As the 2012 Ryder Cup draws closer at Chicago’s historic Medinah Country Club, Team Europe captain Jose-Maria Olazabal brings a team that will not be defeated easily.
Always known as a team that bonds very well and are generally friendly outside of the Ryder Cup, the Europeans are the holders of the Cup after their win at Celtic Manor in Wales two years ago.
For the first time in recent memory, Team Europe will boast the current No. 1 player in the world in Rory McIlroy and three former No. 1s in Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
Known as the better team in the foursome and fourball events because of the friendships that are paired together, on paper it looks like Europe is also pretty strong for the singles matches that will determine the Ryder Cup come Sunday afternoon.
Here is Captain Olazabal’s team for this weekend’s Cup. There are 10 players that automatically qualified either here in the United States or on the European PGA Tour and two captain’s picks made by Olazabal selected after the Wyndham Championship.
Remember, American captain Davis Love III had four picks of his own as only eight American golfers automatically qualify.
Here is the lineup for Team Europe.
Ryder Cups Played: 1
The world’s No. 1 player is ready to roar into Medinah with all the pressure and expectations placed on him to sweep his five matches.
While there will be a definite bulls-eye on the 23-year-old, he has won three big tournaments in the last two months including his eight-shot laugher at the PGA Championship in August.
Two years ago in Wales, McIlroy was paired with Graeme McDowell and they went 1-2-1 together as a team.
Rory’s length off the tee and great putting will be tremendous assets no matter who he is paired with and his creativity out of the rough will also come to help Europe.
The only real question coming in will be his short game from within 20 yards. He has a tendency to chunk those shots—hit them heavy—and leave long par-saving putts. He cannot be doing that more than once a match or it will cost Europe some holes.
Ryder Cups Played: 1
Justin’s only previous Ryder Cup experience came in 2008 at Valhalla, the last time the United States won the Ryder Cup.
Paired that time with Ian Poulter for all three of his team matches, Rose and Poulter won them all, giving Europe three of their total of 11.5 points.
Rose has such a solid game already from tee-to-green and has worked closely with gurus to improve his putting. He tied for second last week in Atlanta and won the WGC-Cadillac tournament at Doral this year.
If he is paired with good friend Ian Poulter again, it could be trouble for Team USA.
One of the reasons why Team Europe plays as well as they do is that many of them are friendly with each other to begin with and are very comfortable with each other’s games.
Rose’s game is very sharp right now and should produce some points for Team Europe.
Ryder Cups Played: 1
Perhaps one of the best comeback stories this year in all of golf, Lawrie returns to the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999.
Winner of the Qatar Masters and the Johnnie Walker Championship in his native Scotland this year, the 1999 Open Champion has returned full circle back to the top of professional golf.
At 42, we do not see a lot of Lawrie here in the United States. He did play at the PGA Championship this year, but chose to stay home despite having automatically qualified for the U.S. Open.
In 1999, he was paired with Colin Montgomerie and they went 2-1-1 together including a win over Tiger Woods and Steve Pate in a fourball match. Lawrie won his lone singles match over Jeff Maggert 4 and 3.
He is a real wild card coming in as he has never been real comfortable playing in the United States. If there was a player on the team that might be given a match off, it probably would be him depending on how well he plays to start.
Still, he was the third qualifier for Europe this time around and the fact he is unknown for a lot of the American players may work to his advantage.
Ryder Cups Played: 2
The 2010 U.S. Open champion has found his entire game again.
If he is paired with Rory McIlroy like he was two years ago at Celtic Manor, then watch out.
McDowell has not won recently, but plays most of his golf here in the United States and will be very familiar with how a parkland golf course will be set up as he played his college golf on this side of the Atlantic as well.
A return pairing with McIlroy would be a solid grouping for Europe. They are good friends and McDowell can help lift up the team if Rory misfires, as well as Rory helping McDowell out.
Any U.S. Open champion has the ability to navigate nasty rough and hard greens, both conditions he encountered when he won his Open at Pebble Beach.
McDowell has won both of his singles matches as well including clinching the Cup for Europe two years ago on the 17th hole with a 2 and 1 win over Hunter Mahan.
Ryder Cups Played: 1
Another player we just do not see play all that often in the United States, Molinari qualifies for his second Ryder Cup off the strength of his win this year at the Spanish Open.
Primarily paired with his older brother Edoardo two years ago, Molinari was only sent out twice to play in team matches and dropped his singles match 4 and 3 to Tiger Woods.
Never really able to quite break through on an elite level here, it will be interesting to see who he gets paired with this time as his older brother did not make the team
Perhaps the weakest player on the squad, one has to wonder how well he will do on a course that measures out to over 7,600 yards.
Ryder Cups Played: 1
Like Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari, Peter Hanson plays most of his golf in Europe. Unlike Lawrie and Molinari, he also maintains a home in the United States.
Paired with Miguel Angel Jimenez for his first Ryder Cup experience two years ago, Hanson only won one match and dropped his singles match with Phil Mickelson 4 and 2.
