Dominant Europe retain the Ryder Cup

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Paul McGinley with Ryder CupOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Europe made it three in a row as they defeated the USA 16 ½-11 ½ in the 40th Ryder Cup. It was down to the rookie, Jamie Donaldson to win the trophy. His approach shot on the 15th was two feet from the hole with his opponent; Keegan Bradley’s ball lay 20 feet away. “Pick it up. They’ve won,” said captain Tom Watson. Bradley obliged and sent the crowd and the waiting team members into a flurry. With this victory it means that Europe have won eight of the last ten editions of this tournament.

Donaldson the hero

The Welshman was one of the top performers this weekend amassing three points out of four. His partnership with Lee Westwood, the most experienced player in this Ryder Cup, was a great call. It gave the rookie the confidence he needed and helped him deliver much needed points. Their only defeat as a pairing was to Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan on the Saturday morning fourball.

When the draw was made for the singles session, Donaldson versus Keegan Bradley stuck out. Bradley, an undefeated rookie in 2012, had lost his first match with his partner Phil Mickelson on Friday afternoon and was surprisingly left out on Saturday. Some would have said this match would go to the wire. That wasn’t the case. Donaldson had taken to this tournament like a duck to water and went on to score a five under par in 15 holes. His game couldn’t have been more perfect with the approach on the 15th showing his qualities as a top player and a future Ryder Cup staple.

McIlroy and McDowell set the mark

There had been much talk in the lead up to this event about the relationship between Rory McIlroy and his fellow countryman, Graeme McDowell after the former brought his friend into a legal case against his former management company. On the 17th hole, after Graeme McDowell had just defeated the highly rated Jordan Spieth, it was McIlroy who was there to congratulate him after his victory. The two embraced as both had just recorded impressive and very important points for Europe.

McDowell was first out this morning. He was one over going trough the front nine but his opponent, Spieth had been impressive there and notched up a lead of three. That all changed though on the back nine. McDowell knew he had to get points on the board and he made his move. He birdied the 11th and 15th while the American collapsed and bogeyed the 10th, 12th and 13th handing McDowell the victory on the 17th.

McIlroy on the other hand, was on fire, decimating his friend Rickie Fowler 5&4. It was the perfect display from the World number 1, earning his third point out of a possible five. The opening three holes of birdie, eagle and birdie were immense and showed the talent of man who won back-to-back majors this summer.

Tough Start

The morning was not that rosy though as the leaderboard was dominated by the red of USA with the likes of Spieth and Patrick Reed leading the way. However, once McIlroy secured his victory followed by McDowell it was all Europe.

As for the Americans, their four victories came thanks to Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker defeating Henrik Stenson, Stephen Gallacher, Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood respectively.

Reed in particular was really fired up. After being heckled on the opening tee, the rookie fired back when after draining his par putt on the 7th, putting his finger to his lips to quiet the crowd. Boos rained down on the young Texan. “What in the world is he doing? He’s going to incite a riot,” said golfing legend Jack Nicklaus on Sky Sports after the Reed incident. It helped Reed initially as he took the lead again on the 8th. However, after going 2 up on the 12th, the Swede hit back and after tying the match on the 15th, he suffered a narrow defeat on the 18th to the brash American.

All the talk now will be to 2016, where Hazeltine National Golf Course in Minnesota will host the 41st Ryder Cup. There will also be a lot of speculation as to who can lead America to their first Ryder Cup win since 2008. One man mentioned for the captain’s job is the man who led that last winning American side, Paul Azinger. He has already received the backing of one of the top tour players, Jason Dufner and expect many to follow suit.

Questions will be asked about the possibility of Paul McGinley continuing in the role. The European players spoke highly about the Dubliner with Sergio Garcia stating he took a modern approach to the captaincy.

However, all of that is for another day. As for now, Europe reign again and players, staff and fans alike will be partying well into the night as they celebrate their biggest winning margin since 2006 at The K Club.


