Team Europe comes into this Ryder Cup with an interesting sort of expectations. Despite having FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose, and fellow Ryder legends Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, they still find themselves as the underdogs.
And this is a Europe team that hasn’t lost a Cup in Europe in 25 years. A team that has several golfers who have performed well at Le Golf National just outside of Paris. And despite their loss at Hazeltine two years ago, they were coming off a string of three victories against the Americans. But being the underdog has a lot less to do with their talent and history as it does with the team they’re facing.
Team USA’s roster reads like a who’s who of golfing elite, with Major winners at every corner. It’s a young, vibrant squad at the top of their individual games in many instances, but still a team with plenty of experience. But will they outperform Europe on a course that the home team has taken fondly to? Does Europe have the perfect blend of veteran presence and youthful power?
Here’s a look at their group, with a prediction for the Cup at the bottom.
Team Europe: +145 to Win (Bovada)
Thomas Bjorn, Captain
Bjorn’s (Denmark) three appearances as a player were spread far out. But all ended in wins for Team Europe.
He has experience as a vice-captain and has done a bang-up job at gelling with the players. He brings a loose, fun, but competitive attitude to the team, and there are plenty of veterans on this squad that seemed to have bought into his style.
It seems like it’s been a lifetime since the last time Luke Donald (England) was the No. 1 player in the world. Six years ago, he and then-newcomer Rory McIlroy took turns being on top of the game.
Now Donald will be a vice-captain for a team that McIlroy (Northern Ireland) will lead on the course. And while the former player’s days on the tour may be numbered with an ailing back, he has been able to put a lot of focus into helping this team.
He’s joined by three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington (Republic of Ireland), who will be a poised voice of reason if things start to head south for the Europeans. Perfectly countering him will be Lee Westwood (England), a fiery competitor and former world No.1.
Westwood (20-18-6) has played on 10 different Ryder Cup teams. It’s safe to say he knows the dynamics of this team. The same could be said for Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland), who played terrifically in the 2014 Ryder, his fourth in total. He also won the Alstom Open de France at this very course in 2013 and 2014.
Robert Karlsson is probably the most surprising addition to the list. But the Swede is a veteran of the European Tour and also played well (finished 4th) when at Le Golf in 2014. Look for him and McDowell to have plenty of insight on maneuvering the course.
Paul Casey: His best moment may be the hole-in-one he made at the 2006 Ryder Cup. But Casey (England) has a lot more than that to bring to the table. He’s a good iron player who won’t lose his team many matches, even if he doesn’t necessarily take the rounds by storm either. Casey had a good showing at the Tour Championship, tying for 11th. But we’ll see if he plays that much after a rough first round of practice to start the week.
Tommy Fleetwood: This Brit made himself an obvious inclusion a while back. Not only is being in the top-20 of the FedEx Cup standings and in three of his last four tournaments enough. He also won the French Open at Le Golf National in 2017. And he did so with a -12, the second-lowest winning score of the decade at the tournament. He’s become a well-balanced golfer with competitive driving skills and capable-if-not-phenomenal putting.
Sergio Garcia: He’s an absolute legend at the Ryder. He’s played in eight straight Ryder Cups, compiling a 19-11-7 record. He’s even grabbed 4 ½ of 5 possible points at the Cup when it was played at Oakland Hills in 2004. Nowadays, Garcia (Spain) is showing he’s on the tail-end of a magnificent career that culminated with last year’s Masters’ win. Don’t expect him to give much breathing room to competitors though.
Tyrrell Hatton: Yet another British player (there are five in total) on the team is Hatton, who is playing in his first Ryder Cup. He’s definitely not one of the heavyweights of this bunch, but he can sink a few key putts when it comes down to the final holes. The way he plays off the tee will determine a lot, as his driving accuracy is currently only 101st on the Tour.
Rory McIlroy: Even with likes of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson walking around, McIlroy is easily the most valuable piece to the team. His performance in the Ryder (9-6-4), his four major championships, and the wailing drives and clutch chipping prove that. McIlroy pretty much does it all. The only concerns he’s had is with putting, and even then he doesn’t make major mistakes on the green. Whether its clubhead speed or scrambling abilities from bunkers, McIlroy can do it. And he’s had a couple recent top 10’s to prepare him.
