The Ryder Cup 2012: How the teams match up…

Europe may be the holders going into golf’s bi-annual fun-fair but home advantage tends to prove a huge factor amidst the most dramatic atmosphere that the sport is capable of serving up.

So then, who will prove triumphant at the Medinah Country Club this week?

Ryder Cup 2010Team Europe will be looking to hold onto their crown but the USA will offer a greater challenge this time around

The US are looking as strong as they have done in years with the likes of Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney having not even made the cut and Europe too can boast about their chances with three of the world’s top fou ranked players hailing from the continent.

It seems then that things will be very tight in Chicago so in order to try and assess the two sides’ respective chances I have produced a guide to the teams and a run down of their world rankings, form and Ryder Cup records.

Rory McIlroy:

Europe’s top dog is Northern Ireland’s super-talent who has bagged his second major title this year at the PGA as well as a second placed finish in the FedEx Cup series.

World Ranking: 1

Form: 10/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 points.

Luke Donald:

‘Luuuuuuuuuuuukkkkkkeeeeee’ as he is affectionately known has had a fantastic couple of years but the past few months haven’t quite hit the heights of the 18 months preceding them. However, a third placed finish at the Tour Championships at the weekend will have provided a timely boost to his confidence.

World Ranking: 3

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 1/2 points.

Lee Westwood:

Westwood has been one of Europe’s most consitent performers over the past decade and he has tremendous Ryder Cup experience, however, he has really struggled for form in recent months in spite of his world ranking.

World Ranking: 4

Form: 5/10

Record: 7 appearances; 33 matches, 19 points.

Justin Rose:

He is in the form of his life and he is as ready as anybody in Team Europe to face-off against the formidable looking Team USA.

World Ranking: 5

Form: 9/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 3 points.

Martin Kaymer:

He has struggled over the past couple of years since having reached the top of the world rankings but he just about achieved automatic selection to the team and will be hoping to find his best form once again.

World Ranking: 32

Form: 6/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 1/2 points

Graeme McDowell:

He was the hero for Team Europe at Celtic Manor in 2010 and he will be chomping at the bit to return to golf’s premiere team event. He is a man built for matchplay in terms of his attitude and demeanour and he will undoubtedly play a huge part in proceedings.

World Ranking: 18

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 8 matches, 5 points.

Sergio Garcia:

Having returned to the top table of European golf Sergio Garcia is set to thrill in Ryder Cup golf once again and he has as much to prove as anybody at Medinah.

World Ranking: 19

Form: 7/10

Record: 5 appearances; 24 matches, 16 points

Francesco Molinari:

Molinari lined up alongside his brother Edoardo in Team Europe for the 2010 Ryder Cup but this time he is going it alone and is hoping to end on the winning side once again.

World Ranking: 31

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1/2 a point.

Peter Hanson:

He is one of the European Tour’s most consistent forces and he also shot into the consciousness of global golf fans with a valiant shot at winning the Masters earlier this season having led going into the final round.

World Ranking: 25

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1 point.

Paul Lawrie:

Lawrie’s return to the forefront of the global game has been as stunning as it has been unlikely but the ultimate reward for his efforts is his place in Team Europe in a competition he loves playing in.

World Ranking: 28

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearce; 5 matches, 3 1/2 points.

Ian Poulter:

Poulter might not have been at his best this year and may not be the best player in Team Europe on paper but he remains one of the most confident and flamboyant characters in the game and he has a fantastic Ryder Cup record and will expect to be as involved and as successful as anybody in the team.

World Ranking: 26

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 points.

Nicolas Colsaerts:

Colsaerts has had a really good couple of years off the back of several disappointing campaigns and his rise in fortunes has resulted in a wildcard pick for Team Europe, which will surely rank as his proudest achievement to date.

World Ranking: 35

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Team USA:

Tiger Woods:

He’s back. He might not have won a major since his fall from grace but he has come very close on a couple of occasions this year and his PGA Tour form has been stunning throughout 2012. The Ryder Cup hasn’t been his happiest hunting ground in the past but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bags a few crucial points for his team this time around.

World Ranking: 2

Form: 9/10

Record: 6 appearances; 29 matches, 14 points.

Phil Mickleson: 

‘Lefty’ has been painfully inconsistent over the past couple of seasons but he is still capable of the sublime and he performed strongly throughout the FedEx cup series.

World Ranking: 16

Form: 7/10

Record: 8 appearances; 34 macthes, 14 points.

Bubba Watson:

Having landed his first major title at Augusta people have started to take Bubba a little more seriously and as unconventional as he is he deserves no less than to be regarded as one of world golf’s finest players.

World Ranking: 7

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Webb Simpson:

Having landed his maiden major title many would have expected Simpson to have cemented his place amongst the world’s best players but the past few months since this success have been tough for Simpson as he has struggled to produce his best on a regular basis.

World Ranking: 8

Form: 6/10

Record: Rookie

Jason Dufner:

Jason Dufner has proven over the past two seasons that he can be a regular challenger in major events and now he will be hoping to prove his match-playing talents also.

World Ranking: 9

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Matt Kuchar:

Kuchar is one of world golf’s most solid competitors and possesses very few weaknesses. He could play a huge part if chosen to play alongside one of Team USA’s more flamboyant players.

World Ranking: 15

Form: 6/10

Record:

Keegan Bradley:

Bradley’s stunning victory in the PGA Championship last year, his maiden major tournament appearance, was one of the more extraordinary moments in golf’s rich history and he has proven himself not to be a one hit wonder with a year of consistently competing well on the PGA Tour and by establishing himself in the world’s top 20.