Sunday Singles Results

Match 1: Graeme McDowell def. Jordan Spieth 2&1

Match 2: Patrick Reed def. Henrik Stenson 1UP

Match 3: Rory McIlroy def. Rickie Fowler 5&4

Match 4: Justin Rose A/S Hunter Mahan

Match 5: Phil Mickelson def. Stephen Gallacher 3&1

Match 6: Martin Kaymer def. Bubba Watson 4&2

Match 7: Matt Kuchar def. Thomas Bjorn 4&3

Match 8: Sergio Garcia def. Jim Furyk 1UP

Match 9: Ian Poulter A/S Webb Simpson

Match 10: Jamie Donaldson def. Keegan Bradley 4&3

Match 11: Jimmy Walker def. Lee Westwood 3&2

Match 12: Victor Dubuisson A/S Zach Johnson

Europe: 16 ½ USA: 11 ½

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Impressive afternoon hands Europe Ryder Cup lead

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Ryder Cup 2014Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Europe will head into the final day of the 40th Ryder Cup with a 10-6 lead over their American counterparts. It was again the foursomes’ format that Europe shined in, winning three matches and halving one. Europe’s record in the format for this edition of the competition reads seven points from a possible eight. It will leave Team USA with an uphill battle but they will remember what happened to them at Medinah in 2012 and hope they can inflict the same heart-breaking defeat they suffered, on their opponents.

Rose/Stenson pairing breaks records

It was Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson for Europe and Team USA’s Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar who opened today’s proceedings. The much talked about team of Rose/Stenson wanted to carry on with their fine form from yesterday and they did, winning their match in style. Their round of 12 under is a Ryder Cup record and the combined round with Watson and Kuchar of 21 under is also a new Ryder Cup record in the Fourball’s format.

Swede, Stenson sat out the afternoon session due to a tight back. Fellow Scandinavian, Thomas Bjorn, joined him in the clubhouse. The Dane and his morning partner Martin Kaymer fell to the wonder team of Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. That left Rose to team with Kaymer to take on Reed and Spieth in the afternoon.

Fatigue to blame as Spieth/Reed lose 100% record

Arguably the pairing of the tournament, the rookies, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed picked up where they left off. The pair fell two down to Bjorn and Kaymer on the 3rd hole but when they reached the back nine they kicked their game up a gear and went five under in seven holes to win 5&3.

After being frustrated to be left out of Friday’s afternoon session, USA captain Tom Watson decided to throw his rookies into Saturday’s second session. They faced the team of Rose and Kaymer, who didn’t seem to gel as hoped. The European pair were only up once in the whole match and that was on the 3rd.

Spieth and Reed seemed to have the game in hand. However, a short attempt on the 15th went horribly wrong for Reed, the only stain on his record so far this weekend. Reed’s reaction to his poor attempt suggested he was exhausted. It was a gamble to leave Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley out of the both sessions and really, they could (and possibly should) have taken the place of the rookies after sitting out the morning as keeping the rookies out backfired.

This allowed the Europeans back into the game temporarily. A bogey by Rose on the 17th meant the Americans went one up to the 18th only needing to halve the hole to get a precious point. After a bad lie in the bunker, Reed could only manage a chip onto the putting surface, which landed a distance from the pin. Rose took advantage and drained his birdie to halve the match and put some distance between the teams heading into the final day.

Dubusisson and McDowell put on a foursome master class

The team that surprised most on Friday was of Graeme McDowell and his partner, the rookie, Victor Dubusisson. After handing the, previously undefeated, pair of Mickelson and Bradley their first defeat on Friday, the dynamic duo then went on to comfortably defeat the pairing of Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.

The European pair’s round was just perfect golf. Drives, approaches and the short game were all impeccable with Dubusisson staking his claim to be the top rookie of this tournament. He helped his side to a tremendous 5&4 win and should he win comfortably in the singles, he could be picked out as one of the heroes of the 2014 Ryder Cup

Is Poulter back to Ryder Cup best?

