For so many years, the Ryder Cup didn’t need a cast of stars to become the biggest spectacle in golf. The flags stitched onto the shirts and caps, and the colors on the leader boards – American red, European blue – were enough to produce raw emotion, enormous pressure and compelling theater.
And that’s what makes the 39th edition of the Ryder Cup seem even bigger.
Europe has the No. 1 player in the world on its side – Rory McIlroy – for the first time in two decades. Jim Furyk referred to the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland as a marked man because of his staggering success dating to his record eight-shot win at the PGA Championship, his second major in as many years.
He’s the best player in the world right now, and he’s going to be the toughest guy to beat, Furyk said.
The United States counters with Tiger Woods, whose game has been restored enough for him to win three times on the PGA Tour this year. Woods is even starting to figure out this Ryder Cup business, producing a winning record (6-3-0) the last two times he has played.
The quality of the rosters doesn’t stop with golf’s two biggest stars, however. For the first time in Ryder Cup history, the 24 players who will be at Medinah Country Club in the Chicago suburbs all are among the top 35 in the world ranking.
Already the most intense competition in golf, this Ryder Cup has all the trappings of a heavyweight title fight.
It does seem that way, Luke Donald said. McIlroy is on a phenomenal run. Really, everyone is coming into form.
The Americans have four players who will be making their Ryder Cup debut, though these rookies have some major experience handling pressure – Masters champion Bubba Watson, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley, who won the PGA Championship last year.
I’ve been looking at the U.S. team for a few weeks now and just going, Wow. These guys look really strong and really good,’ Graeme McDowell said. And there’s so much young blood on there now who are right up for these things. There’s a good buzz. It’s great. I think it’s set up to be an awesome Ryder Cup.
Europe has a team so strong that Padraig Harrington was left off for the first time since 1997, and the defending champion has only one rookie. That would be Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, one of the longest hitters in the game whose lone win this year came at the World Match Play Championship in Spain.
The Americans would seem to have one advantage simply by playing before a home crowd. And for Woods, it will feel like a home course. Medinah has hosted five major championships, the last one won by Woods at the PGA Championship in 2006 when he was tied with Donald going into the last round and won going away.
I personally like Medinah, Woods said with a grin.
The Americans have lost only once at home in the last 15 years – in 2004 at Oakland Hills – and most Ryder Cup veterans believe playing at home is worth a point. That was the margin at the last Ryder Cup in Wales, when it came down to the very last match.
As evenly matched as these teams appear to be, experience still favors Europe.
Not only does it have only one newcomer to the Ryder Cup, most of them are used to winning. Europe has won six of the last eight times.
They putt better than us, it seems like, in the Ryder Cup, Love said.