHIPNUCK: I agree. My head says Rory, but my heart says Tiger.
VAN SICKLE: If you're either captain, do you want to match up Rory and Tiger?
SHIPNUCK: Davis Love would kill to get that in singles. It would bring out the best in Tiger, who has a long history of dusting guys when it gets personal.
BAMBERGER: The hardest point to win is playing Tiger in singles. Why wouldn't you want your best player, Rory, to play him? I think José María Olazábal would want it. The PGA of America would want it, which means Davis would want it.
ANONYMOUS PRO: Yeah, Davis drinks the Kool-Aid, he'd go along with them. I don't know if Ollie would. If I'm Europe, I want Rory's point to count, so I send him out early. It's probably up to Rory if he wants to play Tiger.
GARRITY: What do the rules say about collusion between the captains? Is it winked at? Could they put it together if they wanted?
VAN SICKLE: It can be arranged. Brian Barnes famously upset Jack Nicklaus back when they played two rounds of singles the same day [in 1975]. Nicklaus wanted a rematch, the captains made it happen, and Barnes became a legend by beating Jack a second time. Of course, the U.S. was en route to winning by 10 points, so nothing was at stake.
BAMBERGER: I think the chances are strong that we'll all get what we want.
SHIPNUCK: That's why there are assistant captains. They can be go-betweens. The Ryder Cup is a global spectacle, and the world wants to see one thing: Rory versus Tiger.