World Ranking: 14

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Zach Johnson:

Johnson has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the past couple of years and he has re-established himself as a regular contender in the majors and will be hoping to take this form into the USA’s fight to steal the Ryder Cup from Europe’s grasp.

World Ranking: 17

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 7 matches, 2 1/2 points.

Brandt Snedeker:

Has there been anyone who has enjoyed as good a year as Snedeker in 2012? Well, if there is they are few and far between as Snedeker has won the Farmer’s Insurance Open, tied for third at the Open and then won the FedEx Cup in style after triumphing in the Tour Championships as the weekend and bagging himself a double jackpot of over $11 million.

Just to top it off he has been selected as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup and there will be no player higher on confidence than him going into his rookie appearance in the famous competition.

World Ranking: 10

Form: 10/10

Record: Rookie

Steve Stricker:

It is great testament to Stricker that he has managed to maintain such a high world ranking in what has seemed like a fairly quiet year for the veteran. Even when his long game is letting him down his putting remains immaculate and that could again prove to be a huge asset to Team USA.

World Ranking: 12

Form: 7/10

Record:

Dustin Johnson:

The Medinah Club is theoretically a big-hitter’s paradise and Johnson certainly fits the bill. He may not have achieved automatic qualification but his length of the tee made him impossible to ignore in terms of Davis Love III’s captain’s picks.

World Ranking: 13

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Jim Furyk:

Furyk hasn’t played anywhere near as consistently well in recent times as he has become renowned for throughout a great career but he has enormous experience both as a PGA Tour player and as a Ryder Cup competitor and that is exactly why he was chosen in spite of failing to make the team by way of automatic selection.

World Ranking: 23

Form: 6/10

Record: 7 appearances; 27 matches, 10 points.

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Simpson’s maiden triumph sends major message out to the likes of Lee

Webb Simpson’s wonderful final round fightback at the Olmypic Club on Sunday night not only boosted American hopes of a new era of golfing superiority ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup but also sent out a further warning to some of the more elderly members of golf’s elite.

Simpson US Open 2012

Webb Simpson has now capped an impressive past 18 months with a major tournament victory

This latest major trophy victory continued the run of what is now fifteen consecutive different winners of golf’s major competitions and provided further evidence that there are plenty of players on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour  now who are capable of winning and competing in majors.

This run of different major winners highlights just how competitive the top end of golf is at present and though that may provide great excitement and joy for golf fans all over the world it must surely worry the likes of Lee Westwood who managed yet another top 10 finish in a major at the Olympic Club this past weekend but again failed to capitalise on a promising position going into the final day of the tournament.

Having now competed in a total of 57 majors, Westwood  certainly has a great wealth of experience on his side when approaching the

Westwood US Open

Lee Westwood has now competed in 57 majors without success despite several flirtations with glory

showpiece events of the golfing calendar but this week  he showed great heart and great talent in San Fransisco but fell just short once again.

As always it has not been a question of whether Lee Westwood has the ability or the talent to win a major competition this past weekend but rather a case of whether he can land enough putts or get on lady luck’s good side on enough occasions to finally get the major tournament monkey off of his back.

There are certainly some real positives for ‘Westie’ to take out of another four days of being in genuine contention to win a major and it must be of some consolation to him that he once again competed strongly in one of golf’s toughest tests on a golf course so tough that Webb Simpson’s winning score for the competition was just 1 over par. However, moments like

Westwood lost ball US Open

Lee Westwood searches in vain for his lost ball up in the canopy of the trees on the 5th hole at the Olympic Club

when he smashed his tee shot into the trees on the fifth only to never see the ball again as it got stuck in the canopy must surely damage his self-confidence, which up until now he has maintained so adamantly and so stubbornly throughout his career. This drive on the 5th hole when his score stood at 2 over par, just one shot back from the eventual winning score, was yet another ‘what if’ moment for Lee in a career which has been full to the brim with such near misses and frustrations.

However, as much as many golf fans would love to see Westwood win a major after years and years of near misses it would be hard to argue that Webb Simpson wasn’t deserving of his triumph.

Having stuck in there throughout the first three days of the competition and having reached a tournament score of three over par thru three rounds, Simpson remained confident that a hard-earned under par round would put him in the mix having started the final round 4 shots back from Jim Furyk’s tournament lead and ultimately it did so and more.

If he had been asked honestly at the beginning of the final day’s play if he thought a round of 70 would win him the tournament outright he would have been forgiven for saying that it wouldn’t quite be enough but Simpson demonstrated tremendous self belief and did exactly what he needed to in order to win the tournament.

He got round in a couple of shots under par and posted a testing clubhouse lead, which added significant pressure to the final couple of holes of front-runners Graeme McDowell’s and Jim Furyk’s rounds, and on Furyk in particular the pressure told. A wayward drive on 16 cost Furyk his lead of the championship and handed the initiative to Simpson, who of course had no time left for mistakes having safely navigated his way into the clubhouse.

McDowell and Furyk

McDowell and Furyk both fought valiantly over the four days at Olympic Club but to little avail

In a way it was no surprise that Simpson managed to win his first major this past weekend in spite of him having to face-off with the likes of former US Open winners McDowell and Furyk and Lee Westwood who has competed at the business end of such tournaments on numerous occasions, as Webb Simpson has had a fine past year and a half and very much comes under the category of ‘bright, young things’ in American golf.

