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MEDINAH, Ill. — Before the first ball is struck Friday, anyone interested in the 39th Ryder Cup Matches can scrutinize the rosters, consider some intangibles, and take an educated stab at predicting what will happen this weekend at Medinah Country Club.
Or, you can simply look at recent history and come to a reasonable conclusion: Europe will beat the United States and win the Ryder Cup for the seventh time in the last nine meetings.
Will it? Well, that remains to be seen. But the Euros are enjoying their greatest run of success in the history of this no-pay, all-pride exhibition, which began in 1927 at Worcester Country Club (and was won convincingly by the hosts). In fact, Europe owns more Ryder Cup titles since 1995 (six) than it won over the first 67 years (five).
Big believer in fate, are you? (Ben Crenshaw should copyright that phrase.) Europe’s dominance in the past eight Ryder Cups is relevant because 11 of the 12 players on this year’s team have experienced the matches before, and nine have been on a winning side.
The only three who haven’t: first-timer Nicolas Colsaerts, Justin Rose (who played in 2008, when the US won at Valhalla), and Paul Lawrie, whose only taste of the Ryder Cup came in 1999 at The Country Club, where he and his mates were steamrolled on a historic Sunday by Crenshaw’s crew. Lawrie won three of his five matches in Brookline, though, and halved a fourth.
Lawrie is not alone in owning a winning Ryder Cup record. Seven teammates have won more matches than they’ve lost, the exceptions being Peter Hanson (1-2-0) and Francesco Molinari (0-2-1). But those still came in a winning team effort two years ago in Wales, at Celtic Manor.
It stands to reason, with so much experience on Team Europe and so much success, that none of the eight Americans with previous Ryder Cup experience have winning records. Only four — Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, and Tiger Woods — have ever been on a victorious Ryder Cup team.
If winning breeds winning, the Yanks have a tough hill to climb, even though they’re probably, once again, the favorites on paper. If nothing else, this Ryder Cup will feature a collection of overall talent not seen in some time, or maybe ever, at the biennial gathering, giving it a boost and creating a buzz it doesn’t need but will always accept.
The lowest European in this week’s world golf ranking is Colsaerts, at No. 35, and they have Nos. 1, 3, 4, and 5. All 12 US players are among the top 23, they have combined for 23 major championships, and, most importantly, they’re playing in front of their home fans.
Say what you want about a home-field advantage in golf, but the Ryder Cup has mostly held serve according to venue. Europe won the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan, the only time in the last seven occasions that the visitors have triumphed.
The Euros dusted the Americans that year, the first of two consecutive 18.5-9.5 thrashings that firmly established them as Ryder Cup kings. Throw in the 15.5-12.5 win in 2002, and the Europeans won 52.5 of a possible 84 points in a spotless six-year stretch, numbers not seen since the US won 12 Ryder Cups and tied one, with no losses, from 1959-83.
It’s quite clear what has been the cause of Europe’s recent dominance. It’s a powerful combination, really, that could easily play out again this week.
■ Star power: All good teams, even throwing together 12 men who compete against each other the rest of the year, can point to an alpha leader who leads by example but isn’t afraid to speak up when needed. Since the mid-1980s, when the Ryder Cup started becoming competitive, the Europeans have had such a leader: Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie.
Rory McIlroy fits the bill this year. He is the youngest of the 24 competitors, but the 23-year-old will be a marked man (Furyk’s words) at Medinah because nobody has played better over the past six weeks.
He also has expressed a willingness to take more of a leadership role on his second team. He’ll be Europe’s anchor.
■ Slights and synchronicity. Don’t discount how motivated Europe has been the past two decades when hearing from some corners that it has little chance of winning. Ballesteros fed off that, so expect his longtime Ryder Cup sidekick, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, to push all the right buttons and say all the right things in an attempt to motivate his team. He learned from the best.
What’s also not debatable is how much Europe’s dozen has embraced the team concept. The US players will dispute this, but Europe has been able to rally around its cause confidently and more consistently than the Americans. The Europeans don’t mind being the perceived underdogs. Having solid captains helps, but they’re not the ones playing. Which brings us to our final key reason.Continued...