Questions surrounded the selection of Ian Poulter for Saturday’s morning session. Was he passed his best? Would he falter again? Thankfully, the man many of us have come to idolise at this event showed signs of the magic that makes him loved by the European fans.

Nothing summed this up more than his crucial attempt on the 15th. Poulter needed to make the hole to prevent opponents, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler going two up with three to play. The Englishman stood over the ball confidently at the edge of putting green. All eyes were glued to see if the magic could come back. Thankfully it did as Poulter’s chip attempt ended with the ball in the bottom of the cup.

From there, Poulter was full of confidence and sank his birdie on the 16th to halve the match. That is how it ended. It was a vital point for Europe as they only won a single match in the morning. Going up against major winner Bubba Watson on Sunday should spur on the captain’s pick as he will want to payback the faith shown in him by Paul McGinley. Expect the familiar roar and bulging eyes to be seen around the course tomorrow.

With what is a commanding lead going into the final day, Europe will rest easy knowing that all they need is 4 ½ points to win outright and retain the trophy. They will also remember what happened in 2012 and will want to prevent the Americans doing what they did two years ago. Tomorrow should go back and forth but will be filled with intense excitement and should end with the trophy in European hands.


Saturday Morning Fourball Results

Match 1: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson def. Bubba Watson & Matt Kuchar 3&2

Match 2: Jim Furyk & Hunter Mahan def. Jamie Donaldson & Lee Westwood 4&3

Match 3: Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed def. Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer 5&3

Match 4: Rory McIlroy & Ian Poulter A/S Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Europe: 6 ½ USA: 5 ½


Saturday Evening Foursomes Results

Match 1: Jamie Donaldson & Lee Westwood def. Zach Johnson & Matt Kuchar 2&1

Match 2: Justin Rose & Martin Kaymer A/S Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed

Match 3: Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy def. Jim Furyk & Hunter Mahan 3&2

Match 4: Victor Dubuisson & Graeme McDowell def. Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker 5&4

Europe: 10 USA: 6

Europe takes opening day lead in Ryder Cup

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GleneaglesOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Captain Paul McGinley will be sleeping a bit easier tonight after his Europe side turned a poor morning session around to take a 5-3 lead into Saturday.

“It seems everyone is nervous,” declared Ewen Murray after the match announcer mistook Webb Simpson for Bubba Watson on the opening tee this morning. Little did he or those watching know it was the prologue to what proceeded. There were plenty of twists, turns and even some shocks that make this competition so unique.

Simpson and Watson disappoint as Europe open account

The opening match set the tone. As the sun rose over the highlands, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson made their way to the rocking grandstand. Those who had turned up to the course early made their voices heard as the player’s walked to the first tee. Simpson, who was first to tee off, hit his shot not even 200 yards.

From there the Europeans pounced. On the 14th, Rose made a short putt and got the first point on the board and, more importantly, it was a blue point. The Americans were extremely poor and never put their mark on the game. For a team that performed so well in 2012, neither Simpson nor Watson managed a birdie in any of the 14 holes they played.

Rose and Stenson also played in the afternoon against Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson. This test was a bit tougher, however, Europe were firmly in control and after dropping to level terms on the 8th, Stenson sank his putt on the 15th and the pairing didn’t look back as they came out victorious with a 2&1 victory.

American rookies shine

The third match saw Scotland’s own Stephen Gallacher paired with cult hero Ian Poulter. The chant of “Walking on a Poulter Wonderland” rang around Bracken Brae as the Englishman warmed up; a smile beaming ear to ear as the chant went on.

However, that smile became a frustrating frown as his short attempt to halve the 1st slipped past the hole. American rookies, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth stole the spotlight, which was reserved for the hometown hero, Gallacher. Reed in particularly played spectacularly. His three birdies were superb, especially his long putt on the 9th. Spieth was not to be outdone. The 21-year-old also managed three birdies to help his side completed an impressive display.