It wasn’t that long ago after all that Simpson went into the last PGA Tour event of last year locked in a straight shoot-out with world number one Luke Donald for the right to end the year at the top of the money list. He may have lost out in this first major face-off of his PGA Tour career but he will have learnt from this disappointment and the two ‘big’ tournament victories and the wealth of top 10 finishes he had achieved to put himself in the position where he could have topped the money list will have given him an enormous boost so early in his career.

So, as much as it would have been lovely to be sitting here reflecting on a third straight Northern Irish victory of the US Open or upon Westwood’s first ever major tournament success after more than a decade of close calls, it is important that Webb Simpson’s victory is not forgotten amidst British disappointment and that he is rightly congratulated for his success as he deserved to win the tournament having produced two wonderful rounds of golf over the weekend.

Simpson’s victory was the product of experience, form and self belief and it sends out a harsh reminder to the likes of Westwood and indeed someone like Tiger Woods that there are now a lot of very talented and mentally capable golfers coming to the fore (no pun intended), and indeed it sends out a reminder to the European team that the US will have a team full of quality and full of success stories come the Ryder Cup later this year.

Masters 2012: Bubba bags the Green Jacket on Super Sunday

For a man born in Bagdad, winning arguably golf’s most glamorous and high profile major tournament ain’t half bad as achievements go.

Bubba Watson Masters 2012

Bubba, one of the game's real characters, was totally overwhelmed by his tense play-off triumph

This is Bagdad, Florida of course rather than a certain location which the American nation is a little less fond of but still, for a man of such humble beginnings and of such immense personality this was one hell of a win.

Not only has he bagged a Green Jacket, which by the way I think would go awfully well with a pair of dungarees (see attached video evidence) but the fashion in which he did so was enormously admirable.

Play-offs in any elite level golf competition, let alone The Masters, are arguably most suited to those who are composed, accurate, consistent and cool-headed. Bubba Watson though is a man hardly synonymous with any of the above, well, not until now anyway…

The manner in which he plays the game is, generally speaking and quite frankly, extraordinary. His temperament as we saw very clearly when he had a “mudball” on the first fairway is raw and unkempt at the best of times, his swing is in almost no way at all ‘technically sound’ and his game is renowned far more greatly for it’s staggering length rather than it’s deadly accuracy.

In nearly every way imaginable Bubba is an outstanding golfer and, perhaps a little unfairly, I mean that in terms of his character and his persona on and off the course rather than his game. Somehow though he has managed “without a lesson” to become one of the finest golfers on the planet and one of the finest players of his generation within a nation which is arguably historically the strongest golfing nation on the planet.

Bubba Watson Masters 2012 winner

If the Jacket fits...

Few lucky people can call themselves a major golf tournament winner and now Bubba has defied the odds and certainly some golfing logic to become one of this privileged bunch and as much as my previous tone might suggest that he is a little bit of a shock winner I don’t actually find his victory that much of a surprise. In fact, I did have enough faith in his abilities to place the princely sum of £2 on him to win the tournament after he had got himself in position after day one and it made me several quid richer. Thanks Bubba.

Though he may be unorthodox, and he may be pretty hot-headed and at times he may even be a little rash, it is these characteristics which have made him a major winner and that mean he could be a constant threat in the big four tournaments of golf’s calendar year for the foreseeable future.

Such character traits may not be befitting of a man who would reach the top of the world rankings (ie. a Luke Donald-esque player), or that of a man that always delivers when in position to charge to victory but they are the hallmarks of several players that have become icons of the game, most notably, Seve Ballesteros.

The likes of Seve have of course become the best player in the world and have topped the rankings and that is perhaps because they aren’t in the same league as someone like Bubba, they are in no uncertain terms the cream of the unpredictable crop.

Watson is indeed almost certainly more streaky and more unreliable than some of the game’s huge, exciting and at times over-the-top characters but it is his temperament and his playing quirks which give him the X-Factor which certain players lack.

On this, the day of his most significant golfing triumph to date, Bubba did keep a fairly cool head though and he did play pretty straight and pretty sensibly. There were no eagles, no long range hole-outs, but his relentless, punishing length of the tee was crucial as was the imagination and sheer outrageousness of his ‘tournament winning’ hook out of the woods with the wedge in the play-off.

Whether Bubba ever wins another major or ever has such a satisfying day in his career again is unclear but I think one and all can accept that he was a deserving winner and that he is now a Green Jacket holder because he showed extraordinary bottle, class, skill and character throughout the overwhelming majority of the four days at Augusta.

As per, The Masters have once again delivered a week of marvellous entertainment and the nature of Bubba’s win is something that most of us distant viewers won’t forget for quite some time so just imagine how Mr.Watson is feeling right now. The only problem now is that we and Bubba have to wait another year for it to come around again…

The Masters 2012: Who can produce their Sunday Best?

With just a day to go at ‘The National’ the Green Jacket is still well up for grabs as ‘Moving Day’ in Augusta more than lived up to it’s infamous billing.

Peter Hanson and ‘Big Phil” came storming through the field after starting the day three back on just 2 under, Louis Oosthuizen played beautifully en route to fine round in the sixties and Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar were amongst those that came out of anonymity on the first couple of days to find a decent launch-pad for Sunday glory. The likes of Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson too played themselves right into the thick of things with further examples of why they are two of the best players to watch in world golf.

On the other hand though, the likes of Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy shared a totally miserable day in what most would have expected to be the best pairing to watch on the course. Others who endured a miserable day included Justin Rose who at one point had looked like being the story of the day when he shot himself up into the top three but coming home he made error after error and ended back on level for his round and for the tournament. Golden Oldie, Freddie Couples, too had a miserable day out there playing himself out of contention after starting the third round right on top of the leader board and another notable failure on ‘Moving Day’ was World Number One Luke Donald who had a shocker leaving himself way, way adrift at 7 over par for the tournament.

