Ryder Cup 2018 Preview: The European view
After two years, the most anticipated event in golf is back, as France hosts its first ever Ryder Cup this weekend. In 2016 Europe were taken apart at Hazeltine, will it be different this year? Kris Gourlay previews.
2018 has been a ground-breaking year for golf. The resurgence of Tiger Woods, carding his first PGA tour win since 2013, Brooks Koepka, making history by winning two majors in the same year and Francesco Molinari, out of nowhere, sweeping aside all competition to take the Claret Jug in the Scotland, moving himself into the top 10 in world golf. So, as you can imagine, the 42nd Ryder Cup, held in Guyancourt, near the beautiful city of Paris, is going to be a sea of emotions.
Team Europe head to Le Golf National, as, in my opinion, underdogs. USA are not only the defending champions, but out of the four majors played this year, three of them were won by Americans, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka, taking two, and Francesco Molinari taking one. Other notable players who had a great year that are part of team USA are Bryson DeChambeau, winning the first two FedEx cup events, Justin Thomas, with three PGA tour wins this year, including the WGC Bridgestone Championship, and of course, world number one, Dustin Johnson.
Europe, however, have a team made up of major Championship winners, the 2018 FedEx Cup champion, and Tommy Fleetwood, who continues to impress and win fans over on the PGA tour and will certainly feel like a win at a Major Championship is coming his way soon. The team also have a great record in Europe, having won the last five matches in Europe, with USA failing to win in Europe since 1993.
Having only missed one Ryder Cup since he turned pro in 1999, Spaniard Sergio Garcia is the most experienced member of team Europe. 2018 hasn’t been the best year for Sergio, slipping to 28th in the world, but his knowledge of the game will play into Europe’s hands at some point as the veteran golfer, who ended his long-awaited run without a major last year by winning the Masters, is one of the most complete golfers of our generation. Garcia’s best result in 2018 was 4th place at the Valspar Championship, but he will know that form goes out the window in Ryder Cup matches, it’s all about composure and assurance.
Also returning for team Europe, after four straight appearances, is Northern Irishman, and fan-favourite, Rory McIlroy. Rory has had a very mixed emotions year, finishing in the top ten at the Open Championship and Masters, also finishing runner-up to Francesco Molinari at The Scottish Open, doing everything in his power to steal the show late on but his efforts were in vain. McIlroy did, however, win the prestigious Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and finished runner-up in two other events on the PGA tour, the Dubai Desert Classic and the BMW PGA Championship. Rory travels to France 6th in the world and hoping to round his year off by taking the Ryder Cup back off the Americans, having set the golfing world light in 2016 with his Sunday showdown with Patrick Reed.
FedEx cup winner and world number two, Justin Rose, starts the Ryder Cup as arguably the most in-form player in the world right now. Rose has appeared in four Ryder Cup’s with his first coming at Valhalla Golf Club in the states. With two wins in 2012 and 2014 and two losses in 2008 and 2016, Rose has experienced it all, the ups and downs, the dominance and anguish. Rose has had a more than satisfactory year, finishing in the top 19 in all four majors, winning the FedEx cup of course, and winning the Fort Worth Invitational. Up until last week, Rose was world number one, for the first time in his career, but a poor final day at the Tour Championship at East Lake last week put him below Dustin Johnson.
The last of the returnees is Swede, Henrik Stenson. This will be Stenson’s fifth Ryder Cup, with appearances in 2006, 2008, 2014 and 2016. Stenson is also a captains pick, which means he did not qualify for the team on points, but on the good faith of his captain, Thomas Bjorn, based on his past achievements and priceless experience. Henrik had a memorable debut at the K club in Ryder 2006 as he putted the winning hole for team Europe, ensuring their triumph, he has, However, had a below-par year in terms of success, recording no wins, but a tied 5th place at the Masters and tied 6th at the US Open. Stenson comes into the competition placed 24th in the world, and a lot to prove.
The first of five newcomers for team Europe is the ever-popular Tommy Fleetwood. Fleetwood may be a rookie in terms of the Ryder Cup, but has impressed both on the European Tour, winning the 2017 race to Dubai, but also the PGA tour as he tied the record for the lowest ever round in a major at the U.S Open this year with a 63 (-7). Fleetwood will be carrying a lot of confidence into the Ryder Cup on Friday, having climbed all the way to 12th in the world rankings, so be sure to keep an eye on him.
Next up is a golfing ‘hot head’ in Tyrell Hatton. The Englishman currently sits at 26th in the world and qualified for the team with the 3rd best points total. Hatton really took off in 2017 when his dream of a Ryder Cup appearance started to look like reality, winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship for the second year running, followed by a win at the Italian Open, on the European Tour, the week after. Hatton also successfully made the cut in all four majors in 2018, with two impressive top ten finishes as well.
Henrik Stenson’s fellow countryman, Alex Noren, is the next rookie on the team, and will probably be considered as one of the weaker and less experienced members of team Europe. Noren plays mostly on the European tour, and although it is considered less exciting than the PGA, he has picked up some impressive wins, including two Rolex Series events at the 2017 BMW PGA Championship and the 2018 NHA Open De France. Noren may be one of the least talked about players for the team, but partnered with someone with experience, he may prove a lot of people wrong.
The remaining rookie’s include Spaniard Jon Rahm and Dane, Thorbjorn Olsen. Rahm has enjoyed a great year and could partner up with Sergio Garcia to recreate the infamous Garcia-Cabrero-bello partnership, coming back from four points behind with six remaining to halve the hole against Spieth and Reed. Olsen has gone relatively under the radar and while it is unclear how much he will feature, he has had an impressive 2017 on the European Tour, winning the Italian Open and recording four top six finishes. Rahm, who made the team at the top of the points list, won his 4th event on the PGA tour this year in only 38 starts, a ratio only bettered by the great Tiger Woods, an early indicator of how much talent he has.
First up, returning to the Ryder Cup after a six-year absence, is Italian Francesco Molinari. After winning The Open at Carnoustie at the start of the major season, Molinari enjoyed perhaps the best run of form in his career. As a forgotten man, 2018 has certainly been his comeback year, becoming the first Italian to win a major, also coming tied sixth at the US PGA Championship as well as wins at the BMW PGA Championship on the European tour and another first place at the Quicken Loans National.
Another player returning to the Ryder Cup is Englishman Paul Casey. Much like Molinari, Casey has used 2018 to propel back into the world’s top 25 golfers and performed brilliantly in the FedEx cup. Although his attitude and team spirit has been heavily questioned in the run-up the Ryder Cup, nobody can deny Casey has done enough to earn his place on the team. He also has a little bit of history in the Ryder Cup, becoming only the 6th player to ever hit a hole-in-one in the competition, when he hit an ace back in 2006 at the K club.
Last, but not least, is Ian Poulter, Mr Europe. Poulter is the ‘alpha male’ of the team and is one of the most supported players due to his fantastic characteristics and passion for the game. Although Poulter has struggled with injuries and form since 2016, he will no doubt he a valuable asset to team Europe, whether it’s forming a new partnership with one of the rookies or dominating once again in the singles on Sunday.
Poulter has a Ryder Cup points return of 72, the highest for anyone for Europe. Although Ian has struggled this year, he still managed to record a win on tour at the Houston Open, he also led on the first day of the U.S Open. There is no doubt that all eyes will be fixed on Poulter from day one, being one of few on the team that may scare USA a little with his previous record and history in the competition.