The 2012 Ryder Cup is set to begin September 28 at Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois. The big names and the usual Ryder Cup suspects will all be there—Rory, Tiger, Phil, Sergio—you get the idea.
But as a team competition, this sure isn’t just McIlroy versus Woods (although that sure would be fun to watch in singles). It may very well be one of the lessor known players who tips the scale in his team’s favor.
As I thought about putting together my initial Ryder Cup predictions, I couldn’t help but notice the strength of the European team. It’s a pretty bulletproof group, although I’m shocked that Padraig Harrington didn’t make the cut. By most accounts that was due to a personality conflict with European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Regardless, my initial inkling was “big win for the Europeans.” I’ve since backpedaled on that stance, in large part due to the course—Medinah is certainly American-style golf and at 7,658 yards it’s an absolute beast in terms of length.
With four par-fives, the course certainly plays into the Americans’ hands. While I’m still picking the Europeans to win, I think it will be closer than expected—and I think it may very well come down to one of the lessor known players acting as the X factor. Here are four guys that I wouldn’t be surprised to see make the difference.
For Team USA:
Keegan Bradley – Averaging 302.5 yards per drive off the tee on the PGA tour, Keegan Bradley has the length to tame Medinah. Normally I would discount a 26-year-old Ryder Cup rookie, but given that Bradley has proven he can handle major championship pressure (he won the 2011 PGA Championship), I’m reading that as guts of steel and the ignorance of youth. Nothing like reppin’ Vermont on an international stage.
Webb Simpson – Webb Simpson has quickly established himself as one of the best players in the world—he’s currently eighth in the Official World Golf Rankings. He’s won three times, including a major, and he’s only 27 years old. He’s also a pretty amazing putter, currently ranking sixth in putting on the PGA Tour. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a match-winning putt come off his blade.
For the Europeans:
Nicolas Colsaerts – I recently wrote about Colsaerts as one of the five European players I would like to see play more on the PGA Tour. The man is crazy long, currently leading the European tour with an average drive of 317.7 yards. He’s easily the European best equipped to deal with Medinah’s length. Colsaerts has also proven to be a great match play golfer, capturing the 2012 Volvo World Match Play title on the European Tour.
Perhaps more importantly, Colasaerts is a rare Belgian golfer. The only thing the Euros care about more than representing their continent is representing their home country, and Nicolas has a rare opportunity to do that for Belgium.
Martin Kaymer – Martin Kaymer is a golfer that, the more I watch, the more I’m impressed by him. He’s been a dominant player on the European Tour, winning 10 times since 2008. He’s also shown proficiency in match play, finishing second in the 2011 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. His game is all around rock solid.
With the international golf scene as competitive as ever and new-found rivalries forming at the top of the World Golf Rankings, this year’s Ryder Cup should provide plenty of fireworks. Just don’t be surprised if it’s one of these lesser-known players setting them off.
Geoff Roberts is the Founder & Managing Editor of howiGit.com, a Boston sports blog.