Hanson earned his way onto the team with a very good spring this year that was highlighted by a third place finish at The Masters. He also won the KLM Open this year in The Netherlands to give him his first win in two years on the European Tour.
It will be curious to see just whom Hanson is paired with the first couple days and if he can get comfortable with the length of the course and the pressure. If he can, however, navigate the greens at Augusta then he should be alright with how the greens will be here.
Ryder Cups Played: 3
Donald lives in Chicago and, as you can see by his record, just loves the Ryder Cup.
He has never played on a losing side and is 6-0-0 in foursome play.
Perhaps the biggest win for Donald in the Ryder Cup came two years ago in the third day foursome match. Paired with Lee Westwood, they took Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to the woodshed in a 6 and 5 drubbing. Donald has also won his last two singles matches taking down Chad Campbell and Jim Furyk.
Paired with Sergio Garcia in foursomes, the duo won four matches together in the 2004 and 2006 Cups, but Donald has shown that he matches well with pretty much anybody as his biggest strength on the course is his ability to find the fairway.
He also won the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
He will be hard to match up against in singles and could be reunited in foursomes with tag team partner Garcia to devastating success.
Ryder Cups Played: 1
The year 2012 has not been all that kind to Kaymer, but 2011 saw the German capture a World Golf Championship event in China. Kaymer also was the runner-up to teammate Luke Donald in the WGC-Accenture Match Play last year.
Kaymer’s game, however, has struggled this year and he got into the Ryder Cup automatically at the last minute.
If he can find his game, he had a good Ryder Cup debut two years ago at Celtic Manor. Paired with both Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, Kaymer helped earn 2.5 points in three matches. He lost to Dustin Johnson badly though in his singles match, 6 and 4.
Being a group event, Kaymer’s job this week is to help whomever he is paired with to help settle them in. Very accurate off the tee and a pretty unflappable player, he can help secure points in the group matches by not pressing things and getting into a good roll.
Singles could be a problem and could be sacrificed to Tiger Woods to concede a point.
Ryder Cups Played: 0
The only rookie for Team Europe this year, Colsaerts comes into his first Ryder Cup on a roll and as a Captain's Pick.
The Belgian has 10 top 10 finishes in Europe this year and a win at the Volvo Match Play featuring Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Aside from becoming the first player from Belgium to ever play in the Ryder Cup, he joins a team that is hungry and deep.
It really will depend on who he is paired with but it would not be a surprise if he was given his baptism with either Westwood or Sergio Garcia, the most decorated active Ryder Cup players that Europe has to offer.
Colsaerts was also the winner of the 2002 Belgian Match Play Championship. While the pressure will be a new and daunting experience, clearly he has a handle on how to get the most of a match play experience.
Ryder Cups Played: 7
This will be Westwood’s eighth consecutive Ryder Cup experience; a simply incredible record of sustained excellence.
A 21-time winner on the European Tour, Westwood plays most of his golf on this side of the Atlantic now. He won two years ago at the St. Jude in Memphis for his second win on the PGA Tour and has spent most of this year right around the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Westwood has won with many different partners over the years from Sir Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, to good friend Darren Clarke. He has won seven fourball and seven foursome matches, but has earned more points in foursomes as he has halved four of them compared with just two fourball matches.
Two years ago, Westwood was paired with Martin Kaymer twice and took 1.5 points out of two.
His putting has been bad as of late as his disappointing finish at last week’s Tour Championship can attest and for all his success in team matches, Westwood is 2-5-0 in singles including a loss last time to Steve Stricker 2 and 1.
Ryder Cups Played: 5
One of the best ever to play for Europe, Garcia’s game has re-emerged this fall and is in prime shape going into the Ryder Cup.
After winning the Wyndham Championship the week after the PGA, Garcia had another strong finish at The Barclays that guaranteed him a spot in the Tour Championship.
Garcia seemed to relax after hiring a former CBS golf spotter for his caddie, which just happened to be the week he won at the Wyndham.
A devastating foursomes partner with Luke Donald, Garcia has never lost a foursomes match going 8-0-1 in the past. A fourball record of 5-2-3 is pretty good and has been paired successfully with Lee Westwood in the past.
His solo confidence and putting, on the other hand, has been shaky and he has only won one singles match out of five.
Garcia just loves the competition. His captain is also Spanish and the memory of Seve Ballesteros is everywhere as his image is on all of Europe’s golf bags.
He will be very hard to beat.
Ryder Cups Played: 3
An 11-time winner on the European Tour, Poulter now lives in Orlando.
Poulter’s biggest win came two years ago when he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play and followed that up last year when he won the Volvo Match Play in England.
This Captain’s Pick has never lost a singles match, taking out Matt Kuchar in 2010 5 and 4 and Steve Stricker 3 and 2 in 2008.
Primarily paired with Justin Rose in 2008, Poulter has shown that he can be paired with just about anyone and win. Also, Poulter should be fresher than most of his teammates and most of the Americans as he did not play last week at the Tour Championship.
Golf is such a mental game and having an extra week to get your wits together is a very big deal as this stretch of golf for the best players in the world has been brutal. In this format, one hole is all it takes to win a point. Poulter has won more than his share of points.