Both were disappointed not to be out again in the afternoon. Captain Tom Watson said, “They were very upset at me for not playing them in the afternoon.” And so they should be they could have helped the American’s extend their lead in the afternoon session. Something that could cost America dear on Sunday.

McIlroy/Garcia save face in the afternoon as Mickelson/Bradley lose 100% record

The partnership of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia came out in the second session on Friday much like they did in the first. Both seemed to be still reeling from their close defeat to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the morning with their driving off the tee leaving little to be desired.

It was a sense of déjà vu for the Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler except instead of escaping with half a point they will be wondering how they let the World number 1 and number 3 get back into the game. The American duo escaped their first session with half a point after Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn led for much of the match.

McIlroy made a huge putt on the 17th to keep Europe in the match. A fantastic strike by Garcia on the 18th to the green all but wrapped up the point. Fowler missed the chance to halve the hole and in turn, win the match.

The American duo of Mickelson & Bradley won a back and fourth contest against Garcia and McIlroy in the morning session on the 18th after numerous misses on the green allowed Mickelson a two-foot putt for birdie and a precious point for Team USA.

However, many will question if the aforementioned pairing of Reed and Spieth should have gone out instead of the pairing of Mickelson and Bradley. Mickelson made numerous mistakes including missing short putts on the 4th and 5th to hand an early lead to the pairing of Graeme McDowell and the rookie, Victor Dubuisson. The Frenchman went into the match cool and confident and this showed on the course. He never showed any signs of nerves and undoubtedly aided his team’s victory.

Donaldson shines

Another man who shone on his Ryder Cup debut was the Welshman Jamie Donaldson. Teaming up with Lee Westwood, Donaldson confidence oozed as he stepped comfortably over his putt on the 7th and drained it to put Europe 1UP against the pairing of Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar. From there the pairing kept it together and Donaldson won the match after a putt that made it to the green and left the Americans with too much work to do.

Tomorrow is another day but Europe will be full of confidence Friday night and looking forward to getting back on the course Saturday morning.


Friday Morning Fourball Results

Match 1: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson def. Bubba Watson & Webb Simpson 5&4

Match 2: Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer A/S Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Match 3: Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed def. Stephen Gallacher & Ian Poulter 5&4

Match 4: Keegan Bradley & Phil Mickelson def. Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy 1UP

Europe: 1 ½ USA: 2 ½


Friday Evening Foursomes Results

Match 1: Jamie Donaldson & Lee Westwood def. Jim Furyk & Matt Kuchar 2UP

Match 2: Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson def. Hunter Mahan & Zach Johnson 2&1

Match 3: Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy A/S Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Match 4: Victor Dubuisson & Graeme McDowell def. Keegan Bradley & Phil Mickelson 3&2

Europe: 5 USA: 3

Fourball matchups revealed as Ryder Cup is officially opened

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Ryder Cup Gleneagles 2014Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

All the talk of Thursday’s Ryder Cup opening ceremony will be around the fourth match in Friday’s opening session of fourballs, in what should be a crucial point, the match of Europe’s Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy against Team USA’s Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson. The much talked about team of Bradley and Mickelson were a sensation in Medinah two years ago, winning all three of their games together but losing their single matches against McIlroy and Justin Rose respectively.

The McIlroy/Garcia pairing will be looking to be put a stop to their American counterparts. The partnership could be a stroke of genius from captain Paul McGinley, whose thinking is presumably based on the amount of time both have played together on tour. McIlroy and Garcia played with each other in the final rounds of The Open in July and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in August. The added twist to this contest will be the comments made by Mickelson on Wednesday about the relationship between McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. The Northern Irish man will be looking for his game to do the talking as a way to hit back at the Americans over the comments.

American veterans to sit out morning session

The talk of the American team is the decision by captain Tom Watson to leave out veterans like Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk in the opening session. His selection seems to stem from his judgement that his team’s rookies get the chance to experience the Ryder Cup and get a sense of the job in hand, then put the likes of Kuchar and Furyk into the mix in the afternoon’s session.