Many of the field made significant moves on Saturday whether it was up or down the leader board, so many in fact that it would be take a lifetime to mention them all but I have taken a look at the board going into the final round and picked out a few of who I think will be the main contenders.

Peter Hanson:

World Number 25 going into the Masters and with a best finish at Augusta of tied 64th who would have thought that the Swede would lead going into the final round?

Peter Hanson Masters

Well, if you did, and you wagered a couple of quid on him then hats off to you as I imagine his odds were pretty decent. It says something about the surprise nature of his challenge that I hadn’t even registered his pre-tournament odds but he is at the top and after shooting a superb round of 65 is amongst the favourites now to win.

If you’re capable of shooting a 65 on ‘Moving Day’ at Augusta then you’re capable of winning The Masters, all Hanson has to do is keep calm and carry on.

Score: -9     Position: 1st     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 8/10

Phil Mickelson:

‘Lefty’ had yet another day to remember on Saturday and like Hanson came out of nowhere, he was three back at the start of the day on 2 under and stormed his way round in just 66 blows seeing him shoot through to 8 under for the tournament.

Mickelson Masters 2012

Other than the one shot difference in their rounds and the one shot difference between their overall scores for the tournament, one of very few differences between Phil’s round and Hanson’s round was that no one was surprised by Mickelson.

He has such an aura around him when he starts to pick up a couple of shots around Augusta and arguably only Woods can rival him for his ability to build momentum over the weekend in Georgia. Phil has put himself in position and now all he needs to do is convert.

Score: -8     Position: 2nd     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 9/10

Louis Oosthuizen:

Saturday was further evidence of why Louis Oosthuizen is already a major winner and why he could go on to win a few more.

Oosthuizen Masters 2012

His beautifully balanced swing was used to it’s full effect right the way through his third round and a score in the sixties has seen him going into Sunday as one of the standout favourites. If he shoots a similar score on Sunday then I can’t see many going with him.

Score: -7     Position: 3rd     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 8/10

Bubba Watson:

You could watch mad-cap Bubba play all day long couldn’t you?

Bubba Watson Masters 2012

The man with arguably the most rubber-like wrists and digits on tour once again lit up Augusta with one of the quirkiest ‘solid’ rounds of 70 you’re ever likely to see. This useful Saturday score has thrust him to 6 under for the tournament and with the way he plays it could easily end in ecstasy or in misery for Bubba come midnight-ish on Sunday. Whether he charges right into contention or whether he bombs it is sure to be a great round to watch and I have a sneaking suspicion that he could be the man to come from behind and push the current leaders right to their limits.

Score: -6     Position: 4th     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 6/10

Lee Westwood:

Saturday may well have been one of Lee Westwood’s most frustrating days at Augusta.

Westwood Masters 2012

He may not have played himself right out of contention but boy did he try. For every birdie and every moment of positivity there was a slack chip shot and shocking short range miss with the short stick. He may not have managed to build any momentum but he did manage to get himself round and leave himself in OK shape going into Sunday. Those who have watched a fair amount of Westwood throughout his career both in majors and outside of majors know that he is more capable than most of going really low and it is simply a case of whether he can get some putts to drop.

Score: -4     Position: Tied 6th     Likelihood of winning The Masters: 4/10

Hunter Mahan: 

One of the best rounds of Saturday was Hunter Mahan’s sweet 68.

Hunter Mahan Masters 2012

This round saw the in-form American rise from mid-leader board mediocrity and up into the glare of a Sunday evening charge for the Green Jacket. His metronomic putting and recent tournament successes will hold him in very good stead as he tries to make up the five shot deficit between him and Hanson who leads the way and I think he is one of the most likely to break from the chasing pack  and  to post a decent clubhouse lead at some stage on Sunday.

Score: -4     Position: Tied 6th     Likelihood of winning the Masters: 4/10

Others to keep an eye on…

Matt Kuchar: 5th (-5). He has the steadiness of swing and of mind to put himself in contention but I think he’ll slump a little on Sunday.

Padraig Harrington: Tied 6th (-4). A wonderful back nine in round three has put the three-time major winner in amongst the chasing pack but I don’t think he’ll make a serious charge.

Henrik Stenson: Tied 6th (-4). Another entertaining round from Stenson saw him bag his best score of the tournament so far and he is one of those players that can rip a course to shreds when he is bang in form. For a player of his considerable talents he has been struggling along for far too long now and it would be great if he could get himself in the mix.

Ian Poulter and Nick Watney: Tied 11th (-2). Both Watney and Poulter are capable of scoring a hat full of birdies when they find their best form and if either of them can steer clear of any concentration lapses then I think they could post something like a 67 which could put them up there in the top few places when the heat is on tomorrow. For me, Poulter in particular is one of the players stuck seven or eight back who could get round in a low score and post a challenging clubhouse lead.

Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy: Out of the running… This may well be the case, but both men are capable of going very low on Sunday. They were poor on ‘Moving Day’, McIlroy in particular, but just keep an eye on two of the most talented players in the field as they play without the shackles of being in contention. It could be very fun to watch indeed.

The Masters 2012: Who’s up for the Green Jacket?

A year on from Charl Schwartzel’s under the radar capture of his first Green Jacket and Rory’s infamous back nine collapse, we have just one day to wait until the start of this year’s Masters.

