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.

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 Open 2011 Day One: Tom-Tom find their way around a tricky St.Georges

The first day of the Open has rather unsurprisingly produced some fantastic stories. Again it has become a tale of the young and old at the top of the leader board after round one, and the field is set well for great developments over the next three days.

The Great-Dane leads the way

Leading the way thru eighteen are forty year old Thomas Bjorn and twenty year old amateur Tom Lewis. Scarcely could these players be further apart in their levels of experience, but today they have produced similarly impressive returns on demonstrations of great links play.

Bjorn, who recently lost his father was looking to avenge the ghosts of his past here at Sandwich having thrown away the lead when in position to clinch the title in 2003. Having to fight with such a multitude of emotions would be hard for most, but Bjorn excelled. Add to these varied emotions the fact that he was only a sixth reserve to play the Open this time last week and the story becomes greater still. This somewhat unfamiliar and unusual situation could indeed be the reason behind the seeming ease and lack of pressure present in his first round showing of 65.

Lewis’ story if anything is more incredible. The prospective Walker Cup team member went from unknown amateur to household name in the space of four hours today. He managed to match Bjorn’s round of 65 in his first ever round of British Open golf, quite the feat for a lad who few could claim to have seen in action before this afternoon.

Lewis takes the talk of the 'Young-Guard' even further

Not only did he score extraordinarily well, but he demonstrated an incredible temperament given the circumstances. Having stormed out of the blocks going out in three-under par, he then encountered his first real sticky patch in major golf. A couple of dropped shots after the turn took him back to one-under and it seemed that the wheels may have derailed. Lewis, however, was having none of it.

A four hole birdie streak from hole fourteen took him back to the summit and there he remained. The young amateur even claimed to have been unaware of the streak he was on and where it had placed him in the standings. The focus and calmness of his first round has won him many followers including playing partner and golfing legend Tom Watson.

Lewis said it was an “honour” and “the greatest privilege” to play with the man to whom he owes his first name, and it certainly seemed that way out on the course. Watson, the seasoned campaigner that he is, allowed Lewis his own space to start with but as the round went on and the relationship developed he could be seen strolling the fairways with an arm around the shoulder of the youngster. This is what amateur participation in major events is all about, and it certainly can’t be said that Lewis didn’t deserve his place having torn apart the tricky links course at Rye over his two rounds of qualifying.

G-Mac recovered his round brilliantly

Aside from these headline acts there were performances of note from other members of Europe’s elite. Miguel Angel Jimenez further underlined his status as a crowd favourite with a blemish-free round of 66 whilst former US Open champion Graeme McDowell recovered from a double bogey start to match world number three Martin Kaymer at two-under.

Other European hopes Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, and Lee Westwood went rather under the radar with error-strewn battles round the links course, all carding one-over par rounds of 71.

Bjorn and Lewis lead the way into day two with a few players one back and in hot pursuit. Open debutant Webb Simpson is tied for third alongside Jimenez and former US open winner Lucas Glover. A slender lead makes for a great deal of competition over the forthcoming rounds.

Hard-earned cigar for Miguel after a 66

The first day has offered a range of different wind conditions where players were required to take full advantage when the lulls came. It seems likely that whoever manages these variable conditions the best will come out victorious come Sunday evening and the in contention Martin Kaymer may have played the role of prophet in saying that the winner will be whoever holes the most six-foot putts. The second day is bound to serve up some further surprises and one would hope that the golfing gods keep shining down on the talented Tom Lewis as he seeks to defy his inexperience and remain atop the leader board throughout day two.