The Ryder Cup has been rather unkind to Team USA in recent years.
Since 1995, Europe has defeated its American counterparts in six out of eight tournaments—results that have certainly been well publicized.
USA last emerged victorious in 2008 at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Its victory prior to that also occurred on American soil.
Davis Love III—captain of the 2012 US team—clearly appreciates that his compatriots aren’t traveling across the pond where Europe dominates match play. The Medinha Country Club, in an area just north of Chicago, will host this year’s event.
As for the respective teams, Ryder Cup veterans Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, and debutantes Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley comprise the majority of the American club.
The other players on the team with some experience are Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson.
Unfortunately, not a single one of these players owns a winning record in the tournament. Kuchar, Stricker and Z. Johnson are the only ones with mere even records.
With that in mind, let’s evaluate the three factors most crucial to a Team USA victory this weekend in Medinha, Illinois.
The Big 2
Similar to what facilitates championship runs in the NBA, the Americans must capitalize on their Big 2 to win the Ryder Cup.
The duo in this case is Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Jim Furyk notwithstanding, they combine for the most experience at 23-31-8 (though, not exactly a dominant effort through the years).
Even so, these are the men with the most golfing cachet on the squad. They have a combined four PGA Tour wins and 17 top-10 finishes in 2012. Woods finished No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings, while Mickelson finished fifth.
Knowing the contention within the pairing that proved detrimental to USA’s chances in 2004, each must perform well in their respective—and, much more comfortable—duos.
Captain Davis Love III paired Mickelson with Keegan Bradley this time around. They are scheduled to tee off in the second foursome on Friday against Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia.
Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker make up two of the final pairings against the English duo of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose. Rose finished second at the Tour Championship last weekend. This will play out as arguably the toughest foursome on the day.
Mickelson is in position to either right the ship if things go askew with Furyk/Snedeker, or significantly increase a potential US lead. Woods, meanwhile, represents both the final hope and closer for the Americans. He’ll ultimately decide how USA fares on Day 1.
(The four-ball and singles schedules will not be known until the tournament gets underway.)
Mickelson and Woods (No. 2 in the world) are the best of what America has to offer. They must play as such for USA to take home the 2012 trophy.
Keep It Rolling Snedeker
The finale of the Tour Championship at East Lake just a few days ago showcased the capabilities of a certain Brandt Snedeker.
Snedeker ruled the day by finishing with a two-under 68 and 10 under for the weekend. The Nashville, Tennessee native must keep that momentum rolling during the opening foursome at Medinha. The always-dangerous Graeme McDowell awaits him as his alternate shot-taker at the 8:20 a.m. ET Friday tee-off.
A potential issue with Snedeker is his neophyte status in Ryder Cup play.
He’ll undoubtedly have a raucous partisan crowd behind him, but this a much bigger stage than the Tour Championship (with all due respect to that FedEx-clinching tournament). This event pits America against (for all intents and purposes) the world. It is rather Olympian in nature with its storied history and international presence. National pride is on the line.
Snedeker must maintain both an internal and external focus that exists within, and does not transcend, the mighty aura of this great tournament. He must ride his top-ranked putting status to an opening advantage over McDowell and Rory McIlroy.
It’ll surely be a daunting task, but as Snedeker himself puts it: "I think when I play my best golf, my best golf is some of the best in the world. I’ve never had more confidence in myself…I am one of the best players in the world."
Well, he had better putt—and play—like one for the sake of Team USA in this year’s Ryder Cup.
Reality Check for Sergio, Flop for Rory
What is the more important factor for a Team USA win?
Surprisingly enough, Sergio Garcia owns the best record on the European team.
The talented, yet wildly inconsistent Spaniard holds a 14-6-4 record in Ryder Cup play. This comes from the same underachieving golfer who earned his first PGA Tour victory since 2008 just over a month ago at the Wyndham Championship.
In this tournament, however, Garcia consistently shines. He helped fuel the Europeans to victory in three consecutive Ryder Cups from 2002 to 2006. The Americans hope he falters as he often does in the everyday golfing world—and certainly to the extent that caused him to miss the cut in 2010.
Rory McIlroy, on the other hand, might not technically be the best on the team record-wise (1-2-0); what he is, though, is the best in the world. He and his countryman McDowell will shoot opposite of Furyk and Snedeker in the first tee-off of foursome match play. He’ll also likely be a major force in four-ball action.
McIlroy succeeding in this tournament could very well spell doom for the Americans. He must finish below Tiger for USA to have its best shot at taking the trophy.
Woods versus McIlroy—as if that wouldn’t be the ultimate deciding factor in the 2012 Ryder Cup.
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