Time to panic or time to believe? Those are the questions circling around the American Ryder Cup team, that is either a few weeks away from another monumental win with the lesser of talent, or another loss at the hands of a deeper, stronger European team.
If you want to talk about challenges, you can look no further than that of Corey Pavin, a man named captain of this United States team back when it looked like it would be something special. While the matches haven't been played out yet, it sure seems that this task has taken on a whole other facade.
That isn't just because of a man named Tiger Woods, someone we figured would be a fixture on the Ryder Cup team for decades to come. Still outside the top eight in earnings, Tiger looks way more likely to miss his second straight team event against Europe than to play in it. Along with Tiger is Anthony Kim, the bright star in '08 that had more fun beating those pesky Europeans than any American in years. His game, mainly because of health issues, is far from spectacular, and will take a ton of practice in the next few weeks to sharpen up enough to be reliable for Pavin.
And then you have Phil Mickelson, the top point-earner for the United States. A hopeful leader to begin the year, Lefty looks as lost on the golf course as his former playing partner in a failed attempt by Hal Sutton years ago. Phil's inability to find the fairway or the bottom of the cup makes the top-heavy American team look doubtful.
But then you must look at the bright spots. Hunter Mahan won a week ago at the Bridgestone, and looks like he will bring the same form to Wales as he had in Kentucky. Along with Mahan is a top-10 machine in Matt Kuchar, who will be playing his first Ryder Cup but can definitely add some consistency to a team of streakers. Also, if you are looking for a veteran catching his stride, you can't look past Jim Furyk, who closed out a great Bridgestone Invitational with a 64, even with an unlucky break at the par-5 16th.
Being the on-paper favorite of the Ryder Cup has never really mattered. In 2008, at Valhalla, the Americans were heading in without Tiger, and were the underdogs of all underdogs, but good chemistry and some breakthrough stars helped secure the win.
That said, you can't help but look at the difference in talent between these two squads. Without Woods, this team could boast just three major winners, and only one multiple major winner in Phil Mickelson. We could be talking about a fourball team of Jeff Overton and Matt Kuchar, hardly the types of names that are going to ring fear in the always perked-up ears of Colin Montgomerie.
Basically it comes down to this ... Whistling Straits will either get this country excited, or very, very nervous about venturing across the pond to take on the heavyweights.