The 2012 Ryder Cup is upon us, and 24 of the world’s best have descended on Course No. 3 at Medinah Country Club for the 39th battle of the United States versus Europe.
Captain Davis Love III is expected to have the 7,658-yard behemoth of a golf course playing as long as possible from the tees, with light rough awaiting errant drives to encourage birdies from the bombers. With clear skies expected, the course will play as firm and fast as DL3 so chooses.
The European’s pulled off the win at soggy Celtic Manor in 2010 by a score of 14-1/2 to 13-1/2, marking the third consecutive outing the home team captured the Cup. With Chicago-area fans known for their love of sport, a raucous gallery should gather in support of the Yanks.
Before we dive into individual profiles and predictions, it’s worth noting the “X” factor for both squads could be the rookies. The Euros trot out Nicolas Colsaerts as their lone newbie, and the Belgian Bomber’s length could be a key for his team in keeping up with the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson on the U.S. side.
Four of the Yanks are wet behind the ears, with Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker all getting their first taste of the feud. Don’t be surprised if the energy, drive and intensity of Bradley and Snedeker conjure images of Lanny Wadkins and Paul Azinger.
The format for completion features two sessions of foursomes, better known as alternate shot, including four teams of two from each squad per session. Essentially, one member of the team will tee off on the odd holes, the other on the even holes, and they will take turns hitting shots until one of three things occurs: the ball reaches the bottom of the cup; or the other team wins the hole; or a shot is conceded. (This sounds simple enough, but U.S. team member Boo Weekley struggled with the concept of a concession in 2008.)
In addition to foursomes, there will be two sessions of four-ball also featuring four teams of two players per session. In this format, teams of two play their own ball from tee to cup, and the best score of the duo is the one that counts. If it’s lower than the lowest score posted by those from the other side of the pond, you win the hole.
The tension of the first four sessions builds to the crescendo of the Sunday singles. All 12 players from each squad face off with a member of the opposition until the Cup finds a home for the next two years.
There are 28 points up for grabs, with the Europeans needing 14 points to retain the Cup and the Americans requiring 14-1/2 points to wrestle it away and keep it on U.S. soil for the next two years.
Without further ado, here’s how the players should fare:
Keegan Bradley ... A Ryder Cup rookie, and one that brings plenty of energy and game to the table. Having not played a Presidents Cup either, it’s a bit of a guess as to how he will harness his exuberance and perform under the extreme pressure of team competition. Phil Mickelson has a history of playing practice rounds with him, so don’t be surprised to see Lefty guide him off in his first taste of Medinah. Mickelson also seems to relish in the role of developing the up-and-comers. How many events Bradley plays should largely depend on how he performs early. If he does go off with Mickelson and they win their first match, he could play in four or five events. If he gets off to a slow start, he may just play three times. Other possible partners include Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson. Predicted record: 1-1-1
Jason Dufner ... Like Bradley, this will be Dufner’s first international competition. An elite ball-striker and an average putter, Dufner could fare well in every format and may be the key for the U.S. squad emerging with the Cup. There’s a little bit of smoke that he may find a partner in Zach Johnson, and that could be a solid pairing; especially in foursomes. Both are very good with the wedges, but Johnson may be able to convert a few putts that Dufner wouldn’t otherwise hole. I see Dufner playing four times, and possibly five if the first match or two go well. He’s a little like Furyk in that his demeanor and skill set would allow for him to match up well with almost anyone. It would make sense to pair him with a guy like Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson in a four-ball format. Predicted record: 2-1-1
Jim Furyk ... A veteran of 27 Ryder Cup matches, but his record is surprisingly poor. Overall, he is 8-15-4 with his strength the singles, where he is 4-2-1. It would be a bit shocking to see him in a four-ball, as he is a paltry 1-8-1 in that format. Ranking just 134th in birdie average on TOUR this year makes him an easy skip in that format. He’s respectable in foursomes, compiling a 3-5-2 record. It’s likely that we’ll see Furyk play just three times at Medinah, with two foursomes and the required singles the likely formats. Davis Love III said when Furyk was pegged that he could partner with anyone, and he’s right. Numerous possibilities include Jason Dufner, Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Tiger Woods or Matt Kuchar. Predicted record: 1-2-0
Dustin Johnson ... Enters Medinah looking for some Ryder Cup redemption, as he was just 1-3-0 in his first attempt at Celtic Manor. His win came in singles, and he suffered two losses in four-ball and one in foursomes. His partners were Phil Mickelson (twice) and Jim Furyk. Medinah should set up well for the bomber, but he also struggled at the 2011 Presidents Cup, posting a 1-3-1 record bringing into question his ability to adapt to team formats. His halve came alongside Matt Kuchar and his win was with Tiger Woods; both in foursomes. I would expect Johnson to compete in four matches, spanning all formats, but it’s tough to say alongside whom he will play. Mickelson and Furyk would each make sense in various formats despite their losses at Celtic Manor. That said, other possibilities include Tiger Woods, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson. Predicted record: 2-1-1
