40th Ryder Cup Preview

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40th Ryder Cup Preview
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It’s been almost two years since Martin Kaymer completed the European comeback at Medinah to steal the 2012 Ryder Cup trophy out of the hands of the Americans. For the Yanks, the hour for revenge is near at Gleneagles in Scotland.

While perception and reality do not always align, the thought that Team Europe is the heavy favorite on its home turf this week seems to agree with the stat sheet. Of the 12 Euros, the nine who have previous experience boast a 69-42-18 overall record, with only Henrik Stenson (2-3-2) owning a losing personal record. The Americans offer a 45-52-19 record, with Jim Furyk’s 9-17-4 the ugly elephant in the room. Is it too late for Furyk to hand his jersey over to Billy Horschel?

As for the format, there will be four matches each of four-ball and foursomes on both Friday and Saturday. The competition will conclude with the infamous Sunday singles during which all 24 will play. There will be four points up for grabs in each of the first four sessions, and 12 on the line in singles. Europe needs 14 points to retain the cup, while the U.S. squad needs 14½ to claim victory.

Below is a breakdown of each of the teams with the players listed alphabetically:

The Challengers (Team USA)

Team USA will win if: It’s all about the new blood. Young players like Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth could be the spark the U.S. needs to finally hold the Ryder Cup again.

Team USA will lose if: Veterans like Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson can’t amass winning records for the week.

Keegan Bradley

Overall Record: 3-1-0

Singles: 0-1-0

Foursomes: 2-0-0

Four-ball: 1-0-0

The skinny: Partnered with Phil Mickelson in each of the first three sessions at Medinah and went undefeated. The twosome famously sat out the fourth session, which is when the tide began to turn in favor of the Euros.

What to expect: Part of the reason for Tom Watson burning a captain’s pick on Bradley was to reunite him with Lefty. At a minimum, expect to see two Bradley/Mickelson matchups. Unless they start 0-2-0, they could play together three or four times. Should Mickelson not have enough gas in the tank for a fourth session, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bradley jump in with another strong, young American like Rickie Fowler or Jordan Spieth.

Prediction: Bradley battles hard for Team USA and keeps them in the game with a 2-2-1 record.

Rickie Fowler

Overall Record: 0-1-2

Singles: 0-0-1

Foursomes: 0-0-1

Four-ball: 0-1-0

The skinny: He must play better than he did in 2010 for the Americans to have any chance at pulling off the upset. Given his play in the major championships this season, it’s reasonable to expect an uptick. His partners in 2010 were Furyk (foursomes) and Mickelson (four-ball), but it seems somewhat unlikely that he will team up with either of them again.

What to expect: One has to think that Tom Watson won’t waste any time getting the young stud on the course Friday morning. There isn’t an obvious choice for a partner, but one possibility is Matt Kuchar. Kuchar sports a 2-0-2 record in four-ball (Friday morning's format) and none of his previous partners made the team. Bubba Watson is another possibility, though he has solid history with Webb Simpson. Watson is 3-1-1 in four-ball and captain Watson may choose to sit Simpson due to inconsistent play leading into the week.

Prediction: He could be the American MVP, going 2-1-1 including a Singles win.

Jim Furyk

Overall Record: 9-17-4

Singles: 4-3-1

Foursomes: 4-6-2

Four-ball: 1-8-1

The skinny: Tom Watson has to learn from the past and keep Furyk on the bench during both four-ball sessions. The captain can trot Furyk out for the Friday afternoon foursomes match. Whatever Watson does, he can’t let Furyk lose the Cup.

What to expect: It will be tempting due to his current form to throw Furyk into the mix for three of the four team sessions. The smart play may be to send him out with a rookie like Jimmy Walker in Friday afternoon foursomes and go from there.

Prediction: If he limits the damage to 1-2-0 or 1-1-1, the U.S. still has a shot. I’ll stick to the history books and go 1-2-0.

Zach Johnson

Overall Record: 6-4-1

Singles: 2-1-0

Foursomes: 3-2-1

Four-ball: 1-1-0

The skinny: ZJ is one of the cooler U.S. players entering the week, but potentially one of the most important given his past record in this event. He found a strong partner in Jason Dufner back in 2012, but Dufner isn’t on the team in large part due to injury.

What to expect: Went 1-1-0 in foursomes action when paired with Hunter Mahan, so that could be an option. Johnson doesn’t have a losing record in any format, meaning he could float well between partners and formats.

Prediction: Gritty enough to contend in any match and battles to a 1-1-2 record.

