CHASKA, Minn. -- If the United States wants to turn its Ryder Cup fortunes around, the process begins at the top -- as in the top 10.
Since 2004, the Americans have entered every Ryder Cup with as many or more top-10 ranked players in the world than the Europeans. And every year those players have failed to cumulatively deliver a winning record. In the last six Ryder Cups, the U.S. players ranked in the top 10 are a combined 32-54-13. Over that same period, Europeans ranked in the top 10 have been a dominant 40-24-12. (Americans ranked outside the top-10 have actually preformed better than their higher-ranked teammates. That group has compiled a 59-68-38 record, which is a 47.2% success rate compared to a 38.8% success rate for the top-10 players.)
Seven Ryder Cuppers fit the top-10 bill this year. The U.S. has four—Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler. Europe has three—Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett. Obviously every point counts the same no matter if it’s McIlroy or Andy Sullivan (ranked 48th) winning the match, but recent history shows teams don't win if its studs don’t play like studs.
Whether team losses can be pinned on individual performances was part of a lively debate on Golf Channel Tuesday night between analysts Brandel Chamblee and David Duval. Chamblee said "the leadership of every team determines whether or not that team will win" and "if there is apathetic leadership, there will be apathetic performance." This barb was aimed at the underwhelming play of Woods and Mickelson in the recent span of U.S. Ryder Cup failure. Duval, who played on the 1999 and '02 U.S. teams, believes the outcomes boils down the execution of shots on the course, not individual attitudes or perceptions.
In the midst of their heated debate, Duval said, "Well, having actually been out there and done it, there's more to it than just what the stats say." Let's look at those stats.
The U.S. had four players ranked in the top 10: Tiger Woods (2), Mickelson (4), Davis Love III (6) and Stewart Cink (10). They combined for five victories. Padraig Harrington (8), Europe’s lone member in the top 10, earned four wins by himself. This was the year of captain Hal Sutton’s infamous pairing of Woods and Mickelson in both Friday sessions, which culminated in two losses. On Wednesday, Mickelson blamed his poor 2004 performance on Sutton, saying he "put us in a position to fail and we failed monumentally, absolutely. But to say, well, you just need to play better, that is so misinformed, because you will play how you prepare." Europe romped, 18½ -9½, embarrassing the Americans on their own turf, at Oakland Hills outside Detroit.
At the K Club in Ireland, Woods, Mickelson and Jim Furyk topped the world ranking. Garcia (8) and Donald (9) were Europe’s top-10 players. Once again, the Americans did not live up to the billing. Garcia and Donald, paired together for both foursomes sessions, went 7-1 for the week. Woods, with three points, led the Americans, but the U.S. Big Three finished 5-9-1. The result: another 18½ -9½ drubbing.
Finally, some good news for the Yanks. Even though it was without the No. 1 ranked player—Woods was sidelined after knee surgery—the U.S. had four players ranked in the top 10: Mickelson (2), Steve Stricker (8), Furyk (9) and Anthony Kim (10). Even though their results were mixed, their 5-6-5 mark at Valhalla in Louisville was enough to help defeat Europe for the first time since 1999. It was no coincidence that Europe’s top players failed to produce. Harrington (4), Garcia (5) and Stenson (7) combined for a 1-7-4 record, and all three lost handily in the singles session.
This was the best performance by studs from both sides. Each team had four top-10 players: Woods (1), Mickelson (2), Stricker (4) and Furyk (5) bolstered the U.S., and Westwood (3), Martin Kaymer (6), Donald (8) and McIlroy (9) represented Europe at Celtic Manor in Wales. Coming off his knee injury and the scandal, Woods needed a captain’s pick to make the team. He pulled his weight, tying with Stricker for the U.S. points lead with three. The weak links were Mickelson and Furyk, who were a combined 1-5-1. The European quartet was a solid 8-4-4, even though they won only one singles match. The Euros won again, 14½–13½.
A staggering nine top-10 players teed it up at Medinah: The U.S. featured Woods (2), Bubba Watson (7), Webb Simpson (8), Jason Dufner (9) and Brandt Snedeker (10). The Europeans had four, anchored again by McIlroy (1), Donald (3) and Westwood (4) and joined by Rose (5). Woods played poorly all week, finishing 0-3-1, and as a group, the Americans were 8-10-1. The Euros trailed 10-6 after the four team sessions, but they caught fire on Sunday. Their four top dogs were undefeated in the singles, sparking an historic comeback and a 14½–13½ win.
At Gleneagles in Scotland, the scales tipped dramatically in favor of the home team. Furyk (4), Watson (7), Matt Kuchar (9) and Fowler (10) were truly horrible, combining for a 2-11-3 record. For Europe, it was more of the same. McIlroy (1), Garcia (3), Stenson (5) and Rose (6) dominated the event and finished with a record of 10-3-4—easily the most complete performance by a top-10 contingent.
There are 24 players competing in the Ryder Cup. The seven ranked in the top-10 will determine the winner.