By Stan Kosinski
The 2012 Ryder Cup kicks off this week at storied Medinah Country Club in Chicago for the 39th time. Team U.S.A and Team Europe both enter the match play events with world class players and high hopes, the Americans looking to win back the Cup on home soil and the Europeans seeking to defend their prize that they won back in 2010 at Celtic Manor.
Both team captains, Davis Love III for Team U.S.A. and Jose-Maria Olazabal for Team Europe, bring with them years of playing experience, both individually and team competition, as well as arguably the most talented players in recent memory. On paper, both teams are pretty evenly matched in terms of strengths and weaknesses. This edition of the Ryder Cup is going to come down to several key elements.
Every player from both sides will have to contribute, but a couple are going to have to really step up and stand out. Let’s start with with Team U.S.A.:
1) Tiger Woods
Overall, the former World No. 1 and 14-time Major Champion’s record in his six previous Ryder Cups is pretty dismal at 13-14-2. While he fares better in singles matches, he stumbles in team play. His most consistent partner of late has been Steve Stricker, with whom he feels very comfortable. For Team U.S.A. to be successful this week, Tiger has to step up and be a true leader, not only on the course but in the locker room.
2) Phil Mickelson
No one has more experience on the U.S. team than Phil, who is playing in his ninth Ryder Cup this week. His record is no more inspiring than Woods’ at 11-17-6 overall. Phil’s greatest role this week may be as an unofficial “playing captain.” He not only has to step up and play his very best this week on the course, he also has to step up and be the emotional leader of this relatively young team. The sentiment on Tour amongst the young guys is that Phil is a great mentor, and this week he must again assume that role, especially with the four Cup rookies Team U.S.A. will field this week.
3) Brandt Snedeker
Over the past six weeks on Tour, no one has played more consistent great golf than Brandt, culminating in his recent win at the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, as well as winning the FedExCup. At 31 years old, Snedeker is in his golfing prime. He is a great shotmaker, sneaky long and straight, and one of the best putters on Tour. He is also a fiery competitor. He may well be one of the emotional sparks that finally gels the Americans into a true cohesive unit.
Key players from Team Europe
1) Rory McIlroy
The World No. 1 and 2012 PGA Champion has only one previous Ryder Cup under his belt (2010) and a 1-1-2 record. He has stated, albeit lightheartedly, that he would love to play Tiger and go out and “kick his (butt).” He may just get an opportunity to prove it. Rory has proved over the last few weeks that he likes playing with Tiger, and Tiger likes playing with him. They seem to bring out the best in each other. Captain Olazabal may have to exploit this in order to get the best play possible out of McIlroy.
2) Sergio Garcia
His game is resurgent, winning in 2012 at the Wyndham Championship, and Sergio loves the Ryder Cup. He has played in five previous events with a 14-6-4 record, and even asked to be a non-playing part of the 2010 team even though his game was in a shambles. He is an emotional leader, and one of the loudest cheerleaders on Europe’s squad. He will have to bring all of his passion, as well as his A game to Medinah.
3) Ian Poulter
This guy is a natural born killer in these events, winning all three of his previous singles matches before they reached the 17th hole. He is passionate about the Ryder Cup, and relishes the pressure of the event. He partners well with just about anybody on the team, and he will certainly have to bring his tenacity with his game this week.
As well as the players this week, there will also be a lot of pressure on the two opposing captains this week as well.
Davis Love III and Jose-Maria Olazabal not only have the weight of their teams and their countries on their backs, but they also have to consider what the outcome will be in regards to their respective legacies as well.
Davis, with 20 career wins and one major (1997 PGA) to his credit, never acheived the results that his obvious talent foreshadowed. A win this week might cement a true Hall of Fame career. Conversely, Jose-Maria, arguably one half of the greatest twosomes in Ryder Cup history(with Seve Ballesteros), is captain of the defending Cup Champion team. He has openly stated that anything less than victory this week will be failure on his part.
Whatever the final outcome is on Sunday, it is guaranteed that the Ryder Cup this year will again bring unrelenting pressure and high drama to the city of Chicago and Medinah.