Matt Kuchar

Overall Record: 3-2-2

Singles: 0-2-0

Foursomes: 1-0-0

Four-ball: 2-0-2

The skinny: The veteran should pair well with anyone and has been a top-10 machine for much of the year. Record is telling, in that he’s never lost a team match and has excelled in four-ball.

What to expect: Probably no reason to leave him on the bench on Friday morning. If he catches a groove early, he could be pivotal for the U.S. squad’s chances at pulling an upset. Has the game and the disposition to literally play with anyone on the team.

Prediction: Should play both four-ball sessions and likely one of the foursomes en route to a 2-2-0 record.

Hunter Mahan

Overall Record: 3-2-3

Singles: 0-1-1

Foursomes: 2-1-1

Four-ball: 1-0-1

The skinny: Enjoyed the majority of his success alongside Justin Leonard in 2008, going 2-0-1. Mahan played with Mickelson once in 2008, earning a halve, and with Zach Johnson twice in 2010, going 1-1-0 in foursomes.

What to expect: Since winning The Barclays, he’s fallen off the map. Unless he lights it up in the practice sessions, it’s reasonable to think that his playing opportunities will be limited to three, including singles. A Friday afternoon tee time with Zach Johnson in foursomes could be his first action.

Prediction: Has some positive experience in this format, so it’s doubtful that he gets skunked. Something along the lines of 1-1-1 sounds right.

Phil Mickelson

Overall Record: 14-18-6

Singles: 4-5-1

Foursomes: 4-5-4

Four-ball: 6-8-2

The skinny: Should follow a similar script to 2012 when he played three of the four team matches and skipped one to rest for singles. A steady dose of Keegan Bradley should be expected, but if they struggle to get the magic going early it could lead to more bench time for Mickelson or a chance to play with another youngster.

What to expect: Almost a lock that he will go out in both Friday matches alongside Bradley. While a hot Bradley could end up playing all four team matches, it’s doubtful Mickelson will play more than three.

Prediction: Given his form in 2014, it’s fair to expect a slight regression. He’ll go 1-1-1 with Bradley before dropping his singles match to end up 1-2-1.

Patrick Reed

Overall Record: Rookie

The skinny: All things considered, he’s been a wildly erratic player in 2013-14. His highs have been superb, but he misses have been equally bad. A true wildcard in this format.

What to expect: The rumor mill tends to indicate that he and fellow rookie, Jordan Spieth, may be a likely pairing. Spieth didn’t play all that well in the Presidents Cup last year, so mixing it up with Reed could prove to be a worthy roll of the dice.

Prediction: I could see him going 5-0-0 and I could see him going 0-3-0. I’ll hedge and say 1-2-0.

Webb Simpson

Overall Record: 2-2-0

Singles: 0-1-0

Foursomes: 0-1-0

Four-ball: 2-0-0

The skinny: One of the three captain’s picks with Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan. Simpson may carry the burden of being the most controversial. His value to the team is his ability to get the best out of Bubba Watson. If he can repeat his 2-1-0 record with Bubba this weekend, he will have made Tom Watson look like a genius.

What to expect: There is little doubt that his 2-0-0 mark with Bubba in four-ball in 2012 will dictate that they will go out in the first four-ball session on Friday morning this week. If they win or halve that point, it should be a lock that they will get the call in Saturday four-ball action. How well Simpson plays individually will likely determine if he gets a shot in either or both foursomes matches.

Prediction: Simpson and Watson go 1-0-1 in two team sessions due in large part to Bubba and Webb loses his singles match to go 1-1-1 for the week.

Jordan Spieth

Overall Record: Rookie

The skinny: As mentioned in the Reed capsule, it seems somewhat likely that Spieth will tee it up with him at some point early. Unlike Reed, Spieth could probably gel with almost anyone on the team. He needs to play better than he did in the 2013 Presidents Cup (2-2-0) if the U.S. is to win the Ryder Cup.

What to expect: Expect captain Watson to closely monitor Spieth’s play in the early team competitions, as he could move him around to other partners if he performs well. If the U.S. is to get the monkey off their collective backs and win the Cup, they need the young blood to do their part.

Prediction: Plays four of the five sessions and ends the week 2-1-1.

Jimmy Walker

Overall Record: Rookie

The skinny: He’s one of the more interesting options for the U.S. squad. His weakness is driving accuracy, which could hint to him being a better fit for four-ball over foursomes. Trying him out with several different partners seems like a decent idea.

What to expect: This is a big stage, so the temptation will be to place him with an experienced partner. His partnership could come down to with whom he gels in the team room and the practice rounds.

