2014 Ryder Cup: Ranking the Head-to-Head Matches We Most Want to See
The European team is fueled by something just as powerful in the opportunity for a three-peat.
On paper, the experienced European team looks formidable with three of the four major-title winners on the squad. They also have the hottest player in the world, No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy.
Meanwhile, the Tiger-less U.S. squad is led by 44-year-old Phil Mickelson and a mishmash of players who are looking to turn the tide for their country.
The matches will be tough, heated and combative.
It would be fun to watch Ian Poulter against just about anyone, especially if you are a Team USA fan and would love to see the pouty Brit lose.
But there are plenty of good matchups out there for these two groups of the world’s best players. With that in mind, there are some matches we would love to see occur and here is a view of the best.
10. Zach Johnson vs. Graeme McDowell
Zach Johnson and Graeme McDowell are two top-notch journeymen, each with major title victories, ranked 14th and 15th in the world, respectively.
If they were to match up, it would be the kind of golf that purists love—two tremendous shotmakers looking to see who flinches first.
And they have met before under similar circumstances. In 2012 at Medinah, Johnson beat McDowell 2-and-1 in a very tight and hard-fought round.
For each man it marks his fourth Ryder Cup appearance.
9. Jimmy Walker vs. Martin Kaymer
The rejuvenated Jimmy Walker meets the equally rejuvenated Martin Kaymer, and it’s anyone’s guess as to who would win.
For most of 2014, Walker led in the FedEx Cup race spurred by three quick wins. He plays tee-to-green golf as well as anyone on the tour. Ranked seventh in putting, he may also turn out to be one of Team USA’s best clutch players coming down the stretch.
After winning the PGA Championship in 2010, Kaymer sort of disappeared from the top of the leaderboards. But this year, he ran away with the U.S. Open and showed his ability to compete again at the highest level.
Walker is a Ryder Cup rookie, while Kaymer has played on two Cup teams with a record of 3-2-1.
8. Matt Kuchar vs. Lee Westwood
In Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood, you have two powerhouse veterans with excellent resumes, except for one tiny item: a major title.
With that in mind, playing for their country may amount to one of the most important things they will ever do.
Kuchar embodies the essence of consistency and currently ranks first on the tour in top-10 finishes. Four of those top 10s have occurred in four of his last five events.
When they last played each other head-to-head at Medinah, Westwood outlasted Kuchar 3-to-2.
Westwood has been a key part of six European team wins in eight appearances.
This would be a match between two steadfast players who will not give in easily.
7. Hunter Mahan vs. Henrik Stenson
That’s what it would be like if Henrik Stenson, ranked No. 1 in total driving, faced off against Hunter Mahan, ranked No. 3.
The key difference is that captain's pick Mahan is really hot right now after a win at The Barclays. He has also led the field in greens in regulation in three of his last four events.
Mahan is also among those who have a lot to prove in Scotland this fall. While he sports a 3-2-3 Ryder Cup record, he was victimized by poor play in a key singles match against McDowell in 2012.
In Stenson, Mahan would face someone with a very similar game and two Ryder Cup appearances, including a win in 2006.
6. Keegan Bradley vs. Sergio Garcia
It is hard to say who shows more passion on the course, the red-hot Spaniard, Sergio Garcia, or the fist-pumping American, Keegan Bradley.
Either way, we are bound to see a fight to the finish should these two long-ballers meet.
Bradley teamed with Mickelson in 2012 and stirred up the crowd and his team by crushing their opponents in three matches. Although he hasn’t won an event in two years, he may have the biggest heart on the team.
Garcia has had an exceptional year in golf and currently ranks No. 1 in scoring on the tour. He tied for second at the Open Championship and has seven other top-10 finishes. He has been on six Ryder Cup teams with a record of 16-8-4.
5. Jordan Spieth vs. Victor Dubuisson
Twenty-two-year-old Jordan Spieth and 24-year-old Victor Dubuisson represent the future. They are two stellar golfers with wins under their belt and hunger in their gut.
