The United States has assembled arguably the most talented Ryder Cup roster in history, so this week’s event at Le Golf National in Paris should end with Team USA hoisting the cup on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.
The 12 players on captain Jim Furyk’s roster AVERAGE a world ranking of No. 11 — the lowest in the history of the event on either side.
The U.S. also shook the proverbial Ryder Cup monkey off its back with a dominating performance at Hazeltine two years ago.
Brooks Koepka has pocketed three of the eight major titles since then, with Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed each claiming one. Team USA 6, Team Europe 2.
And the Americans boast the resurgent Tiger Woods, who is coming off his first tour victory in five years and has five top-10s in his past eight events.
Still, there are fissures in the statistical invincibility. Five reasons Team USA will lose the 42nd Ryder Cup:
5. Fatigue: “It’s been a long season” has been a familiar refrain among the players this week, most of whom will tee of on Friday, just five days removed from completing a grueling four-event playoff stretch over five weeks. Just hours after the Tour Championship concluded, the players were on an overseas charter that landed after noon on Monday.
Bubba Watson admitted he’s battling a cold bug that has hit others in the locker room as well. And Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth have been wearing athletic tape to help with minor arthritis issues in their wrists.
The players are running on fumes, with Furyk praying the super-charged atmosphere of the Ryder Cup will provide the adrenaline needed for the final push.
4. Top players in poor form: Team USA is the clear favorite on paper, but several prominent players enter the week coming off poor results. Koepka, Reed, Watson and Phil Mickelson occupied the bottom four spots at the Tour Championship, with Mickelson failing to post better than a 2-over 72 in four rounds at East Lake.
He poses a particularly dicey issue for Furyk, who used one of his four captain’s picks on the 48-year-old. Mickelson finished 58th in the 70-player field at the BMW Championship and surmised he is coming off the two works putting weeks of his career. It will be interesting to see how much Furyk decides to play Mickelson, who will be appearing in a record 12th Ryder Cup but sports a mediocre 18-20-7 career record.
3. Home-course advantage: The U.S. hasn’t won on foreign soil since 1993, when Spieth was only 2 months old and Thomas was all of 5 months. Chants of “Ole, ole, ole, ole” will ring through the players’ ears well past Sunday’s singles matches.
The U.S. players received a huge boost from the Hazeltine crowd two years ago, and the Europeans figure to enjoy the same home-course atmosphere this week in Paris.
2. Le Golf National: About the course itself. It has received rave reviews from both sides, but it’s not a bomber’s paradise. It’s a second-shot golf course that will require accurate drives with the players predicting some lies in the rough will force layups.
That takes some of the advantage away from the big-hitting Americans, with the likes of Johnson, Koepka, Watson, Thomas and Tony Finau likely to hit less than a driver on many holes to find the short grass.
1. Team Europe is ... GOOD: For all the talk about how loaded the U.S. squad is, the Europeans can argue they are fielding their best group ever as well.
No one is playing more consistently of late than England’s Justin Rose, who briefly “rose’ to No. 1 in the world earlier this month. Italy’s Francesco Molinari has a miserable 0-4-2 record in two previous Ryder Cup appearances, but was the hottest golfer on the planet over the summer, capping a string of five wins or runner-up finishes in a six-event span with his first major title at The Open.
The list goes on with the likes of bombers Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, veterans Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, as well as Tommy Fleetwood, the 12th-ranked Englishman with a penchant for going on ridiculous hot streaks. And there’s always the feisty Ian Poulter, who has sunk some of the most memorable and clutch putts in the event’s history.
The 42nd Ryder Cup promises to be a fascinating showdown full of intense battles. But don’t estimate this European side, which Molinari called the best team he’s ever been a part of.
It’s not bluster, and the 12 men competing for captain Thomas Bjorn this week have all the weapons needed to extend the Americans’ drought on foreign soil for another four years.
—Derek Harper, Field Level Media