After months of contemplating team selections, watching players rise and fall in the rankings and trying to get your head around how the two European points systems work, the Ryder Cup is finally (almost) upon us.
Between this column and my next in October, the captain’s will have made their picks and three days of matches will be over. With four weeks to go to the first tee shot as I write, there is a lot we already know about the teams – and a few things still to be decided.
First, we know the eight automatic qualifiers for the US side. We also know Tiger Woods (11th in points) and Phil Mickelson (10th) will be playing at Le Golf National. Every Jim Furyk press conference starts with this question and each time he refrains from letting the cat out of the bag, but they’re going to be on the US team. If you believe the US media, Matt Kuchar (13th) is also certain to make the US team – though he may be pushed out in favour of Bryson DeChambeau (9th when the list was finalised before winning the first Playoff event). It would appear the final spot will go to Kuchar, who Furyk may favour for his experience, or Xander Schauffele (12th on the points list).
On the European side, things are a little more complicated. It is expected that Ian Poulter (10th on world points as I write) will gain a captain’s pick. On home soil he is sure to be an essential part of the team on and off the golf course.
That leaves Bjorn with three picks and plenty of headaches. As I write, Sergio Garcia (13th) and Henrik Stenson (16th) are well down the world points list and both are in the midst of long spells without signs of form. Bjorn may well pick one of these two, here’s hoping their form picks up if he does, but he is still in need of two players for a team with a wealth of world-class players at the top and a distinct lack of Ryder Cup experience throughout.
Rafa Cabrera Bello is ranked 9th on the world points list and would make a sensible pick – both in terms of his Ryder Cup experience in 2016 and his world ranking.
The next player in on the world points list is Paul Casey, who has a wealth of Ryder Cup experience (3-2-4 in three matches) but has not played since 2008. Casey may well provide the world ranking hit and experience Bjorn is looking for in Paris.
On paper the two teams match up as well as they have done for years . Both have a mix of firepower and steady hands, with experienced players to back up Furyk and Bjorn on and off the golf course. Europe’s potential weakness towards the tail-end is a concern though we can expect a home crowd, the Parisian weather in late September and a golf course which would appear far better suited to the likes of Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood than Woods, Mickelson and Bubba Watson with its thick rough, narrow fairways and water, to boost the European cause. Those three factors will play a huge part at the end of this month and could be the keys to Europe regaining the Ryder Cup.