By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com
MEDINAH, Ill. -- With the Ryder Cup matches getting underway at 7:20 on Friday morning, U.S. Captain Davis Love III certainly has his strategy in place. He has given all the speeches, pulled all his players aside and gone though every conceivable scenario with his assistant captains.
But as the old military adage goes, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.
In what everyone agrees will likely be a very close contest, here are five early keys to a U.S. victory:
Intimidate Early: Curtis Strange asked an interesting question on Wednesday: What European player intimidates anyone on the U.S. side? Rory McIlroy, maybe, but beyond that, there aren't a lot of guys on Team Europe that put the nervous willies into any of the U.S. players.
Say what you will about Tiger Woods, in a Ryder Cup environment where the home crowd will have Medinah rocking, Tiger can still make an opponent's heart beat faster.
Team USA also has a length advantage, not over McIlroy and Nicolas Colsaerts, but certainly over most of the other Euros. Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson and Tiger can smash the ball past most of their European counterparts. And as Paul Azinger said late Wednesday night, "I don't care who you are, when a guy is consistently hitting it 40 or 50 yards by you, that's intimidating."
Beat Rory Early: As much as the captains have downplayed the one-player and one-match aspect of this week, there is no doubt that the U.S. could gain a big psychological advantage by beating McIlroy.
Not only would taking down the world No. 1 and Europe's most conspicuous leader swing the early momentum in favor of Team USA, the 23-year-old has been known to drop his head and let his shoulders sag after a bad round. Having him mope around the European team room would not be bad for Team USA.
Get a Lead: Playing catch-up is difficult. And the U.S. has lost so many Ryder Cups - some by whopping margins - that there is always a tendency when they fall behind for players to say, "Oh, no, here we go again."
Love can keep them calm and motivated, telling them everything will be alright, but the best way to avoid that scenario is to win on Friday. It doesn't have to be a large margin -- 4 1/2 - 3 1/2 is still a lead that will boost confidence going into the weekend - but Team USA needs to strike early and build excitement.
Tiger Needs to Win: He has only been on one winning Ryder Cup team and that was in the last century. Not only that, Tiger's record with partners is nothing short of atrocious. He doesn't have to go 5-0, but he certainly needs to do better than 50-50 in these matches to give the U.S. a shot at victory.
Play to the Partisanship: It's very un-golf-like to fist pump and raise the roof with cheering fans on the second hole. Those things breach normal decorum at week-in and week-out tournaments. But the Ryder Cup is different. Missed putts are routinely cheered on both sides of the pond. And the eruptions that accompany birdies will echo throughout the course.
The Europeans know the crowd will play a big role in these matches. That's why they've gone out of their way to make friends.
It took Graeme McDowell 10 minutes to walk 20 feet between 11 green and 12 tee on Tuesday as he stopped to sign every autograph and shake every hand. Justin Rose, not known for his large U.S. following, wore a Cubs cap on Thursday and acknowledged every "Let's go Cubbies" shout that he heard.
No one wants etiquette to get away from them, but there is nothing wrong with U.S. players engaging their 13th Man. They will need him if they hope to pull off a victory.
- Tiger Woods