Team Europe has won three of the four last Ryder Cup contests. Team USA’s only recent win was in 2008 at Valhalla. Although the 2010 European victory at Celtic Manor was close, 14½ -13½, in Europe’s two previous wins they dominated the USA with a final score of 18½ to 9½ on both occasions.
Will this trend continue? What are the advantages each side brings to the competition, and which will prove to be more important this time around?
Team Europe Advantages
Team Europe has Three of the Four Top-Ranked Players
Rory McIlroy, golf’s world No. 1, is on a stellar streak. Winning under pressure, winning from behind or closing while leading, he leaves his competitors to fight over a distant second. This will be his second appearance at a Ryder Cup and the first time Europe has had the No. 1-ranked player on its team since Nick Faldo competed in 1993.
Luke Donald, the world No. 3, has had a superb year. The three Ryder Cup teams he played on, in 2004, 2006 and 2010, were all victories for Team Europe. Winning is the only thing he knows in this format.
Lee Westwood, ranked golf's No. 4, wins consistently at this event and is a great team player. In his seven consecutive appearances his record is: 16 wins, 11 losses and six halves, more than once being the highest-scoring player of the event. He brings experience and passion for this contest.
Tiger Woods, the world No. 2, is the only player from the top four on team USA. He does not excel at team play. His Ryder Cup record is a dismal 13 wins, 14 losses and two halves. For a player whose name throughout most of his career was synonymous with the game of golf, this is not his event.
Rory McIlroy: Top Player on a Hot Streak
The golfing world will be watching to see if Rory can keep the momentum going and add to his recent victories by carding winning numbers in his matches. Seen as the player to beat, Rory will be in the spotlight at this Ryder Cup.
Recently embroiled in controversy regarding whether he will play for Ireland or Great Britain when golf returns to the Olympics in 2016, the Ryder Cup is a chance for Rory to make all Europeans happy. A win-win situation for Rory, and in his current form that is what he is over the odds to do.
Player’s Records at the Ryder Cup
The game and mindset of some players is more suited to the individual nature of the sport rather than team play.
Tiger Woods has a Ryder Cup losing record as already mentioned. He can take consolation that two of his teammates have worse records, but that doesn’t help the team’s chances. Phil Mickelson has 11 wins, 17 losses and six halves, and Jim Furyk is 8-15-4.
There are no outright winning records on Team USA. The best records belong to two players with equal wins and losses, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker, both 3-3-1.
Team Europe by contrast has eight players with outright winning Ryder Cup records, the most notable being Luke Donald 8-2-1, Lee Westwood 16-11-6 and Sergio Garcia 14-6-4.
Team Europe has a distinct advantage here.
Team USA Advantages
Trophy Winners on the Team
Three Team Europe players have not won at all in 2012: Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter. Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari each won smaller European events that did not attract the top players. Seven Europeans have brought home trophies from the larger venues.
Eleven of 12 Team USA players have won a trophy in 2012. Jim Furyk is the only player without a win. Winning breeds winning, so this could add some needed confidence to the American team.
The Course and Home-Team Advantage
The stars and stripes will be out in full over the weekend in Medinah. Fans galore will be cheering the home players in what is anticipated to be an electrified atmosphere.
The course is set to play with firm and fast greens, the way the USA players prefer. Medinah has hosted major championships, including two won by Tiger Woods, who has said he likes this course (per Associated Press, h/t Toronto Globe and Mail) and no wonder. The crowd support and the course could tilt the balance to favor Team USA.
Rory McIlroy is the leading putter this year, making birdie or better 25 percent of the time. Lee Westwood is the only other Team Europe player in the top 10 of sinking birdies. Team USA has six players in the top 10: Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker and Tiger Woods.
The course has been set up to make lots of birdies, which will please the fans as well as give the Americans an advantage.
Europe recently has been dominating this format with a combination of leadership, teamwork and passion for the event. These guys know how to put it together to win.
It could be close and should be exciting, with Europe’s dominance giving them the edge. If USA can use the the home advantage and come up with some great putting they may be able to stop Europe’s push to retain the Cup.
Whatever happens it will be a chance to see some great pairings in four-balls and foursomes. Players, ordinarily competing against one another, will here team up to hit the same ball. This will make compelling watching. Tune in, as the next chance to witness these two teams compete won’t come until Gleneagles in 2014.