Rookies take centre stage

Match three is another interesting set of pairings. Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed sees one of the most spirited members of the European team, Poulter, playing with three Ryder Cup rookies. However, in the shape of Gallacher he will have a determined home-grown player who will be determined to impressive at a course he knows so well. Don’t be surprised to see the rookie giving the veteran some advice around the course.

The team of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker will also be intriguing, as they had apparently asked to be paired together. The Butch Harmon students have struck up a friendship on tour and will look to turn that friendship into a formidable force in tomorrow’s match and repay captain Watson’s faith in them. However, they will play the tough pair of Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer. The German will be hoping to carry on from his winning putt in 2012 after a dismal start to that year’s tournament where he only played twice out of the five sessions. He will be in good hands with Bjorn who has appeared in two Ryder Cups, winning both times in 1997 and 2002.

Set the alarm clock

The first match of the 2014 Ryder Cup sees Europe’s Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson face off against Team USA’s Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. With a tee time set for 7:35am (sunrise at the Centenary Course is set for 7:07am), both pairings will be hoping to be the first to put points on the board for their team.

The team of Watson and Simpson will be looking to build on the rapport they had in Medinah and to add to the two wins they achieved in 2012. Their only defeat as a pairing came at the hands of Rose and Ian Poulter. Rose will hope his partner Stenson can keep up his good form and build on the 3 points he has won over seven games in the Ryder Cup. Rose, whose own record in this competition reads as six points out of a possible nine, will be hoping he can repeat the feat he and Poulter achieved in 2012 and dismantle the team of Watson and Simpson and turn the board blue in the early stages of this, to paraphrase captain McGinley’s words in his opening ceremony speech, premier showpiece in world sport.

Friday Morning Fourballs

Match 1 (Tee Time 7:35am): Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson vs. Bubba Watson & Webb Simpson

Match 2 (Tee Time 7:50am): Thomas Bjorn & Martin Kaymer vs. Rickie Fowler & Jimmy Walker

Match 3 (Tee Time 8:05am): Stephen Gallacher & Ian Poulter vs. Jordan Spieth & Patrick Reed

Match 4 (Tee Time 8:20am): Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy vs. Keegan Bradley & Phil Mickelson

Gleneagles awaits Ryder Cup kick-off

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Ryder Cup TrophyOriginal 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.

PGA Championship 2014 – McIlroy aims to become the first player in 6 years to win back-to-back majors

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Rory McIlroy 2014 WGC Bridgestone Invitationalbridgestone

Valhalla Golf Club is the location for the last major of the season, the 96th PGA Championship. It will be the third time the Louisville, Kentucky course will host this particular major. It held the tournament in 1996 and 2000, with both tournaments needing a playoff to determine the winner.

Will McIlroy continue his momentum at Valhalla?

Rory McIlroy is the clear favourite coming into this tournament. His fine form at Hoylake in July helped him capture The Open title, the third major of his career. He followed that up with a fantastic performance at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last weekend, opening his final round with four birdies on the first five holes to snatch the lead from Sergio Garcia and ultimately, take the title at Firestone.

With his form indisputable, the Holywood man will be looking to hit accurately off the tee on a course that will not be nice to wayward shots. In his PGATour.com preview of the Valhalla course, Mark Immelman suggested accuracy was the key when teeing off; “I believe that the really low scores will come from the guy who plays from the fairway. Players who miss the fairways in the correct spots should still be able to score but I believe that the long and accurate driver will have an advantage. So time spent on tightening up the accuracy with the driver will prove advantageous and I would highly recommend it.” McIlroy should take note of this. His season’s Driving Accuracy Percentage is 59.74%, leaving him in 116th in the stat ranking.

The new World Number 1 has stated that he is in the best form of his life and he will be hoping to become the first player to claim back to back majors in six years. To win at Valhalla would be no mean feat for the Northern Irishman. It’s tough enough to win back-to-back titles in the space of a month but to win 3 in a row will be something special and in this age of golf (with a list of world class players) it could be one of the most significant streaks in the history of the sport. Then again leave it to the Irish to make something special (just ask Pádraig Harrington).

