Ryder Cup excitement boiling over as matches near


ATLANTA – Keegan Bradley was standing near the scorer’s tent late Sunday afternoon at East Lake, sorting through the odds and ends of his maiden Ryder Cup.

All 30 of his allotment of badges had been spoken for – three for college roommates, one to a close pal from high school, the rest for assorted family members and friends.

Despite a run of six tournaments since the beginning of August, including all four of the FedEx Cup playoff events, Bradley looked fresh and fired up.

“I wish the matches started tomorrow,” he said.

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The sun began to set and Justin Rose arrived at the scorer’s area soon after, the chants of “USA! USA!” still ringing from his round with FedEx Cup champion and Ryder Cup rookie, Brandt Snedeker. Rose says he understood the partisan fervor from the gallery. For fan and player alike, the anticipation for the 39th Ryder Cup matches may be at the highest level in recent memory.

“It’s set up for a great week in Chicago,” Rose said. “I looked at the long-range weather forecast. It looks like it’s going to be perfect. Two great teams, all in the top 35, 40 in the world. It’s probably as strong as it’s ever been between two teams.”

Snedeker pondered the roster and agreed.

“I think these are going to be the deepest Ryder Cup teams we’ve ever seen on both sides,” he said. “With the 12 players on both teams, anybody can beat anybody.”

In a golf season that has already given so much – wild comebacks, four sizzling majors and a compelling month of playoffs – could the Ryder Cup possibly exceed them all?

It can, and by Sunday night very well might.

Both the U.S. and Europe will take to Chicago teams with few discernable weaknesses. Both can claim bombers and tacticians, short-game wizards and smooth putters.

Starting with the 2010 Masters, eight of the last 12 major championships have been taken by either U.S. or European Ryder Cup members.

While it won’t inure them to the pressure of the Ryder Cup, both squads know that the men in their team rooms recently claimed some of the greatest trophies in golf.

As a further testament to the form of both teams, all 12 U.S. players competed in the Tour Championship at East Lake while the European team had five.

“We’ll see how that plays out, if [the Americans] are tournament sharp or if we’re mentally fresh,” Rose said. 

Europe can draw confidence from so many places. Eleven of its 12 players are Ryder Cup veterans (and the lone rookie, Nicolas Colsaerts, is a big hitter with solid match play credentials). McIlroy owned the late summer on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia broke through at the Wyndham Championship.

Even slumping 2010 PGA champ Martin Kaymer has experienced a small resurgence. He finished T-21 at the KLM Open and T-5 at the BMW Italian Open in his last two events on the European Tour, carding matching 67s on the weekend in Turin.

Of course, the U.S. has its own players peaking, from hot-putting Snedeker to veteran Jim Furyk.

“The guys have been playing well on really rough courses,” said U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, one of four U.S. rookies. “The playoffs have helped.”

Furyk said he has never seen a U.S. team with so many players who could match up with just about anyone. Furyk described himself as one of captain Davis Love III’s “wheel men,” able to pair with just about anyone.

“If anything, Davis may have a hard time choosing the pairings, not because there aren’t enough guys who fit together well but because there are so many guys who have games that fit well,” Furyk said.

Simpson said he would love to play with fellow bomber Bubba Watson after their success in the Presidents Cup in Australia but could also see playing with Dustin Johnson or Tiger Woods.

“It’s fun playing with guys that hit it 330 in the middle of the fairway,” Simpson said.

About the only player not jumping out of his skin in anticipation was Jason Dufner. That’s not his style, first of all, and the Ryder Cup rookie and two-time winner this season said he was disappointed in his scoring the last two weeks.

Asked about his travel plans to Chicago, Dufner said: “We’ll get up there by 2 o’clock to discuss the pairings and the week.”

He sounded about as excited as a high school senior talking about his class schedule.

He’ll learn.

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