MEDINAH, Ill. – After months of hype and three days of practice rounds, the 39th Ryder Cup is nearly upon us. We gathered our team of experts on-site at Medinah to break down all the angles of this week’s matches.
Who will be the more effective captain?
COFFIN: Davis Love III has done nothing to make me believe he won’t be a great captain, but Jose Maria Olazabal gets the nod. Somehow, he’ll channel Seve Ballesteros and find a way to be masterful.
HOGGARD: Like coaches, captains receive too much credit when their team wins and too much grief for a loss. But if effort and emotion count for anything, the nod would have to go to Davis Love III. The road to his four picks was exhaustive, and he’s moved heaven and table-tennis tables this week in an effort to defuse golf’s most intense member-member.
MELL: Davis Love III brings a Ph.d in Ryder Cup Captainology. The man appears to have studied every move and every word of every American captain over the last two decades, but it all comes down to winning. Love has the two ingredients required to be the most effective skipper: great putters and home-field advantage.
LAVNER: Jose Maria Olazabal may be better able to inspire his team, evoking the memory of the late Seve Ballesteros, but Davis Love III is a better tactician. The U.S. team already has a few ready-made pairings (Tiger-Stricks, Phil-Keegan) and it’ll be Love’s unheralded groups – the ones he paired after much deliberation – that make the difference.
Which player on the U.S. side will have the worst record?
COFFIN: First instinct is to say Jim Furyk, since he hasn’t handled pressure well this summer and is the lowest-ranked player on the U.S. squad. But I’ll go with Jason Dufner. He seems calm, but this is a big stage for him.
HOGGARD: It won’t be from a lack of trying, but Jim Furyk will find the friendly confines of Medinah no more inviting than Celtic Manor was two years ago. Although he’s playing well and went 5-0 at last year’s Presidents Cup, a combination of bad timing and bad partners has produced this generation’s worst Ryder Cup record (8-15-4).
MELL: Sorry, Dustin Johnson, but you’re the pick here. You are loaded with talent, and you’ll win more than one major in your career, but your short game gets exposed this week.
LAVNER: As a whole, the U.S. team is much deeper, but it could be a player such as Matt Kuchar, if only because it may be difficult to find him a successful partner. He went 1-1-2 in 2010 at Celtic Manor, but was paired in team play with Stewart Cink, who did not qualify this year. His Presidents Cup record isn’t great, either: 2-4-3. Kooch has only one top 10 since early August, and that was a T-10 at last week’s 30-player Tour Championship.
Which player on the European side will have the worst record?
COFFIN: Martin Kaymer believes he’s found something with his game the past couple weeks that will help him play well this week. I’m not buying it. I think he’ll struggle.
HOGGARD: Per the captain’s agreement, each team will place a player in a sealed envelope on Saturday that will determine who will sit in the event a player on the other team is unable toplay Sunday singles, with each side earning a half point. For Europe, that player will be Martin Kaymer, who hasn’t finished better than 15th in a stroke-play event this year on the PGA Tour and has slipped to 32nd in the world ranking.
MELL: Martin Kaymer appears to be finding some form again, but Ryder Cup pressure will test any crack in his armor. The German’s battle with confidence this summer will be severely tested this week.
LAVNER: Despite his good form (win and T-6 in his past two Euro tour starts), Paul Lawrie has failed to play well in the States this season, and could struggle on a beefy layout such as Medinah. And unlike 1999, he wouldn’t be able to rely on Colin Montgomerie as a partner. (For the record, Kaymer won’t play well, either.)
Who will be the breakout star of the matches?
COFFIN: Brandt Snedeker putts lights-out and was just cool enough to win $10 million a week ago. He’s cool enough to keep that putting stroke going this week under extreme pressure.
HOGGARD: Brandt Snedeker has waited his entire golf life to make this team, and he won’t disappoint. The FedEx Cup champion may be the hottest player in golf right now, with a runner-up and a victory in his last four starts. More importantly, he’s the Tour’s best putter (No. 1 in strokes gained-putting).
MELL: Tiger Woods! What? He’s already a star, you say. Sure, but he hasn't distinguished himself in the Ryder Cup. That all changes with his best Ryder Cup ever.
LAVNER: It will be a big week for Keegan Bradley, who is bubbling with enthusiasm this week and is a player who will have a comfortable pairing with friend, mentor and frequent practice-round partner Phil Mickelson. On a team with many good putters, Keegan is one of the best.
Who will have a better overall record, Tiger or Rory?
COFFIN: Rory, but only because I think he’s more likely than Tiger to play all five matches. Rory and Graeme McDowell are stellar together, and they’ll shine. He’s good for at least 3 points.
HOGGARD: Rory because his supporting cast, Graeme McDowell, is playing better than Tiger's presumed partner, Steve Stricker. We fixate on Tiger’s relatively pedestrian Ryder Cup record (13-14-2), but most of those losses (nine) have been in team play and, as Woods is fond of pointing out, he can only control his game.
MELL: Tiger trumps Rory on a golf course that Woods practically owns.
LAVNER: They both will perform well at Medinah, but Rory has a slight edge, simply because he’s playing better at the moment, has a better partner in Graeme McDowell and figures to get five chances.
Who will be the Man of the Matches?
COFFIN: Sergio Garcia is miffed that he was on the sidelines two years ago and will take advantage of this opportunity. He pairs well with anyone and seems to bring out the best in each playing partner. He’ll play well for fellow Spaniard Olazabal.
HOGGARD: Rory McIlroy will have better statistics, but Tiger Woods will be the MVP because his play and, yes, even his leadership will ultimately decide the outcome (see below). Woods has played on just one winning Ryder Cup team, a confounding statistic that motivates him almost as much as Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors.
MELL: In a year in which Tiger Woods has flashed returns to his best form, he puts all the pieces together this week.
LAVNER: Not to be ordinary, but Tiger Woods will be MVP of the U.S. victory. He has the potential to play all five matches, and his 13-14-2 record in these biennial matches is more a product of bad luck and bad partnerships, not some indictment of how he’s wired only for individual play. This will be his best Ryder Cup yet.
Who will win the Ryder Cup?
COFFIN: The Americans are deeper, but the Europeans have four of the top five ranked players in the world and three strong pairings that rarely lose. It’ll be close and come down to the last three matches on Sunday, but Europe will prevail,15-13.
HOGGARD: The U.S. wins in a Sunday shootout, 14 1/2 to 13 1/2, after the two sides play to a near-draw in team play on Friday and Saturday. Ryder Cups are won by good putting, and this time, the Americans have the best putters.
MELL: The Americans! They’re due. They have everything going for them this time: motivation, home turf, terrific putters. That’s the winning formula.
LAVNER: Last weekend, I believed this was one of the most evenly matched Ryder Cups in recent memory – so much so that it may even result in a draw (and Europe retaining the cup). Now, for various reasons, I’m not so convinced. The U.S. team is deeper, top to bottom. Tiger Woods and the rest of the veterans are inspired to play well. The late-season FedEx Cup playoffs have kept the Americans sharp. The home crowd is worth at least a point. The Euros’ camaraderie factor is overplayed. The result: U.S. 16, Europe 12.