LET BATTLE COMMENCE! With the Ryder Cup returning to Scotland for only the second time in its history, European captain Paul McGinley, is wearing the expression of a man for whom Christmas has come unexpectedly early.
Martin Kaymer has won both the Players Championship and the US Open whilst Rory McIlroy, has rediscovered his imperious form, post Ms Wozkniacki, to lift both the Open and the PGA Championships.
Veteran golf writer, John Hopkins, recently wrote: ‘The leaderboard after the first round of the PGA Championship told a remarkable European story. Of the 38 from that continent who started, 27 were on or under par with three rounds to go. There were representatives from the mainstream golfing countries in Europe such as England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Spain but also Austria, Finland and Wales.’
Scarce wonder the European team, still awaiting the announcement of its wild cards at the time of writing, is odds on favorites at 8/15 with the bookmakers.
Meanwhile some of the USA team appears to have plunged into simultaneous spasm, or at least their backs have. Matt Kuchar has been struggling although has declared himself fit, but Jason Dufner, neck and shoulder; and Tiger Woods, back, have both withdrawn. It is not altogether clear what ailment Dustin Johnson is suffering from although he will not be about either.
But that hardly means the USA side will be weak. The last time the Ryder Cup returned to American soil, at Valhalla in 2008, Tiger Woods withdrew through injury and, if anything, the unity of team USA seemed far greater for the absence of the 14 times major winner.
This year’s team still includes the current Masters champion, Bubba Watson, whose game is ill suited to the links where Open Championships are held but may well find the stadium layout of the Jack Nicklaus-designed Centenary course at Gleneagles perfect for his long, soaring ball flight assuming he can keep his volatile temper under control.
Rickie Fowler has been in terrific form of late and is a young, flinty competitor who could well prove an ideal partner for Phil Mickelson, and the likes of Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker and the extremely confident Patrick Reed have all been in fine fettle this season.
The last two Ryder Cup matches have been decided by a score of 14 ½ to 13 ½ whilst in nine of the past 13 contests there has never been any more than two points separating the teams. In many instances Europe was very much the underdog and few would have given Jose Maria Olzabal’s side at Medinah a prayer when going into the last day’s singles’ matches. The USA needed a mere 4 ½ points from 12 to regain the trophy and managed only three wins and a half.
Then there is the intense pressure that the Ryder Cup puts on the players. Barry Lane, who made his one appearance at the Ryder Cup in 1993, recalls that he was so nervous before he teed off he could barely manage to grip the club.
Will debutants Victor Dubuisson or Jamie Donaldson be able to step up to the plate in the manner that Phil Price of Wales did so heroically in 2002? Price was ranked 119th in the world back then but still went onto defeat Phil Mickelson, then the world’s number two, helping secure a European victory at the Belfry.
Finally there is the inspirational figure of Tom Watson as captain of the USA side. Jack Nicklaus does not rate the significance of Ryder Cup captains over much, preferring to leave the big decisions to the players when it comes to pairings. But at the helm of an unfancied American side, Watson will be both a steadying and motivating presence.
So, amongst the wildly infuriating cries of ‘Geddindahole’ and the monotonous chanting of ‘USA, USA’ we should prepare ourselves for another dramatic, fluctuating and wildly exciting three days. Let battle commence indeed!