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.

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.

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.

Place your bets: The Masters

This coming weekend plays host to one of sports greatest events, and one of it’s most competitive betting markets. The Masters is golf’s first Major of the year and is a fond favourite of those with an eye for a punt, and an eye for arguably one of the most vivid and enchanting venues in global sport.

Picture-Perfect

This Thursday begins one of those special sporting events that sparks interest and appreciation from the corners of disenchantment. Golf is a sport loved far and wide, but the lengthy schedules and perceived elitism involved in the sport have always attracted scepticism and mockery. Perhaps it could be argued that such attitudes have detracted from others getting involved in any way with the sport having never given it a real shot.

However, The Masters is just that bit more special than any old golf tournament. The course itself the Augusta National, Georgia, is a work of art. The beauty of the venue is beyond compare in the sporting realm and it provides that little glint of magic that sets it apart from the crowd.

Not only is the course achingly beautiful but it plays like a wicked, teasing, taunting mistress. In part it offers opportunity for low scoring and in others the margins for error are excruciatingly tight. This set-up makes for constant subtle and not so subtle twists and turns, thus there is always an element of unpredictability. Sometimes such unpredictability amongst a large field of competitors lessens the desire for a punt, but betting figures would suggest otherwise. With 99 competitors in the field, The Masters offers some fantastic odds in the outright winners market, the seed of temptation is there for all to see.

After all, how many of the world’s leading sports events could boast best odds of 25-1 on the World Number One triumphing? Not too many I would wager, but those are indeed the available odds with Betfair for the brilliant Martin Kaymer.

World Numbers 1 and 2 have been paired together for the opener at Augusta

Other names of interest to the betting public might include Lee Westwood, World Number Two and last year’s runner-up, who will desperately seek to get the monkey off his back by winning his first major (Best Odds 18/1). Red-hot young Americans with attributes seemingly built for Augusta Nick Watney and Dustin Johnson, can be backed at best odds of 18/1 and 32/1 respectively.

My European tips are big-hitting duo Paul Casey (40/1) and Ross Fisher a long-shot at a lengthy 200/1, and my tips from foreign-shores are Americans Watney (18/1), Johnson (32/1), and Matt Kuchar (34/1), and South African veteran Retief Goosen (90/1) .

Watney focused on 'Major' breakthrough

The majority of this select group have challenged seriously in Majors gone-by, with Goosen already a major winner. I feel the time is right at Augusta for a fresh-face to dazzle the golfing world with a performance of real class and flashes of sheer inspiration, as were finely demonstrated by reigning champion Phil Mickelson in the closing round last year. I think the man for this job could well be Nick Watney, a quirky character off the course whom would prove a very popular champion amongst the American spectators and in the locker room too.

Mickelson seeks to put the jacket on himself this time

The tempting length of odds for players within the world’s top thirty or so makes for some potential big-money wins for low-liability gambles. Thus, an already stunning sporting spectacle has the ability to take on increased importance and value of the monetary kind. Who knows what the outcome will be on Sunday night when the tournament reaches it’s conclusion but my advice would be: Don’t break the bank, but maybe have just a little punt on some generous odds.