Francesco Molinari: He was mostly buried on the two other Ryder Cup teams he made and was 0-3-2 with the chances he got. But Molinari (Italy) has played well in the FedEx Cup (17th) and had two PGA Tour wins in July. He also had a top-10 run in the PGA Championship. He’s another guy on Team Europe who can bomb off the tee. His greens in regulation are also 12th out of Tour players, a wonderful combination to have at a course like this.
Alex Noren: The calm and composed Noren (Sweden) could make-or-break a few matches for Europe. His putting should be superb as usual, but anything around the green—especially with how thick things are out there—could bog his round down. Iron accuracy is already the crucial trait to have here, and it will be even more important for Noren. He was practicing in a foursome with Garcia, Rose, and Stenson. With Rose and Stenson pretty much a lock to play with one another, there’s a chance Noren could be playing with Garcia. That should raise his confidence.
Thorbjorn Olesen: The Denmark native is currently having his best year on the Euro Tour, specifically improving his short game. He’s gotten hot at the right time, with consistently high finishes over the last couple months. He didn’t make the cut at the French Open though. That’s right before he heated up, so it’ll be interesting to see what those two rounds taught him and what his recent streak of play can bring to the table.
Ian Poulter: Yet another legend of the Ryder Cup, the savvy Poulter (England) is an astonishing 12-4-2 in this competition. He’s particularly dangerous in singles matches, in which he’s never lost in five rounds. He could play with McIlroy again, as that pairing has done very well in the past. Poulter’s experience in the Ryder was too much to pass up, even if he isn’t putting at the same rate or playing all that well off the tee lately. He was a vice-captain two years ago, but he’s clearly better off grinding away on the course.
Jon Rahm: This World Points leader and Ryder rookie is going to be interesting to watch. Don’t expect him to be protected throughout the weekend. He’ll get thrown into the fire from the get-go. The Spaniard made the top-5 of the PGA Championship and is hitting greens with great regularity. Whether he can stay out of the deep areas off the tee will determine how well he plays. Because this guy can mash it with the best of them. It’d be nice to pair him with a seasoned veteran such as fellow Spaniard Garcia. But with how good he’s been on the shorter approaches, he would pair well with anyone on this course. He finished tied for 5th at the French Open as well.
Justin Rose: Between Garcia and Poulter, there’s plenty of good history on this squad. But Rose’s 11-6-2 record adds even more success. What’s even scarier, is that he’s just now playing some of his best golf. The Englishman had top-20 finishes in each Major and just won the FedEx Cup. At 38, he still has strength in the long-game. And it might be his weakest point. He’s simply the most consistent shot in the game right now. If you really want to dig deep, his short iron play hasn’t been a thing of beauty. But everything else certainly has.
Henrik Stenson: Rose’s likely partner is Stenson, a four-time Ryder participant. Even though his prime may have recently slipped away, he still has the capabilities of delivering dominant performances. The type of dominance only guys like Rose, Woods, Spieth, and maybe McIlroy can deliver. Stenson’s likeability for his 3-wood could especially come in handy for these fairways, where there’s less room to work with.
The United States hasn’t won a Ryder Cup located in Europe in 25 years. No matter who is on the team, that’s still a jaw-dropping fact and gives the Europe team plenty of confidence. However, the young infusion of US players couldn’t care less about the history of the drought. That is unless they’re using it for motivation, which they should be.
They have three (Garcia, Poulter, and Rose) veterans who have incredible track records at the Ryder Cup. They’re a combined 42-21-11. And they also have McIlroy and his past play in this competition, along with Stenson. The fresh blood in Fleetwood and Rahm make for an almost perfect mesh of talent and experience.
But the US team also has a lot of experience together and tailor-made pairings. It really comes down to how their iron-play is on a course they aren’t all that familiar with. With that said, I like the European team to take more of the early singles matches, especially with their feel for the course. But I like the US to acclimate and find their groove before it’s too late.With a lineup like Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, etc. it’s hard to go wrong with this group. As long as they’re disciplined off the tee, the US will take it in a close one.