Schwartzel Masters

With such a huge field competing and all the unpredictabilities of the Augusta National as a course it is hard to pin down just a few favourites or ‘Ones to Watch’ but Golf’s most glamorous major has people rushing to the bookies and their online betting accounts looking for some nice, tempting long odds to have a punt on.

Below I have made picked some categories and within these bounds have chosen some decent looking options to throw a couple of quid at.

The top two favourites:

Going into the tournament it is perhaps no surprise that Tiger Woods (Betfair 5/1) is the favourite with the bookies given his history at Augusta and his recent win at Bay Hill but last year’s nearly man, Rory McIlroy (Betfair 15/2), is arguably the people’s favourite going in.

Both Woods and McIlroy would relish a fourth round face-off with each other on Sunday

McIlroy’s record since his Augusta meltdown this time last year has been superb. In the twenty+ events that he has contested since he has finished in the top 10 about three quarters of the time, bagging himself four event wins, four second places and four third place finishes. This is a staggering level of form and consistency that Rory has shown over the past twelve months and when compared with Woods’ record in the same time period it is almost comical that Woods is favoured by the bookies.

Woods does of course have the most memorable of histories with the National but even he might admit that Rory’s the one to beat on current form.

Verdict: If you’re backing one of the top two favourites then go for Rory.

The Brits:

Aside from McIlroy there are some other attractive British options including the two players either side of Rory in the world rankings; world number one Luke Donald (Betfair 15/1) and world number three Lee Westwood (Betfair 22/1).

Other options include former US Open champion Graeme McDowell (Betfair 85/1) who has shown some encouraging recent signs that he might be re-finding some of his best golf, Paul Casey (Betfair 260/1) playing his first major since injuring himself snow boarding in Colorado, three-time former major winner Padraig Harrington (Betfair 110/1) who leads the par 3 contest as I write and Ian Poulter (Betfair 110/1) who has decent form at the Masters and is as confident as ever.

Other Brits in the field include Simon Dyson (490/1), Ross Fisher (370/1) 15th at Augusta in 2011 and Martin Laird (170/1) who perhaps wouldn’t be a bad shout for a top ten finish given his usually very consistent showings on the PGA Tour.

Rose golf

Justin Rose appears to be coming of age on the PGA Tour

Perhaps the canniest of all British bets though would be to put a fiver of Justin Rose (Betfair 33/1) who’s brilliant form has seen him win at Doral a few weeks ago as well as charging into the world’s top ten. He is in ship-shape at the moment and he has plenty of experience at Augusta where he has on a couple of occasions come flying out of the traps.

Verdict:

Back Rose at very generous odds, could look at Each Way bets on the likes of Casey, Laird, Poulter or McDowell as each would give a fair return. Or… back ‘Luuuuuuuuukkkkeeee’ Donald for a top 5 finish.

Long Shots:

As previously mentioned Paul Casey is well worth a look at on an Each Way basis and he isn’t the only one offering more than generous odds with Betfair…

Johnson Wagner (Betfair 200/1) may well not be a household name with us Brits but his season on the PGA Tour has been superb. He is currently second in the FedEx cup points list courtesy of some fantastic form which has seen him bag a PGA Tour win, a second place and two further top 10 finishes and at those odds he is a handsome Each Way option.

Wagner

Johnson Wagner is in great form on the PGA Tour

The mercurial Alvaro Quiros (Betfair 200/1) is also worth a real look.

Verdict: All worth a shout with an Each Way bet

Best of the rest:

Day Golf

Jason Day has a great recent record in majors but does have a niggling ankle injury

Other big name players that have been given generous odds by Betfair and several other bookmakers include Jason Day (45/1) who has three top ten finishes and two second placed finishes from the last five majors including last year’s Masters, Nick Watney (65/1) who likes it at the national, the only two-time winner on the PGA this year Hunter Mahan (37/1) and finally Adam Scott (33/1) who tied for second place with Day last year. One other decent option is reigning champion Charl Schwartzel (Betfair 45/1) who’s odds to win the tournament are staggering given how marvellously he played en route to victory last year.

Verdict:

Jason Day at 45/1 is my star bet for the whole tournament, he is also well worth a look at for a top ten or top five finish given his recent record in major tournament golf. He is a slight injury doubt though so beware… If Day doesn’t float your boat then look at Hunter Mahan as an Each Way option.

Another Ryder Cup year approaches and the rush for qualification begins

As we prepare to enter a year which will no doubt be remembered for it’s sporting prevalence in the UK and Europe, we are also entering another Ryder Cup year. Team Europe will travel to the Medinah Club in the latter half of 2012 and the rush for qualification is now well and truly on.

G-Mac sealed a momentous victory in front of raucous crowds at the Celtic

201o’s Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor provided a magnificent spectacle which eventually saw team Europe prosper in a year which marked a major turnaround in global golfing fortunes. Off the back of this success, Europe will now be aiming to further assert their authority with a victory on US turf armed with a team set to include an interesting mix of the world’s highest ranked golfers, some resurgent forces, and some exciting rookies.

No matter what the eventual line up looks like, if the end of this season is anything to go by then Europe’s challenge is set to be very strong and the winning feeling is already building some significant momentum.

The world's top two players will no doubt play a huge part for Team Europe

World Number one Luke Donald has been the recipient of a whole range of awards in recent weeks, World Number two Lee Westwood has ended his year with a win in Thailand (including an astonishing 12 under par round), Rory McIlroy has established himself as part of the world’s top three with another career win this month and Matchplay supremo Ian Poulter has ended his year with a triumph at the Australian Open.

