28 September 2012

Golf's Show-Piece Event Has No Favourites Ahead Of Friday's Foursomes

For so many years the Ryder Cup was almost seen as a pointless event that was always going to be won by the team from the west of the Atlantic. The last 18 years have seen a huge swing in momentum as Europe have won six out of eight competitions and are unbeaten at home since 1993. This September Jose Maria Olazabal's side travel to Medinah, Illinois to play in one of golf's most hyped up events: The Ryder Cup. This year there are no favourites, as although the defending champions have big names such as world number one Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and match-play specialist Ian Poulter, the Americans have an in-form Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the big-hitters, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson. 

With so many big names gearing up for this afternoon's foursomes it is very hard to pick which players will shine and which players won't. US captain Davis Love III has already made a very bold decision by sending out Cup rookie Brant Snedeker first alongside old hand Jim Furyk. Snedeker has been on great form in a season that culminated with a Tour Championship win while Furyk has shown flashes of his best, most notably in the US Open when he blew a great chance to win his second major. Love defended his decision to throw Snedeker in at the deep end: "We wanted to get Brandt going - Brandt likes to get out there and get after it." 

However they will be facing the Northern Irish juggernaut that is Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, a combination that features the world's number one and 18 golfers, as well as three major championship wins. McIlroy and 'G-Mac' will go into this one as favourites, although Furyk has done everything there is to do in the sport and Snedeker will be going out with all guns blazing. 

In the next foursomes match is probably the most successful Ryder Cup foursomes team of all-time in the shape of former world number one Donald and Spain's Sergio Garcia. Neither player have ever lost in this format with Donald holding a record of six wins out of six and Garcia unbeaten in eight matches. They are tough opponents for anyone, but if anyone can beat them then it will be the star-studded American pairing of four-time major champion Phil Mickelson and rookie Keegan Bradley, the 2011 USPGA champion. 

The third match looks to be very much in the balance with world number four Lee Westwood and Italian Francesco Molinari taking on Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner, both in the world top 20, and both very much in form. This is the battle of the 'steady eddie's' with all these players very solid from tee to green. Europe skipper Olozabal said of his decision to choose Molinari: "He's straight off the tee, he hits good iron shots. When I look at foursomes, I want to have players who are consistent and are steady from tee to green."

Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose round off the session for Europe and are up against the two old pros that are Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Both have been around for what seems like forever with Woods holding 14 major titles and Stricker being in the world top 20 for the last five years. Both have not scored as well as many would have expected in the Ryder Cup, but both will out to prove their doubters wrong this week-end. Woods said of previous matches: "I didn't earn the points I was put out there for. Hopefully I can do that this week, and hopefully the other guys can do the same and we can get this rolling."

Poulter is a well-renowned match-play player with a magnificent Ryder Cup record and won the WGC match-play title in 2010 as well as the Volvo match-play championship in 2011. Rose has been on good form and has four wins on the PGA Tour in the last three years which has resulted in a rise to a career-high of fifth in the world rankings. The last game, as ever, will be the one to watch, but all the matches have a sense of intrigue and the potential for drama surrounding them.

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