Never settle for being second best when you know you deserve to be first

That’s a saying that no doubt sums up Sergio Garcia presently. For the second tournament in a matter of weeks, Garcia played second fiddle to his fellow European. Last weekend, he dominated the first three rounds and fell flat on the fourth, a round that nearly cost him more than just the title. A wayward shot on the third, hit the engagement ring of a female spectator and sent the diamond loose into the long grass.

Garcia is probably the name that tops most journalists’ list of “Best player to never win a major,” a list Sergio will be hoping to come off of this weekend. He has all the attributes to win here at Valhalla. He also has the experience of playing at the Louisville course, as part of the ill-fated European team at the 2008 Ryder Cup and at this tournament in 2000 where he finished tied 34th.

However, hearing him talk about the course would make one question his confidence. “I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not my favourite golf course in the world,” claimed Garcia ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational. If he wants to be in contention for the title, Garcia needs to forget about the past and concentrate on the challenge ahead. With Driving Accuracy Percentage at 63.95% and 70.11% Greens in Regulation Percentage, Garcia can make a substantial challenge to win his first major.

Tiger’s season in doubt

Tiger Woods 2014 WGC Bridgestone InvitationalIt was the sight that nobody was hoping to see, Tiger Woods crouching over with an expression of agony. After three months out of action due to back surgery, the unbelievable happened – Tiger withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational with a back injury. At the time of writing, the former World Number 1 has not ruled himself out of this weekend’s tournament.

Woods is no stranger to short turnarounds, however, at 38 years old he seriously needs to consider whether competing at Valhalla will do him any favours in the long run. His season is effectively over. He would need to win this weekend to make the playoffs for the FedEx Cup. He would also need to play some spectacular golf over the next few weeks for captain, Tom Watson to consider picking the 14-time major winner for his Ryder Cup team.

As Steven Cook quite rightly posted in his column for Bleacher Report, it would serve Woods best to sit out the remainder of the season and prepare himself for Augusta next April rather than risk his health, and potentially his career, searching for that 15th major title.

 Ones to watch

Adam ScottThere will be plenty of talent on show this weekend at Valhalla Golf Club and there will be many players who will be wanting to make an impression ahead of the FedEx Cup playoffs and also the Ryder Cup.

Adam Scott (above) will be looking to build on from this tied eighth finish at Firestone and mount a challenge to win his second major title and regain the number 1 spot in the world. He has been impressive in the majors in the last four seasons (a win and eight top 10s). Expect to see the Aussie make a challenge at Valhalla.

Phil Mickelson has had a poor season this year but he will be happy with his fourth round performance at the Bridgestone Invitational, scoring a 62 to leave him at tied 15th, scoring 10 birdies and bogeying two. He will relish his pairing of Tiger Woods, should his old rival make it to the tee.

Fellow American, Keegan Bradley will also be looking to make an impression in Louisville. A poor back 9 last Sunday cost the Vermont native his slim chance to claim the Bridgestone Invitational title. A good performance this weekend will boost his chances of making the Ryder Cup team. Although Keegan will undoubtedly be looking win back the title he won in 2011.

24-year-old Patrick Reed will be looking to win himself a belated birthday gift this weekend. A solid 9-under par at Firestone left him at tied-fourth, which included an impressive eagle shot on the par four 17th. More displays like this will help the young man get his first major. With two wins under his belt so far this season, he will be looking to improve on his tied 35th at the U.S. Open and his early exit from The Open in July.

With so much on the line this weekend, expect some good golf to be played with top scorers expected to go into double figures. Putting will be challenging as players come up against some difficult hole locations. However, this will make good viewing over the weekend for us spectators.

WGC Bridgestone Invitational – Tiger looking to capture past glory but Rory is the man on form

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Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

It’s the last stop before the final major (PGA Championship) of the season, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Tiger Woods won here last year earning him his eighth career victory at this particular tournament. This is a course he knows very well. Tiger will be looking to put behind him his recent lacklustre performance at The Open and try to make his way up the FedEx Cup rankings and also into the automatic points position for the Ryder Cup team.