Prediction: Like the other rookies, the Cup could come down to how he adjusts. Feels like he’s headed towards a 1-1-1 record unless he really clicks with his first partner and they stay together.

Bubba Watson

Overall Record: 5-5-1

Singles: 1-1-0

Foursomes: 1-2-0

Four-ball: 3-1-1

The skinny: He's the reason it made sense for Tom Watson to take Webb Simpson with a captain’s pick. Bubba and Simpson are 2-0-0 in four-ball, so it is inevitable that they will give it a go.

What to expect: Bubba and Webb will be in the first four-ball session on Friday morning. How well they play in that session should have an impact on how many sessions they play both individually and as a twosome. We all know that the lefty plays his best when the demons in his head are quiet, and Simpson brings out happy Bubba.

Prediction: 2-1-1

Defending Champions (Team Europe)

Team Europe will win if: Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood play like Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood do in Ryder Cups. It will be a nice bonus if one or more of the rookies depart Gleneagles with a winning individual record.

Team Europe will lose if: Poults and Westy play the Ryder Cup like they have the rest of 2014 and stars like McIlroy and Garcia can’t pick up enough of the slack to carry the squad.

Thomas Bjorn

Career Record: 3-2-1

Singles: 1-0-1

Foursomes: 0-2-0

Four-ball: 2-0-0

The skinny: Hasn’t played in the Ryder Cup since 2002, but his experience was generally good. He’ll have a tough time earning tee times on this deep team.

What to expect: Given his 2-0-0 four-ball record, that’s where he is likely to be utilized. Since none of his previous Ryder Cup partners are on this squad, it would seem to make sense to pair him with one of the three rookies. Perhaps he could introduce Stephen Gallacher to the competition in the first session on Friday morning, as the native Scots would love to see Gallacher out early.

Prediction: Two foursomes matches and a singles sound about right, as does a 1-1-1 record.

Jamie Donaldson

Career Record: Rookie

The skinny: This is a bit of a shot in the dark, both in terms of partners and performance. With a win, a seventh and a tie for fourth in his last three starts, seems as though he has the hot hand.

What to expect: With a team loaded with veteran leadership, he can be brought along slowly and will have a hard time earning more than three sessions of play.

Prediction: Due to his current form, I'll say 2-1-0.

Victor Dubuisson

Career Record: Rookie

The skinny: His performance in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship has to stand out in everyone’s mind. His final-match scrambling from out of everything short of a trash can should translate well to the Ryder Cup.

What to expect: Tied for ninth in the Open Championship and shared seventh at the PGA, but has played just one time since. It’s hard to get a read on his form.

Prediction: Will be a tough out, but ultimately goes 1-2-0.

Stephen Gallacher

Career Record: Rookie

The skinny: The pride of Scotland will feel more emotion than anyone at Gleneagles. There should be enormous pressure to get him out early, so don’t be surprised if Paul McGinley throws him out in the first session of four-ball on Friday morning. As mentioned above, a veteran and four-ball stud like Thomas Bjorn would make a lot of sense as a partner.

What to expect: Plenty of nerves, as the eyes of Scotland will be on their native son.

Prediction: He struggles early, but bounces back from an 0-2-0 record in the team sessions to win his singles match.

Sergio Garcia

Career Record: 16-8-4

Singles: 2-4-0

Foursomes: 8-2-1

Four-ball: 6-2-3

The skinny: He could miss his recent partner, Luke Donald, more than people think. The two were quite the duo over the last few Cups. Garcia has an excellent record with Lee Westwood, going 3-0-2 in foursomes and 1-1-0 in four-ball, so expect them to team up on more than one occasion.

What to expect: In addition to some action with Westwood, it’s possible that the Spaniard draws a pairing with a player that emerges with a hot hand in latter sessions should Westy struggle. For the European’s to retain the Cup, Garcia must produce a winning record.

Prediction: 3-1-1 including a rare singles triumph.

Martin Kaymer

Career Record: 3-2-1

Singles: 1-1-0

Foursomes: 0-0-1

Four-ball: 2-1-0

The skinny: After clinching the Cup for the Euros in 2012, he should get more action than the two sessions in which he competed at Medinah.

What to expect: Compiled a 1-0-1 record with Lee Westwood, a 1-0-0 mark with Ian Poulter and a 0-1-0 clip with Justin Rose. This could be an interesting game of musical chairs, as it seems like Westwood could roll with Garcia and Poulter with Rose. Perhaps Kaymer catches on with Henrik Stenson.

