Some final thoughts on the Ryder Cup before the guys tee it up early tomorrow morning.

The Course
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The short par four 13th hole, featuring an elevated island green, will make or break some matches this weekend. J.B. Holmes...fire away. (Image:cinevideogroup/Flickr)

The difference between Valhalla’s Ryder Cup setup and how it played for the PGA Championship has been in Paul Azinger’s hands. To give the Americans an advantage, Azinger has set up Valhalla for the many bombers on his team: short three-inch rough (as opposed to 5-inches plus at the PGA), wider fairways, a widened first cut of rough, and shortened holes in a few places. Players like J.B. Holmes and Phil will be swinging for the fences this weekend.

The key hole will be #13. Listed as a 352 yard par four, this potentially decisive hole features an island green.  And the word is that Azinger might set the hole up, on at least one day, to play around 270 yards. 

Imagine some of the important singles matches on Sunday coming down to a decision on #13 to lay up or fire away at an elevated island green 270 yards away. Talk about good television.

All the par fives–7, 10, and 18–will be inviting to both teams, but Azinger has worked with the course superintendent to make them as favorable as possible for the U.S.

In all, Valhalla will provide plenty of birdie opportunities-and, as a result, plenty of drama. This is no U.S. Open, Masters, or PGA; the birdies will be flying all weekend.

The Players

Azinger may have set up Valhalla to favor the U.S. , but it’s hard to compare the two rosters without thinking Europe has the advantage.

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Sergio Garcia: Majors? No. Ryder Cup? Yes. (Image:gallow_chris/Flickr)

Sergio Garcia’s record in the Cup is astounding: 14-4-2. As much as commentators critique his near-misses in the majors, the man comes to play at the Ryder Cup.

Though he’s just 1-3 in singles matches, he is nearly unstoppable when you pair him with a partner: 13-1-2 in fourball and foursomes. And one more humbling stat about Garcia: He’s a combined 6-1 against Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson–yeah, those are the two best players in the world.

The other two key players on the Euro team would have to be Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood. Harrington’s history at the Cup is mediocre—a 7-8-2 mark—but he’s won the last two majors and will probably win PGA Tour Player of the Year.

And Westwood, much like Garcia, has shined at the Ryder Cup. Only 2-3 in singles matches, Westwood is tough to beat in foursomes and fourball, with a combined 12-5-2 record.

Compare those records to the United States ’ veterans, and you can see why so many pundits are picking the Europeans to four-peat.

Mickelson: 9-8-3. Furyk: 6-12-2. Cink: 3-5-4. 

And, shockingly, Justin Leonard has never won a Ryder Cup match. Sporting an 0-3-5 record, the Texan’s mammoth, clutch putt in 1999 led to a halve of the match with Olazabal. The four U.S. veterans have combined for a dismal record of 18-28-14.  Ouch.

But there’s a caveat, of course—there always is. Captain Azinger loaded the U.S. team with rookies—six of them, in fact. These guys are the wildcards: Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker.

All of these players are world-class and deserving team members, but will the strategy of six newcomers backfire on Azinger?

Granted, an infusion of new blood into the U.S. team is probably needed after the last two Ryder Cup debacles—it’s not like these guys are fresh out of college. Kim may be an exception, but he’s been too freaking solid–and he was top 8 in the standings anyway.

The Euros have four rookies, a couple of Ryder Cup studs, and several guys with minimal experience. All in all, you’ve got to think Europe has the more experienced and successful Ryder Cup players. For whatever reason, Mickelson and Furyk haven’t done much on this stage, while Garcia and Westwood have thrived.

Is it time, though, for the U.S. to finally break through?

The Prediction

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Will Phil show up this year? (Image:one/million/Flickr)

Don’t misunderstand, I will be bleeding red, white, and blue this weekend, rooting for the Yanks all the way. But even though my heart wants the Americans to win, my head just doesn’t see it happening.

Could the U.S. win? Of course. Any one of these guys could get hot, make 8 birdies a round, and be key in an American victory. But if past results indicate future success, then you have to go with the Europeans.

Garcia and Westwood are just too good at this event. And, yes, there are ten other guys out there. But from top to bottom, the European team just looks better to me. There are too many unknowns with the Americans, six rookies. And the guys we do know about–Mickelson, Furyk, Cink–have played like crap at the Cup. Like crap, I tell you.

I hope the U.S. proves me wrong; I really do. But that’s what it comes down to. Show us you can beat the Europeans, because you haven’t done so since 1999.

Your best player, the best player in the world, is hurt. You’re a major underdog. Hardly no one, including this random blogger, is picking you to win. So just go beat the crap out of the Europeans and prove me wrong.

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