This weekend’s tournament will be Tiger’s third since returning from back surgery. His first was at the end of June at the Quicken Loans National where he didn’t make the weekend cut. The second was his 69th placed finish at Hoylake just two weeks ago. Woods knows he needs to raise his game if he wants to be in contention for the big prize at the end of the season, the FedEx Cup. He has also stated his intentions to be part of Team USA at the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles this September. However, Captain Tom Watson has stated that his game will need to improve dramatically if he is even to be considered as a captain’s pick.

You can never count out Tiger though. He has dominated here in the past. When he won the tournament back in 2000, Woods leveled Jose Maria Olazabal’s course record of 61. He also broke Olazabal’s tournament record, marking a score of 259 (-21) over the four rounds. To say Tiger has fond memories of this course is arguably an understatement. A positive mental attitude can help a player a long way, especially with such a narrow course like that at Firestone. It is set up nicely as a warm up for Tiger to go for victory and psych himself up to win that elusive 15th major at Valhalla next week.

In his path to victory stands the contender to his golfing throne, Rory McIlroy. Fresh off his victory a fortnight ago at The Open, the Holywood native is looking to build on that victory and put himself in the frame to collect his second major this year (his career fourth) next week. A win at Firestone will set McIlroy up nicely for him to regain the major he won back in 2012 at Kiawah.

McIlroy put a poor year behind him in May when he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, his first tournament win since 2012. Since then he has settled into his Nike clubs and has dropped a certain Danish tennis player from his side (two additions in his life which were cited by some as the cause of his substandard displays during 2013 and early 2014). His victory at The Open returned the discussion of him being a young golfer with huge potential and a bright future in the game and not of his poor game and missed opportunities.

The heavy hitter will have to look for accuracy this weekend rather than his power if he plans to keep his shots on the green. His greens in regulation have been 67.78% so far this season on the PGA Tour. His driving distance has been an average of 307.5 yards (third highest on the tour) and his accuracy 59.64% (125th on the tour). It is a mixed bag but with the form Rory has been in, it would be hard not to see him at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.

A name that may be somewhat of a dark horse to take home the win on Sunday evening is that of Matt Kuchar. A man who is under that list of great players to never win a major, the fourteen-year veteran is hitting that prime age to finally get his hands on a cherished major. He has had a solid season so far with nine top tens in eighteen events. He has a single win this season, the RBC Heritage back in April. His performances at the majors this year have been good with a tied 5th at The Masters and a 12th place finish at the U.S. Open with a poor tied 54th at The Open.

Still “Kuch” (as he is affectionately known as on the tour), can look at his stats for this season with a smile. Driving accuracy at 67.65% and a putting average of .536 shows his game could be well suited to this course. The only aspect of his game that diminishes his chances is his driving distance (281.9 yards) and playing alongside McIlroy and his long distance driving, may dishearten him. He has two top 10 finishes at Firestone in the last four years. A good four rounds this weekend and he could be fighting for the top spot.

Rickie Fowler will be another name to keep an eye on this weekend. The 25 year old has had a varied season between low finishes and not even making the cut but has produced on the big stage. He tied for 5th at The Masters and tied for 2nd at both the U.S. Open and The Open. It will be intriguing to see how the young golfer goes into this tournament, head held high after two impressive performances in succession or deflated after getting so close to the prize. My money would be on the former, Fowler has improved over the years and will want to add another title to the lone tour title he won back in 2012, the Wells Fargo Championship.

There will be plenty of talking points after this weekend in the lead up to the PGA Championship next week but you can be sure that there will be some good golf played this weekend as players attempt to scramble up the FedEx Cup table and aim for a play-off place. While members of Team Europe and Team USA will be looking to get their names into the automatic places for September’s Ryder Cup. With so much on the line, it’s all to play for at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.