Zach Johnson ... – Playing in his third Ryder Cup and has shown ability to secure points in all formats. His record is 3-3-1, with a win coming in singles, four-ball and foursomes. His win in four-ball came in his only attempt, partnering with Scott Verplank in 2006. In singles, he dropped his 2006 match to Darren Clarke, but bounced back to best Padraig Harrington in 2010. To go with his lone foursomes win, he has two losses and a halve. While Johnson has never sat out a foursomes match in his two Ryder Cups, and should play in at least one of those at Medinah, he could get another chance in four-ball with someone like Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson. Possible foursome partners include Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley and Matt Kuchar. Predicted record: 1-1-2
Matt Kuchar ... His only Ryder Cup came at Celtic Manor, where he amassed a 1-1-2 record and paired with Stewart Cink in both of his four-ball matches, halving each, and his winning foursomes match. He dropped his singles match to Ian Poulter. Also of note, Kuchar went just 1-3-1 in the 2011 Presidents Cup with a 0-1-1 foursomes record, a 1-1-0 four-ball record and a loss in his singles match. His four-ball win came with Steve Stricker as his mate, and his foursome halve came with Dustin Johnson alongside. Kuchar will either play three or four matches, and possibly all three formats. His partners could include Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Predicted record: 1-1-1
Phil Mickelson – Mickelson is set to play in his ninth Ryder Cup, but the experience he brings to the table isn’t all good. His record is a mere 11-17-6 and breaks down to 4-4 in singles, 2-5-4 in foursomes and 5-8-2 in four-ball. Lately, his preference has been to play with some of the younger players and act as a mentor. With his recent history of playing practice rounds with Keegan Bradley, I would be shocked if they weren’t paired up once or twice. While the scenarios exist for him to play in three or five matches, my bet would be that we see Lefty four times. His possible partners include Bradley, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson and Brandt Snedeker. Predicted record: 2-1-1
Webb Simpson ... The Ryder Cup rookie does have the 2011 Presidents Cup from which to draw, and he played quite well paired with Bubba Watson, compiling a 3-1-0 record. He also stepped up and won his singles match against K.T. Kim. I’d be surprised if he isn’t paired with Watson out the gates but wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up with Brandt Snedeker, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson or Jim Furyk at some point. Predicted record: 1-1-1
Brandt Snedeker ... Might be the biggest wild card on the team from a pairings perspective. He just came off of a win at the TOUR Championship and captured the FedExCup title in the process. This is his first team competition, so there is no history from which to draw. He is a bit of a hired gun for the U.S. side, as he is arguably the best putter on the PGA TOUR. He’s not the best ball-striker, so it will be interesting to see if he is paired with an excellent ball-striker or someone who better resembles his skill set. I’d expect to see him play four times, with the likely benching in four-ball. Anyone could be partner with him. Predicted record: 2-1-1
Steve Stricker – He's 3-3-1 in his two Ryder Cup experiences, and he has developed a partnership with Tiger Woods that has been successful. In Stricker's three matches with Woods, all coming at Celtic Manor, he was 1-1-1. He's 1-1-0 in singles, with a loss to Ian Poulter in 2008 avenged in 2010 against Lee Westwood. In the 2011 Presidents Cup, he found success with Matt Kuchar as a partner, so if he gets a break from Woods expect Kuchar to be a likely mate. I doubt Stricker will play five matches, but four is likely. Don’t be surprised to see him in any format. His likely partners are Woods, Kuchar and maybe even a guy like Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson in a creative four-ball format. Brandt Snedeker could also find a home with Strick. Predicted record: 1-2-1
Bubba Watson ... A Ryder Cup rookie in 2010 at Celtic Manor, posting a 1-3-0 record while partnering all three times with fellow rookie Jeff Overton. Watson lost his singles match to Miguel Angel Jiménez. The lefty's victory came in the four-ball format, which is where you can expect to see him on both occasions at Medinah. Depending on how he’s playing, he may go out in one of the foursomes as well. It’s probably wise to pair Watson with a level head to keep him under control, which may be why he went 3-1 in matches with Webb Simpson at the 2011 Presidents Cup. Of note, he also lost his singles match at the Presidents Cup. Count me as shocked if DL3 doesn’t run him out there with Webb Simpson at least twice, with other possible partners to include Jason Dufner, Steve Stricker, Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Predicted record: 2-1-1
Tiger Woods ... Much is being made of the potential of a Rory McIlroy matchup in the singles, but Team USA needs him to come up big long before Sunday. His overall Ryder Cup record is a disappointing 13-14-2 when you factor in that many of his efforts have come as the world’s number-one player. His 4-1-1 record is solid in singles, but he carries losing records into both the four-ball and foursomes formats. When looking back at his last two Ryder Cups, he has only partnered with Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, but ventured out with Dustin Johnson in the 2011 Presidents Cup. Expect Woods to play four matches and partner with some combination of Stricker, Furyk and Johnson, with a guy like Brandt Snedeker as a wild card. Predicted record: 2-2-0
OVERALL PROJECTIONS -- U.S.
Total points: 15