The Ryder Cup begins this Friday at 12:30pm Irish time at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois, Chicago.
Spaniard Jóse María Olazábal takes the reins as European captain, while Davis Love III will lead the United States. Europe has arguably never assembled a stronger team, featuring Major champions and former world number ones, including Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer. Ireland is represented by Graeme McDowell and current world number one Rory McIlroy. Pádraig Harrington failed to make the team, after missing out on automatic qualification and Olazábal declined to pick the double Open champion as one of his wildcards.
A new generation of American golfers will make their Ryder Cup debut in Illinois; Love’s side includes four rookies. The US captain will look to veterans Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker to lead his young team. With all 24 players from both sides ranked inside the world’s top 35, the quality of golf produced should be exceptional.
Much of the attention at Medinah will focus on McIlroy and Tiger Woods. This season McIlroy has established himself as the heir apparent to Tiger’s throne, winning his second major and topping the PGA Tour money list. Despite not adding to his 14 Major titles, Woods has had his most impressive season since details of his marital “indiscretions” emerged, winning three times and climbing back to world number two. With McIlroy still smarting from missing out on the FedEx prize pot last week to American team-member Brandt Snedeker, there is a general consensus in the golfing world that the young Ulsterman will be targeted early this weekend.
Woods has consistently underwhelmed at golf’s biggest event, often criticised for not embracing the team format of the competition. Australian great Greg Norman recently suggested Woods was intimidated by the young Northern Irishman, something McIlroy was quick to refute. The American will be keen to silence Norman and others, who believe his powers are waning, and a singles match between himself and McIlroy on Sunday would be something to behold.
Ian Poulter will be another key member of the European side; the flamboyant Englishman thrives in the cauldron the competition creates. Poulter possesses an outstanding Ryder Cup record, winning 7 out of a possible 11 points in his 3 appearances. The revitalised Sergio Garcia returns to the European team, after being reduced to assisting captain Colin Montgomerie in 2010 as a result of his poor form.
The partisan American crowd will undoubtedly be a factor; the competition tends to stir the more raucous and boorish aspects of American patriotism. Olazábal, who famously watched the US team invade the green during his match against Justin Leonard, in 1999, will be keenly aware of the challenge his team face at Medinah.