Couple these recent glories with Martin Kaymer’s continuing stay in the world’s top five, the renaissance taking place in Sergio Garcia’s game and the host of young talent pushing for qualification and things appear very rosy indeed for Team Europe.

If qualification was halted now then those that would make Team Europe would include many of the aforementioned stars as well as some slightly more surprising additions. If this were the case the the team would be as follows; Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano, Alvaro Quiros, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Simon Dyson, Graeme McDowell and the two captains choices.

Messrs Kaymer, McIlroy, Fdez-Castano, Quiros and Garcia would be qualifying by virtue of currently occupying the top five places on the European qualification list, whilst Donald, Westwood, Rose, Dyson and McDowell would make the team through the World qualification list.

If this were the side that Europe went in with then I think the current Captain Jose Maria Olazabal would fancy his chances of retaining the famous trophy for his team. The dilemma for Jose-Maria come August-September time will be his decision for the two Captain’s selections, and if the standings remained similar to the current predicament when this decision has to be made then his final choice will become interesting.

Players who could be in the reckoning if this were the case could include Ryder Cup veterans Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, Open champion Darren Clarke, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, and at the other end of the spectrum rookie options such as the exciting talents of Tom Lewis and Richie Ramsay could be in with a shout.

With such strength in depth being demonstrated by the aforementioned veterans and young-guns, the present and the future seems very bright for European golf and it will be extremely intriguing to see who makes Jose-Maria’s final cut. The fine balance of youth and experience in the potential European side doesn’t only bode

The Medinah Country Club, Hosts of the 2012 Ryder Cup

well for 2012 but for future Ryder Cups also, as the more experienced heads will surely make the natural progression on to Team Europe’s coaching team. And while their wealth of experience will strengthen the foundations, the younger specimens will continue to dominate the individual format of the game in global terms and in turn will do Team Europe proud as playing members for many years to come.

Lets look forward to a glorious year of British and European sport, and hopefully another awe-inspiring triumph over the United States come Ryder Cup time. Back-to-back, home and away Ryder Cup successes would be rather enjoyable!

Luke Donald: My British Sports Star of the Year

With many bookmakers offering odds as long as 66/1 on Luke Donald to win the Sports Personality of The Year (SPOTY) award on the 22nd of December it seems that the rest of the nation won’t agree with me on this one, but I believe that Luke Donald has been the star of our fair isle’s sporting year.

Perhaps the reason why Donald isn’t homing in on one of British sport’s top honours is much the same as the reason he has emerged as the man to beat in his sport; he is just too damn consistent.

Within the realms of golf, consistency is the ingredient which has enabled some of the sport’s most decorated players to achieve the heights that they have, but, when it comes down to a sporting honour voted for by the public it isn’t exactly the sort of thing that endears you to those that are forking out 25 pence for their phone calls.

If Donald doesn’t make it into the top three at the SPOTY event at it’s new home in Salford (which it seems he probably won’t) then it would be a travesty in my eyes. His progressively-natured achievements over the course of this year are truly magnificent feats even if they don’t quite capture the imagination of the general public. He is without a doubt one of (and in my opinion THE) shining light(s) in British sport this year, and deserves greater recognition for an outstanding year of development.

Maybe it is because I am a huge golf fan (and a distinctly average player to boot) but I find his rise from ‘nice guy on Tour’ to world beater truly inspiring. His multiple tournament wins over the course of the year haven’t exactly been ‘major’ headline grabbers (no pun intended), but he has nonetheless overcome huge fields of the world’s very best players on each and every occasion and with it has earned an enormous amount of respect from his peers. No one in the world of golf would deny that he has been the best player in the world this year and that is an enormous achievement in a sport which has been dominated for so long by the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson.

It is in fact probably down to Tiger and ‘Lefty’ that players such as himself have emerged as the fore-runners driving the sport forward. I don’t mean to say that because they have slumped it is making players like Donald, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy look better, but rather they have noted the opportunity to assert their own authority on the world of golf and have used it as great inspiration. Donald has been the main beneficiary of this opportunity to date and has just served to prove that consistency and dedication can be prime attributes fit for the world’s best in a major sporting discipline.

The astounding rate at which he has churned out top ten finishes this season is testament to his ability to match and more often than not surpass some of the more flamboyant and explosive players on tour with his own brand of relentless accuracy and practically unrivalled attention to detail. He has turned sensible golf into an art form and with it has come a great confidence in his own abilities and almost inevitably a dramatic increase in success.

This increased success has today seen him become the first person ever to top both the US and European Money lists over the year. This is an astonishing achievement given the commitment it requires to constantly travel from location to location, out performing all comers in the generally more lucrative and high profile PGA Tour events, as well as switching codes and producing equally as impressive displays on the European Tour which can often require an entirely different style of golf.

His relentless form this year has seen him win personal awards as well as tournament victories and an enormous amount of money. He has been awarded the Vardon Trophy and the Byron Nelson award for achieving the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour this year, he also won the PGA Tour player of the year voted for by his peers and he has surged to the top of the world rankings where he has now stayed for around six months.

Many have tried to belittle Donald’s achievements by mocking his world ranking with regards his lack of a victory in any of golf’s four majors. But how can anyone argue against his right to be deemed the best player in the world at the moment when he has accumulated such a staggering amount of high tournament finishes in addition to five victories over the past year? I think anyone who does try to do so is ludicrous. With the incentive of Tiger Woods’ slump and the potential to establish themselves as the best player on the planet, many of the younger PGA Tour regulars fancied a shot at the number one ranking and no one has manged to match up to Luke. He has continuously delivered and has put the new breed of young, big-hitting Americans in their place (Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Webb Simpson) en-route to the most brilliant of years.

