Original article appears on Pundit Arena.
Situated in the picturesque settings of the Scottish Highlands, the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles is all set to host the 40th edition of one of sport’s illustrious competitions, the Ryder Cup. Team Europe will be hoping to reclaim a trophy they dramatically won in Medinah in 2012 after a sensational comeback from 10-6 down on Saturday to win 14 ½ to 13 ½ on Sunday.
One man who has been making the headlines leading up to this week has been the World No.1 Rory McIlroy. Questions have been hanging over the 25 year old’s head in the lead up to this week in terms of who will partner him in the Friday and Saturday sessions. The obvious choice seemed to be with his fellow countryman Graeme McDowell.
However, legal action between the McIlroy and his former management company Horizon Sports Management – of which McDowell is associated with and is being dragged into the legal action – has meant the partnership between the duo from Northern Ireland is up in the air. McDowell then ruled out partnering the World No.1 in the opening fourball session on Friday but did not rule out a return to the partnership in the afternoon’s foursomes.
This didn’t stop the American’s making light of the situation with Phil Mickelson taking a sly dig at the pair during a press conference on Wednesday. “Not only do we play together, we also don’t litigate against each other,” sated Mickelson with a wry smile after being questioned about the bond in the American camp.
McIlroy himself emphasised that it’s about the team and not just himself. “I have a job to do which is to go out and win points for Europe and I don’t care what number I play or who I’m play with. I have got a responsibility to put points on the board and I am one-twelfth of a team unit here and I’m going to play the same role as everyone else to try and get points on the board,” proclaimed McIlroy.
In regards to the American team, Tuesday’s first practice gave a hint to Friday morning’s pairings. There were three groups out playing fourballs at the crack of dawn. The first group consisted of Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. The second contained Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed and Hunter Mahan. The final group was made up of Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. Mickelson confirmed he will indeed be partnering Bradley in Friday’s morning session, a return to the successful partnership of 2012 where they won all 3 of their matches as partners.
It is understood that Walker and Fowler are keen to partner each other on Friday. Both are coached by Butch Harmon and have struck up a friendship having worked under the legendary coach together at events on the PGA Tour. Should the team of Watson and Simpson make it to the tee on Friday, there will be no surprised looks. That pairing won 2 of their 3 matches in 2012, only losing to Justin Rose and Ian Poutler in their Saturday morning foursomes match.
The captains gave a few insights into their thinking ahead of Friday’s showdown during press conferences on Wednesday morning.
European captain, Paul McGinley singled out his experience of being a vice-captain to José María Olazábal in 2012 as aiding him in his preparations ahead of this weekend. “To watch and observe José María and be a little bit involved with him and be sitting on his shoulders as vice-captain was a massive learning curve for me,” said the Dubliner.
Would he be prepared for a tough battle should the early sessions in Medinah be repeated? “At the time it was horrible experience to be on the end of a walloping from the Americans like we were in the first two days,” quipped a smiling McGinley. “However, in hindsight it was a great learning curve for me. Should that situation occur this week, I feel that I am better equipped then I would have been without the experience of Medinah.”
If McGinley was relaxed and composed in his press conference then the same could not be said for his counterpart, USA captain, Tom Watson. The 65 year old appeared less than impressed when questions were put to him about his recent Ryder Cup experience (he hasn’t been to a Ryder Cup since his victory as captain in the 1993 Ryder Cup) and also his age. Watson pointed to his experience of 4 Ryder Cup appearances as a player and his previous stint as captain.
However, he stressed that Team USA are all on the same page and have one goal – to bring back the Ryder Cup to American shores. “You want to make a conflict about it (Team USA camaraderie) but there is no conflict honestly,” said Watson.
The Americans are considered underdogs heading into this year’s tournament, a title that they will certainly revel in after all the talk of how truly prepared Team USA are with the loss of players like Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods. However, make no doubt about it, they will fight until the end. Tom Watson knows all about the Ryder Cup and what it means to his fellow countrymen. That is the reason he was brought in to be captain. He will want to leave with the 17 inch, gold trophy in his hands on Sunday.
What stands in his team’s way is a strong European team led by a passionate captain, a former GAA player who has been analysing and dissecting everything about his team to make sure he gets the formula right over the three days, the winning formula.
When the dust settles on Sunday evening, one team will lift the Ryder Cup but it will be won after three days of intense, ardent and spirited golf by 24 of the best players in the sport.