Prediction: The German departs Gleneagles with a 2-2-0 mark and remains above .500 for his Ryder Cup career.

Graeme McDowell

Career Record: 5-5-2

Singles: 2-1-0

Foursomes: 2-2-1

Four-ball: 1-2-1

The skinny: Solid, but not spectacular record by European standards. He has averaged exactly four sessions in each of his first three Ryder Cups.

What to expect: Went 2-2-0 as a foursomes partner with Rory McIlroy over the last two Ryder Cups, so that could be a pretty safe bet for a Friday afternoon grouping. He’s also 1-0 with Ian Poulter in four-ball, adding to the options for captain McGinley. It wouldn’t be a complete shocker to see him usher out a rookie at some point.

Prediction: Could be due for a bit of a letdown and a 1-2-1 record.

Rory McIlroy

Career Record: 4-3-2

Singles: 1-0-1

Foursomes: 2-2-0

Four-ball: 1-1-1

The skinny: We’ve already established that he and G-Mac are staring a foursomes tee time in the face, with each of McIlroy’s four sessions in that format played with McDowell as a partner. Interestingly enough, McIlroy went 1-0-0 with Ian Poulter in four-ball action for his only win in that format. Of course, that was primarily all Englishman late on Saturday at Medinah.

What to expect: Hard to see him emerging over Garica, Poulter or Westwood as the leader of this team, but he may need to make up for the recent average play of Poulter and Westy. If he gets hot, the U.S. team is in trouble.

Prediction: Can’t carry McDowell in both foursomes sessions and McIlroy ultimately settles for a 2-2-0 record.

Ian Poulter

Overall Record: 12-3-0

Singles: 4-0-0

Foursomes: 4-1-0

Four-ball: 4-2-0

The skinny: While he has not played all that well in 2014, it’s impossible to think that ol' Crazy Eyes won’t show up with his A-game at Gleneagles.

What to expect: It’s hard to find a flaw with his record involving any of his 2014 teammates, going 4-1-0 with Justin Rose and 1-0-0 each with Kaymer, McDowell and McIlroy. Considering his five starts alongside Rose is easily the most with any current teammate, it’s hard not to fathom Poulter going out with his fellow Englishman on Friday morning.

Prediction: In some ways, I can’t believe that I’m not predicting him to 5-0-0. The truth is, he doesn’t pass the eye test on the course right now and it will be the emotion that allows him to break even at 2-2-0.

Justin Rose

Overall Record: 6-3-0

Singles: 2-0-0

Foursomes: 3-1-0

Four-ball: 1-2-0

The skinny: The solid ball-striker has and will continue to give Ian Poulter solid looks at birdie in foursomes. Rose is a veteran member of the European squad and is in his prime. What’s not to like?

What to expect: He’ll likely pair with Poulter in both sessions of foursomes, but one could see him breaking away to play a four-ball with someone like Martin Kaymer to mix it up a bit.

Prediction: Emerges with a 2-1-1 winning record.

Henrik Stenson

Overall Record: 2-3-2

Singles: 1-1-0

Foursomes: 1-1-1

Four-ball: 0-1-1

The skinny: Despite being a two-time Ryder Cup veteran, none of his past partners are available this time around. He is the only member of the 2014 European Team with a losing overall record.

What to expect: With so many stalwarts of the European team already on the roster, Henrik could struggle to crack the starting lineup. By process of elimination, Martin Kaymer has the makings of a potential partner as do several of the rookies or even Thomas Bjorn.

Prediction: More uncertainty that certainty at this point for the Swede, and he goes 0-2-1.

Lee Westwood

Overall Record: 18-13-6

Singles: 3-5-0

Foursomes: 7-4-4

Four-ball: 8-4-2

The skinny: One of the bigger wildcards for the Euros. Past performance in this event earned him what was likely the final captain’s pick.

What to expect: As highlighted in Sergio Garcia’s profile, Westwood will likely team with the Spaniard in foursomes where they share a 3-0-2 record. It’s a bit of a guess as to with whom the Brit would team with partner in four-ball.

Prediction: Westy justifies his captain’s pick with a 2-1-0 record, due in large part to the effort of his teammates.

And the winner is ...

This should turn out to be a tighter Ryder Cup than what many people are anticipating. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood’s current form allow for a glimmer of hope for the U.S. side. When the first four sessions are completed and 16 points are distributed, the U.S. squad will take a surprising 8½-7½ lead into Sunday singles. Similar to 2012, the Europeans will answer with a 7-5 record in singles, with Stephen Gallacher’s win sealing the victory in his homeland.

Europe retains the cup.