2013 Rookie of the Year Spieth has not followed up with any wins in 2014, but he rightfully earned his automatic spot on Team USA with seven top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth at the Accenture Match Play.
Dubuisson is not thrown by the pressure of international play as exhibited by his tie for ninth place at the Open Championship and tie for seventh at the U.S. Open this year.
These two Ryder Cup rookies will be on many teams to come, and a match between them could be one for the ages.
4. Phil Mickelson vs. Justin Rose
Mickelson lost to Justin Rose in match play at the 2012 Ryder Cup, and then Rose went out and prevented Mickelson from winning his first U.S. Open title in 2013.
So there is some recent and galling history there for Lefty.
He also has something to prove at 44 years old and experiencing a very bumpy year. Still, he has 38 matches and 10 Ryder Cups to lean on, not to mention 42 career victories.
Meanwhile, Rose is at the top of his game, having won the Quicken Loans Open and the Scottish Open in the past three months.
This would be a fierce match between one of the best ball-strikers in Rose and the best to ever wield a wedge in Mickelson.
3. Bubba Watson vs. Ian Poulter
It would be fun to watch Poulter go against Rickie Fowler in a fashion show between the two Cobra Golf, Puma-clad peacocks.
But it would be more fun to see Poulter and Bubba Watson square off.
It would be a fight to see who can be more boorish, more offensive and more pouty.
In any event, Watson, who began the year marvelously, including his second Masters victory, will look to unravel the emotional Poulter by launching the ball hundreds of yards down the fairway.
Of course Poulter may be the best Ryder Cup competitor on both teams. He has won 12 times in 15 matches and is on a seven-match winning streak. In 2012, he stunned the U.S. team at Medihah with four wins when Europe came from 10-6 down on the final day to retain the Ryder Cup.
In the end, Bubba might just pound Poulter into submission.
2. Phil Mickelson vs. Rory McIlroy
This matchup falls under the heading of a one-sided contest, but surely Mickelson will take it easy on the youngster.
At 14-18-6 in 38 matches, Mickelson’s Ryder Cup record is not one to call home about. But that is 34 more Ryder Cup matches than McIlroy has played, and experience should count for something.
While McIlroy has a secure lock on the No. 1 position in world rankings, Mickelson had dropped down all the way to the 10th spot.
Mickelson did rise to the occasion at the PGA Championship where his final-day 66 launched him into second place and surely gave McIlroy something to think about.
What we have here is a clear case of a young player on the rise and an older one looking to settle his game. In his last two events, Mickelson has finished abysmally (78th at The Barclays and tied for 45th at the Deustche Bank Championship).
We would love it if we had Tiger to sic on McIlroy, but Mickelson will have to do. We all know what he can do when his back is against the wall. Just think about the final day of the 2013 Open Championship when he shot a 66 to take the title and the world by surprise.
1. Rickie Fowler vs. Rory McIlroy
This is Fowler’s chance to get a bit of revenge…in total sunlight.
You may remember that Fowler, along with Mickelson, was only two shots back of McIlroy as night fell on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship.
Fowler had a 50-foot shot at eagle that would have been miraculous in daylight. He missed the shot and McIlroy won.
It was the second major that McIlroy prevented Fowler from winning this year. Although he won in wire-to-wire fashion at the Open Championship, he had to beat out Fowler who watched the young Irishman close out the field on the final day.
Although Fowler has yet to win a major or his second PGA tour event, while McIlroy has four major titles and nine wins in total, he has made a remarkable turnaround in his game. This year he set a record by becoming the first player in history to finish in the top five at all four majors without winning one.
But McIlroy is literally roaring around PGA courses as if they are pitch-and-putts and has more than earned his return to the No. 1 ranking in the world.
Fowler, meanwhile, has shed that awful moustache, toned down his wardrobe and discovered how to play consistent top-end golf. He has become a regular at the top of weekend leaderboards.
Rory vs. Rickie 2014 may be the first of many such meetings for the two estimable 25-year-olds, and that alone will make it highly watchable.
Stats courtesy of www.pga.com.