Hats off Mr.Donald, what a success story you have become. I dearly hope you can now take this form into one of the majors and shut the mouths of all your critics once and for all.

The British Open 2011 Final Day: Darren the Darling of Sandwich Sunday

Darren Clarke the forty one year-old from Northern Ireland has today won his first major. It was the most glorious of champagne moments in golf and fittingly Clarke suggested that he will be “very, very hungover” come tomorrow morning, and quite right too.

Clarke kisses the prized Claret Jug

It was a display of class, maturity and real links skill from start to finish and ultimately Clarke more than deserved his victory, which, as it turned out came surprisingly easily by the time he reached the home stretch.

Whilst he plodded on merrily churning out par saving putts and knocking in the occasional birdie and eagle the other immediate challengers fell away and some more dramatically than others.

From start to finish the likes of Jimenez, Glover, Kaymer, McIlroy and Fowler steadily slipped further and further behind the dominant Northern Irishman. The majority of the afore mentioned had pieced together three consecutively impressive rounds, but today they all missed the mark. Conditions were in truth probably easier going than the apocalyptic coastal climate experienced in Sandwich yesterday but this didn’t seem to help the pre-round contenders.

Sadly only three men really threatened to seriously endanger Darren’s charge to Open Sunday glory. The first of these was Thomas Bjorn who until the last couple of holes maintained a score of around three-under par. Though he never made a forward charge as such he managed to just hang in there and prove a potential irritation, just about staying within striking range if anything were to go badly wrong for Clarke coming home.

The second maintained challenge came from Clarke’s final group partner Dustin Johnson. For a long time Dustin was biding his time, not shifting his score too dramatically in either direction until just after the turn where he conjured up two birdies in three holes.

Johnson again proved his talent at a major, but missed out on the title

These flashes of genius were then backed up by a fantastic drive and approach to 13 where he looked odds-on to steal another and move to six-under. At this very moment Clarke had over-cooked his approach to the same green and had a daunting up-and-down left for his par. This for many was the moment Clarke secured a grip on the Claret Jug, Clarke made his up-and-down and Johnson’s putt lagged short of the hole. From looking like they were about to have parity restored, Clarke walked to the 14th with a two shot lead still in tact. Perhaps with this missed opportunity in mind Johnson smashed his second shot on the par five 14th way out of bounds and took his challenge out of the reckoning.

The final challenge for Clarke, and perhaps the most threatening was that of Phil Mickelson. ‘Lefty’ produced a simply stunning front 9 consisting of just thirty blows. The only complaint he could possibly have had was that a couple of putts lipped out, otherwise he could have even produced something like a twenty eight.

This special nine holes of golf saw Phil level up with Clarke on five-under par. He had him in his sights and seemed ready to blow him away down the back nine also. But this was not to be.

Having lipped out another birdie putt at 10, Mickelson then missed an absolute sitter to save his par at the par three 11th. This lapse in concentration came at roughly the same time as Clarke’s majestic eagle at 7, and with it the seriousness of his challenge begun to die away.

Mickelson couldn't keep the same brilliance up coming home

These major challengers came and went and with a couple of strokes of luck Clarke saw things through. Even amidst the pressure of seeing the likes of Mickelson shooting up the leader board he remained breezy. For the majority of the final day his face was adorned with the widest of Irish grins, in the great moments he remained positive and when the bogey’s came he took them with a pinch of salt. He was calmness personified throughout.

Celebrations of triumphant Clarke

A great day for golf and golfers alike. Clarke has always been an immensely likeable character and is known to be one of the more popular players on tour. Finally twenty years of plying his trade in the upper echelons of the golfing world and several years of personal unrest must seem worth it. He has until recently endured an immense test of character following the untimely and tragic death of his wife Heather and to see him happy again is a treat. This was a victory which very few could begrudge.

The British Open Day Three: Dazzler leads, but the young Americans are prowling

The third day at a major tends to be all about surges through the field. Today only a handful of players managed this whilst the rest of the field dropped steadily back. It is entirely possible that we are set for one of the rare occasions where the leading score after round one is lower than the overall winning score. Going into the final round Darren Clarke is the outright leader on five-under par, the very same score posted by Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis on day one. With today’s foul weather forecast set for something of a repeat performance tomorrow, scoring patterns are again likely to be sliding even further backwards.

Another beautiful British summer...

Bucking today’s scoring trends were the likes of Americans Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. The pair of them carded odds-defying rounds of 68 pushing them up the leader board and right into contention. As a result of these rounds Johnson will go into day four playing alongside Clarke in the final group and just one off of the lead and Fowler has moved from level par to two-under.

Tomorrow provides the chance for these two young pretenders to really put a stamp on world golf and what better way to do so than by bagging a major title. Johnson has already won four PGA Tour titles, an impressive feat for one so young, but will forever regret the golden opportunities which have passed him by in major golf already. Two years ago he went into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach in links-style conditions only to collapse to a round in the eighties and fail to even come close in the final reckoning. He followed this up at last year’s PGA Championship by going down the final hole as leader only to lose it on a club-grounding technicality.

