The Ryder Cup gets underway on Friday morning at Celtic Manor in Wales, and two years of discussion, speculation and anticipation gives way to what happens on the course to decide who walks away with one of the most — if not THE most — coveted trophies in professional golf. Three days of match play between Team Europe and Team USA will decide whether Team USA keeps the Cup it won back after 9 years of European domination, or Team Europe takes it back and keeps it for who knows how long this time?
The NG Nation staff weighs in here to let you know who we think will be the winning team, which player will be the top performer in the matches, and which Nike athlete will be the top performer of those who are participating, and why:
Overall Winner :: Team Europe
I’m a big fan of European golf. I picked a Euro to win every major this year and I will probably continue to do so. My pick for Team Europe is not based on my flair for the international, but mostly based on the way they’re playing. If you asked me who the best 3 golfers on the planet are right now, I would say Kaymer, Donald and Casey. Westy would be right there, but he’s recovering from injury and McIlroy had a lackluster playoff, but the experience was good for him. If there are two knocks on the European squad, it’s that they may not have the overall patriotic unity of the Red, White and Blue and they have Peter Hanson. This guy should not be on the team. But, whatever. He may not play at all, really.
I’m not saying it will be a dominating performance by the Europeans (but it wouldn’t be surprising) because the Americans have gritty guys who have heart and can get hot at any time (Woods, Stricker, Phil, Furyk, DJ, Mahan and Kuchar). I can definitely see the US Team bonding and coming together to rock the show, but I’ll give the slight edge to Team Europe based on finesse, precision and the ability to get it done all year (especially after Kuchar, Stricker and DJ choked in the TOUR Championship). You can’t forget that European team has strong pairs; Super Molinari Bros, Fisher/Donald/Poulter, McIlroy/McDowell, Westwood/anyone.
I’ll give it to Europe 15-13.
Top Performer :: Rory McIlroy
Last year, it was Ian Poulter in a losing effort by a mile. He accounted for 4 of Europe’s 11.5 points and had a very close chance for 5. Really, this is going to come down to who plays the most. Last year Furyk/Perry played 3/4 of the Foursomes and Poulter played all 4. McIlroy will be fierce if he’s paired with Westwood or McDowell and we know he’ll light it up in Match Play. I’d like to choose Ross Fisher, because he does well in Match Play, but I don’t think he’ll play that much. McIlroy has a chance to shine and he’ll have all the opportunities to do so.
Top Nike Performer :: Francesco Molinari
I like all the Nike guys at the Ryder Cup. Tiger has a chance to prove himself, Cink is Mr. Consistency and Francesco seems like the new kid on the block. However, if Francesco and Tiger have equal chances to succeed (given singles and parnter matchups), I’ll give the edge to Francesco. He and Edoardo will not lose Fourballs/Foursomes. I’m very confident with that. In singles, I could see him facing an Overton/Watson, which he should mop the floor with.
Overall Winner :: Team Europe
I will be rooting for the US to win, but I think that the Europeans take the Ryder Cup this year (and it has nothing to do with the Americans’ basketball warm-ups raingear on Wednesday). On paper, I think there’s more overall talent on the European squad. As good as Bubba, Rickie, and Jeff Overton are, I think their nerves will kick in. Now we can all point to Fowler and Overton’s Walker Cup success, but they would seriously need to get in perspective, focus, and leverage what they learned from that experience and multiply it to succeed. Can they do that this week? They’re young so maybe not as much as they should. I think Dustin Johnson showed a lot of maturity during the final stretch of the PGA Tour, but I don’t know how he will do in match play – and even though he lost to Camilo at the Accenture, I don’t want to use that as a basis point. For DJ to do well, I think he’s going to need a lot of guidance from an experienced leader like Phil. Only pairings can tell us if that will happen. As for Kuchar, I was simply not impressed with his inability to shut down the competition in the playoffs. Lastly, while I think Woods, Furyk, Phil, Stricker comprise an all-star team, I think the USA will panic a little bit with testing pairings whereas the Europeans are probably a little more composed in that area. If the US goes down in Day 1, look for a risky reshuffle with pairings. As for the Europeans, I expect Westwood, Kaymer, McDowell, Poulter, Fisher, the Molinari pairings, Donald and Paddy to do well. I think Rory McIlroy will be this year;’s Anthony Kim. The only weaknesses I see are the singles matches involving the Molinaris, Hanson, and Jimenez.
Europe 16 ½ -11 ½
Top Performer :: Martin Kaymer
I think Zach Johnson will have a great Ryder Cup and I think Stricker will be a huge factor for the U.S., but I’m giving top performer to Martin Kaymer. He can cap off a great year with excellent Ryder Cup play. He’s got big wins that came late in the season and I think he’ll be this tournament’s star.
Top Nike Performer :: Tiger Woods
Love the Stricker/Woods pairing, and really think we can count on Tiger to make a statement. Sure, he says The Ryder Cup is about team, but I think TW is focused on doing what he can to help his playing partner until he can get to his singles match. This is an outright challenge and I think he’s ready to accept it.
Winning Team :: Team Europe
Although I’ll certainly be rooting for Team USA this weekend, my picks are decidedly in favor of Team Europe. I’ll be happily surprised if the Americans win, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Home course advantage for Team Europe will be huge — one only has to look back at the fan support Team Europe received at the K Club in 2006 for proof. Even though Team Europe has six rookies to Team USA’s five, it’s one of the strongest sets of Ryder Cup first-timers ever assembled, with all of them having at least one PGA Tour or European Tour win (Jeff Overton and Rickie Fowler have yet to win on the PGA Tour). This impressive group of rookies is offset by six Ryder Cup veterans — Westwood, Poulter, Donald, McDowell, Harrington and Jiminez are all formidable match play opponents. As much as I want to see Team USA defend its 2008 Ryder Cup victory, Team Europe’s home course advantage and team strength this year will make this a difficult, if not impossible task.
I don’t think it’s going to be close: Europe 17- USA 11
Top Performer :: Ian Poulter
This will be Poults’ third Ryder Cup, and although his mate and match play partner Justin Rose is not on the team this year, look for him to continue his winning Ryder Cup ways. He has the second highest winning percentage of anyone on this year’s team (just behind Luke Donald), and he’s undefeated in his Sunday singles matches, so look for him to anchor Team Europe coming down the stretch on Sunday. Let’s also not forget he won this year’s Accenture Match Play Championship back in February, so he carries the confidence that he’s the best match play golfer in the world into this week’s matches at Celtic Manor.
Top Nike Performer :: Francesco Molinari
It’s a bit of a gamble to go with a Ryder Cup rookie here, because the pressure of a Ryder Cup is like nothing else in professional golf. But with the solid year Francesco has had, combined with the fact that his brother Edoardo is also on the team, I’m going with the younger of the Super Molinari Brothers. Francesco is currently 32nd in the World Golf Rankings, 15th in the Race to Dubai (the European Tour Money Title) and he’s had three top 10’s in the last two months. He won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup with brother Edoardo at the end of last year, he’ll be comfortable with Edoardo on the team and we can look for the two to be paired together in both Fourball and Foursome matches. For these reasons I think this young, up-and-coming star of the European Tour will be the top point earner of all the Nike athletes in this year’s Ryder Cup.
It’s certain to be an exciting three days of match play golf this weekend at Celtic Manor, and we’ll have wait until Sunday to see whose picks end up being the closest to what actually happens by the end of play.