Sep 28, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
If you’re up late, or if you have a tough time sleeping, or (most likely) if you’re a golf nut, chances are you will be watching when, at 2:30 in the morning our time, an unknown American player strikes the first tee shot of the 38th Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor in Wales.
And by that point, every one of the 24 players from the United States and Europe, not to mention captains Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie, will be quite happy just to get the darn thing started.
Between the months of jockeying for team spots, the endless speculation about captain’s picks and, most of all, the week full of ceremonial pomp that accompanies this incomparable event, it can drive any participant crazy.
Yet there’s no denying the electricity the matches produce. More incredible golf shots are struck here, per capita, than at any tournament you could think of. It’s amazing how maximum pressure can lead to maximum performance.
But what of the 2010 matches? The plot lines fascinate, regardless of which side you want to win.
America won this thing two years ago at Valhalla without Tiger Woods, and the only reason he’s here now is because Pavin really didn’t have better alternatives once the top eight automatic qualifiers were settled. An extra week of practice might help, but Pavin has already indicated that he’ll bench Tiger (who actually has a losing Ryder Cup record) if he’s not at optimum level.
This means the other U.S. veterans – Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker, all of whom were at Valhalla – must be ready to lead. Zach Johnson is counted on, too, as a steady, even-keeled presence.
The Yanks have five Ryder Cup first-timers. Dustin Johnson is playing best and has moved past his major traumas. Bubba Watson possesses ungodly length, and he could pair with pal Rickie Fowler, at 22 the youngest team member. Jeff Overton might not see much action, but Matt Kuchar, the steadiest player on the PGA Tour this year, could play five matches.
In Europe, where the Ryder Cup is, arguably, bigger than the four majors, Captain Monty has taken a fair share of abuse for leaving out stars like Paul Casey and Justin Rose (two wins this year), but his team should still carry the favorite’s role.
Nearly all of the continent’s 12 have won at least once this year, including two major winners – Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open survivor at Pebble Beach, and Martin Kaymer, the chaotic PGA champion at Whistling Straits. They, along with Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, form the team’s heart, though Lee is coming off an injury and Rory is just 21.
Two Molinari brothers from Italy – Francesco and Edoardo – debut, and no doubt Monty wants to pair them up at least once. Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher and Luke Donald are the steady English hands, while the suave Miguel Angel Jimenez adds a touch of Spanish class. Winless since his back-to-back majors in ’08, Padraig Harrington has to prove Monty didn’t waste a pick on him, while Peter Hanson might lurk in the background.
They will all battle over what is called the Twenty Ten course at Celtic Manor, which can stretch out nearly 7,500 yards and play to a par of 71. Like past European venues (the Belfry and K Club), the course has far more water than links venues and, since it hosts a regular European Tour event, the home side is quite familiar with its challenges.
This is, by a wide margin, the biggest sporting event Wales has ever hosted. The home of Dylan Thomas and Catherine Zeta-Jones is mostly known, from a golfing standpoint, as having bred Ian Woosnam, the pint-size 1991 Masters winner who was a big part of the European contingent that revived the Ryder Cup in the 1980s. He also captained the winning side in Ireland in 2006.
So who prevails here? The easy answer is that Europe had up to 20 golfers good enough to play in these matches, while the Americans had, at most, 15. Thus, Monty has more choices than Pavin and can feel confident that anyone on his squad can step up to heroic levels.
On the other hand, Europe is the home team, and as such it has to win. So the pressure is far greater on them than on the Yanks, who found out in ’08 that it didn’t need a blinding superstar as it ended a winning drought stretching back to the 1999 comeback at Brookline.
In a reversal of years past, it’s vital that the Americans grab the lead before the Sunday singles, because trying to rally in front of a hostile crowd is infinitely more difficult. What’s certain is that someone will spray the champagne and hoist the Ryder Cup Sunday – not, as a famous Welshman would put it, going gently into that good night.