Johnson's bitterest pill at Whistling Straights last year

The latter of these sour major experiences for Johnson must have been excruciating. He was notified en-route to the green that he was being investigated on grounds of having floored his club before firing in his approach shot. He then had his worst fears confirmed by tournament officials in the scoring hut after completing the round. His angst at this slightest little error in judgement and seeming pettiness of golf ruling was clear for all to see as the cameras gaze was placed firmly upon him when signing off his card. Few could admit to not feeling for him in this most agonising situation.

In contrast Fowler’s regrets in his budding career aren’t quite as significant. However, he is yet to have won a single professional title and people won’t stop reminding him of this until he does. He has been in contention on several occasions o the PGA already but he really does need to land a title in order to put off his doubters. Making his first tournament victory a major would surely see him heralded as the US’ most threatening young prospect and endear himself to portions of the public who are yet to have taken to him.

Fowler in 'Sunday Orange', one hopes he has this in waterproof style

Both of these young Americans have demonstrated great maturity and a real flair for links golf. Dustin Johnson’s foundation is his monstrous driving, which has unsurprisingly been on fire here so far this week. He has slowly climbed his way up the leader board and has holed several pressure puts at key moments as well as landing a magnificent hole-in-one on day one. Some might argue that Johnson has benefited from playing at times when the weather has been fairer, the same can certainly not be said of Fowler. He has in fact probably had the worst of the weather throughout as was demonstrated by playing partner Rory McIlroy’s inability to keep pace with the form man throughout the three rounds which they have played together. Where McIlroy has missed his chances to stay in touch, Rickie has taken them and he fully deserves to be considered one of the favourites going into tomorrow.

Clarke leads the pack and has plenty to smile about

As well as the youthful stars of the US there are also major European hopes heading into day four and they all seem to be names you perhaps wouldn’t have anticipated going in. First round leader Bjorn is still there or there abouts, Miguel Angel Jimenez is only three shots back in his bid to become the eldest Open champion of all time, and Darren Clarke has maintained his lead and is set to follow the rest of these boys out tomorrow. Is it possible that the old-guard of the European Tour can fend off a last day challenge from the PGA’s finest young prospects? An intriguing battle lies in wait.

The Open 2011 Day Two: Best of British Bow out as Darren Clarke surges to the top

Royal St. George’s today played host to a demise of the British golfing empire. Perhaps this is only a brief setback to the current trend of British domination in the sport, but it was a very disappointing day nonetheless for the British hopes.

Not only did the vast majority of home hopes fail to make a charge up the leader board, they actually fell back. Not only did they fall back, they collapsed in a heap.

Concerns mount as to Westwood and Donald's lack of a major victory

Hopes were high amongst British golf fans that world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, would come to the fore this week and land their first major. Having started the day at a score of one-over par they both failed to make the cut.

Sadly these two were not the only Brits that failed to meet the mark. Major winners Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington also fell below the cut mark, McDowell in particular spiralled out of control on day two. Having started the day at two-under and well in the hunt, G-Mac fell apart ending the day at five-over for the tournament. Another British hope to slip away was Ian Poulter who fell apart whilst failing to back-up an impressive opening round of 69.

Whilst two Irishmen fell by the wayside one went charging to the top. Darren Clarke produced what was one of only a few sub-70 rounds on what was a surprisingly lean day of scoring. He today made it back-to-back rounds of 68 and took the joint lead with Lucas Glover who put together a steady 70. Both men will return tomorrow in the last group out and will be hoping the worst of the conditions have come and gone by the time they step up to the tee. Clarke is in pole position not only for the overall tournament but in terms of British hopes. If he delivers his first career major in his forties come Sunday evening then perhaps the disappointing displays of fellow Brits will be somewhat forgotten.

Clarke finds some magic with the putter to birdie the 18th

Having started the day with major British hopes positioned ominously on the leader board after indifferent opening rounds today was a definite reality check. However, in addition to Clarke there are some remaining British hopes.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy remains decently placed four back at level-par and would perhaps be on terms with the leaders had his putting reached the standards it did at the US Open. Aside from the lack of chance conversion there does appear to be another worry surrounding his game this week and that is a seeming insistence to not alter his game. Links golf requires a very defined style of play and McIlroy today missed out too many times by playing the sorts of shot we would attempt any other week. In order to drive up the leader board tomorrow I believe he needs to alter his game a little. Wholesale changes are far from necessary, but it does seem that he should be aiming to feed the balls up to the green a little more rather than sending in high bombs at the flags. More often than not he missed out today when taking on these audacious efforts, but some impressive scrambling saw his way to level-par for the tournament.

McIlroy looks to handle the pressure of being a major winner and make a move on Saturday

The top of the leader board is a crowded place going into round three and the likes of McIlroy are still well in touch at four back. The weather this weekend is set to be pretty horrendous by all accounts and this should make for some very interesting scoring. If anybody manages to handle the wild winds and sheets of rain then they will have a fair chance of prospering, even if they are coming into round three at about one or two over par.

Schwartzel smiles away as he moves into contention with one of the rounds of the day

The ones to watch in round three could be Masters champion Charl Schwartzel who impressed with a 67 today and Simon Dyson (my punt for the week) who flattered to deceive today after bagging birdies at the first three holes today. Dyson ended up slipping back from the outright lead to a frustrating level par for the tournament but he is quick around the course and knows full-well how to handle links conditions. Others to keep an eye on are the ever-entertaining Sergio Garcia placed well at level-par and young Tom Lewis who backed up his miracle 65 with a battling 74. The young amateur may have relinquished his status at the top of the standings but his is still in the red and has nothing to lose. It seems unlikely that he could go on to win but stranger things have happened.

Moving day is here and Sandwich must be braced for excitement amongst the predicted awful weather conditions.